By Joey Phoenix
The 2017 iteration of the House of the Seven Gables annual exhibition series Life and Labor: Over Four Centuries at the Gables, is open now at the historic museum and landmark, telling the stories of workers on the property, in Salem, and throughout New England from the 17th the 20th centuries.
The follow-up to last year’s Caroline Emmerton: An Unbounded Vision features not the stories of the rich and wealthy men and property owners whose names are well known to history, but tells the tales of these whose endeavors are lesser known: enslaved persons, indentured servants, and women — the real workers, with a focus on those who lived and worked at the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion itself.
“I hope that people take away the changing nature of work over the last four centuries,” says David Moffat, Senior Tour Guide and Lead Researcher for the House of the Seven Gables, “to think about the way their own labor fits into the history of labor, and to discover how work has changed so much and how it’s still changing.”
The exhibit hosts a number of unique items to illustrate the changing nature of work from 17th century pre-industrialization to 20th century postindustrial society including hand-formed hammered nails alongside machine-made nails, architectural tools, and garden implements.
“One of the things we have on display in the exhibit is the garden spade,” explains Special Projects Manager Julie Arrison-Bishop. “The men of the house, the Turners, were typically out at sea and would’ve not been the gardeners most likely, but during the spring with getting the garden ready or perhaps in the fall, putting the garden to bed, they might have picked it up and used it.
“It’s a tool that’s universal for anybody who would’ve been here at the house, whether you were enslaved, a child, or a wealthy owner of the mansion — you would’ve been using a tool like this.”
Ryan Conary, marketing and reservations coordinator for the Gables, was in charge of the design for the exhibit. In addition to the panels, which contain a great deal more imagery on them than in years past, this year’s exhibit also has an interactive element.
“We felt that using a kiosk this year with audio would be the best choice for us, because it was simple to put together, and it can get people emotionally invested in the themes.”
The kiosk is positioned at the start of the exhibition, where visitors can listen via headphones to music thematically complementary to the experience. The tracks are comprised of sea shanties, folk songs, and even a Polish traditional cooking song.
“Rather than focusing on a specific period of time, we wanted to cover everything.” Ryan discusses. “There are more stories than just the narrative of the wealthy people who owned the house. Instead, we wanted to get all the stories across.”
The purpose of the exhibition is to show that people from all walks of life have always worked in one capacity or another. Work is a universal concept.
“We want people to ask questions “where do your clothes come from?’, ‘where does your food come from?, ‘who is doing the labor for the things you use today in 2017?’ and also, ‘who was doing the work in 1668 as well?’ Julie says.
“Some things change, some things stay the same, there’s a lot of things that will feel very familiar in the exhibit, and also a lot of great learning experiences.”