April 30, 2012
Today is a day of mixed emotions. We are closing the permanent exhibits at the Roosevelt Library to turn the spaces over to our general contractor for a much needed renovation. And immediately following that work an exhibit fabricator will start to install a brand new permanent exhibit.
Some of our current museum exhibits have been in place since 1972. An alarmingly long time for any museum exhibit so the prospect of change is exciting. But for many, those exhibits are like old friends. In my very first job at the Library in 1972 I was a part time archives aide and pressed into service assisting the museum staff as they worked to complete the First Fifty Years Gallery. The exhibit was done completely in house and my job was to paint the paper we were using for exhibit labels. After the tan color paint dried I would roll the paper into a typewriter that had a special ball with a large size font. Then I very carefully typed the label copy on the paper and cut it to fit into its wooden frame. It was a long process and one mistake sent you all the way back to painting more paper. You can bet I will be grabbing one of those original labels for my memory box before the demo crew comes through.
In the last 40 years I have taken so many people through our exhibit spaces; heads of state, celebrities, journalists and countless tourists who just looked a little lost as I was passing through the galleries. I was often late for meetings because I had stopped to point out something interesting in the exhibit to one of our visitors and a brief stop turned into a mini tour. What can I say—I love the place and I love showing it off!
So we bid a fond farewell to an amazing chapter in the Roosevelt Library’s history. And in the same breath we proclaim the coming of a new and powerful permanent exhibit opening in late summer 2013. New state-of-the-art installations on the life and times of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt will tell the story of the Roosevelt presidency from the depths of the Great Depression and continuing through the New Deal years and the Second World War, while also covering their early years and FDR’s heroic struggle to regain his strength and political career after polio. Concluding galleries will consider the Roosevelt legacy today and guide visitors through Mrs. Roosevelt’s work in the years following the President’s death. The exhibit features special interactives and audio-visual theaters designed to bring the new deal to a new generation.
And in the meantime from spring 2012 to late summer 2013—while our permanent exhibit galleries are closed for the final stage of the Library’s renovation—the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is presenting the largest photography exhibition ever assembled on the lives and public careers of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. “The Roosevelts: Public Figures, Private Lives,” is a new and very different kind of exhibit that takes visitors on an immersive photographic and film journey through the lives and times of the Roosevelts. The exhibition features nearly one thousand images that vividly depict both their public and private lives.
These photographs include famous and familiar images, many reproduced in dramatically large formats. But the exhibit also presents visitors with new visual perspectives on the Roosevelts through large numbers of unique and rarely-seen personal photographs from the unparalleled photographic collections at the Roosevelt Library. Shot by family members, friends, government officials, and other insiders, these images offer fascinating views into the private lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and their family and political associates. The highlight of the exhibit is a multimedia presentation featuring original audio recordings of Eleanor Roosevelt speaking about her family life.
One of our primary goals throughout the Library renovation has been to keep the Museum open to the public. This new exhibit was designed by our museum staff to serve not just as an interim exhibition but also a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our visitors. Never before have this many photographs of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt been assembled in one place. If a picture is worth a thousand words just imagine the story 1,000 photos can tell.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the enormous support of the Roosevelt Institute, the Library’s private partner. They are providing all of the financial support for the design and installation of the new permanent exhibit and our temporary exhibit. We owe so much to their Board of Directors led by Anna Eleanor Roosevelt and their amazingly supportive staff led by President and CEO Felicia Wong.
The Roosevelt Library owes its biggest gratitude to Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel and his outstanding leadership in the revitalization of the Roosevelt Library. Many years ago he accepted the enormous challenge of raising millions of dollars in support of building a new Visitor Center and new permanent exhibits. He, along with Anne Roosevelt and the Roosevelt Institute Board, was also instrumental in securing congressional funding for the building renovation. I know of no individual who has worked so tirelessly in support of the Roosevelt Library and its mission. We are forever indebted to Bill for his generosity and support.