On Sunday afternoon, Anne and I went to go see the exhibit, Home Lands: How Women Made the West, at the Missouri History Museum. This show originated at the [Gene] Autry National Center in LA. After Saint Louis it will move on to Tulsa and Santa Fe. The show from LA came divided into three geographical areas, Rio Arriba, Puget Sound and the Front Range. The Missouri History Museum added a fourth area, Saint Louis.
The Saint Louis addendum acts as a gateway to the rest of the exhibit. It starts with women’s involvement in early Western history, a time from when Saint Louis was on the edge of the frontier to a time where it had evolved into the Gateway to the West. The Saint Louis section also covers women’s political activism in the 20th century. Topics include the suffragette movement and subsequent political movements to protect the environment. Until the former suffragettes turned their attention to air quality, you could measure soot on a Saint Louis sidewalk in grams per square foot.
The main Autry exhibit is much richer in content than the Saint Louis section. The show has plenty of interesting and beautiful cultural and art objects enclosed in Plexiglas display cases. All museum exhibits have those. This show employs a multisensory approach of sight and sound to create individual stories of real women that are woven together in an almost crazy quilt fashion. The show’s layout is free of form, so the visitor wanders easily from the Southwest to the Northwest, to the Rocky Mountains and back again. I found myself circling back again and finding new aspects of this exhibit to experience.
Home Lands pays homage to the American woman of the West. Particular care is taken to pay homage to all of her many faces, Native American, African American, Japanese American, Swedish American and many of the rest. Home Lands portrays women working in the home, but also working outside of it, women working as farmers, doctors, fishermen, factory workers and many more occupations. The conventional history of the American West is a male-dominated narrative. This show aims to redress this imbalance.