KINGMAN – “The history of the Old West will come alive in Kingman next week as businessmen, clergy, civic clubs and schools all join in the observance of International Museum Week, April 17-27,” Cecelia Kline of Kline Inc. wrote April 19, 1968.
On April 27, 1968, the “most unusual small museum in America” was officially dedicated by Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. Friday marks the Mohave Museum of History and Arts’ 50th anniversary.
Originally conceived by the Daughters of Mohave County Pioneers, the museum stands in the same space it always has, only it’s larger now. The original building was about 40 feet by 80 feet, and contained about 3,200 square feet of usable space. The building is made of concrete block, salvaged red brick and redwood.
In April 1962, Amy Neal provided a report that outlined the purposes of the museum.
“The purpose is to preserve the history and pertaining artefactual evidence of this era from our past; to establish a place where this material can be collected, authenticated and catalogued for present and future generations to examine and study,” Neal’s report reads. “ … And in general to contribute to a constructive educational and cultural service to the community through the use of materials in the collections.”
At its conception, the museum was known as the Mohave County Pioneer Historical Society Museum, but before the dedication was transformed into the Mohave Museum of History and Arts.
Under the direction of then curator Roy Purcell, the museum staff created a graphic portrayal of the county’s history that “will highlight the year-round exhibit.” It was Purcell’s vision, and the presentation of his vision, which changed the organizational philosophy. His vision wasn’t just a portrayal of the county story, but to provide for future development of the museum as a cultural center of the community.
“When we walked in, we immediately had a sense of belonging,” one volunteer said.
This privately funded, not-for-profit museum is governed by a board of directors. At present, there are about 525 members, but members aren’t the only important assets of the museum. Volunteers are some of the “gemstones” of the organization.
There are currently about 40 volunteers who work various jobs throughout the museum network, which is down from the 100 volunteers they have had in the past.
“With your volunteering to work at the front desk, gift shop, library or archives, we are able to have a museum that we are all proud of,” wrote Carol Hurst, President of the Mohave Museum of History and Arts in 2003. “At the training meeting … I referred to volunteers as ‘gemstones’ rather than pebbles. Everyone knows that when you throw a pebble into a pond, it has a ripple effect but when the ripples reach the edge of the pond they stop. With all of you being ‘gemstone,’ you have a far more reaching effect on our visitors than a pebble … Our polished ‘gemstones’ are one of the most valuable assets our Museum offers our visitors.”
This appreciation for volunteers continues to this day. From the couple working in the archives to help categorize and preserve old maps to the volunteers who learn the Bonelli House backward and forward in order to provide a memorable experience, volunteers make up the backbone of the museum.
The museum was born, created and supported by the Kingman community, and is still considered a centerpiece of the community.
To celebrate its 50 years, the museum has been providing free admission on Saturdays as well as special events throughout the month of April. The Hualapai Tribe will conclude the month’s celebration from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday with presentations and demonstrations from its cultural center, including special speakers and dancers. Purcell and other former museum directors will also give presentations.
“The value of history … lies in its ability to show man where he has been along the path of historical development and thus show him where he is at present and where he is headed,” Purcell told the Mohave County Miner in 1967. “Art is the best mirror of man’s culture, giving us a true picture of his society at any given point along the development scale … Hence art, when combined with historical information and artifacts, gives a complete and more meaningful portrayal of man’s development.”
The museum is open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 1 – 5 p.m. Saturday. A ticket costs $4, which allows entry to the Mohave Museum, Route 66 Museum and the Bonelli House. For seniors that cost is $3, and children under 12 are free.