By Janie McKirgan
As the new Executive Director of The Jimmy Stewart Museum, I knew I wanted to introduce Jimmy Stewart to a new generation, as well as to honor what makes him so special to past generations. The task was daunting and I lost a lot of sleep just trying to do him justice. Every museum I went to in the past 6 months, I looked for inspiration and new ideas. After 25 years, the museum was showing its age and it was definitely in need of an update and a refresh! I visited local businesses here in Indiana to describe my vision and they stepped up in a big way to support the museum update. I also received generous support from The Stewart Foundation (Jimmy and Gloria’s children). I am beyond grateful for ALL of their support for this one of a kind hometown treasure. Now that it is complete, I am beyond proud of the outcome!
First off, we took everything off the walls and I mean EVERYTHING! We then had the whole museum repainted, picking unique colors to give each exhibit its own identity. It’s truly amazing what a fresh coat of paint will do! Things were definitely looking up and much brighter! We had our blank canvas. While the paint was drying, we reorganized our whole collection into specific galleries and then into certain displays. We decided where to put emphasis and where to insert new pieces. The new organization was a nod to the original layout but we showcased the galleries in a new light! There are new items on display and added stories to make it all cohesive and more interesting.
We honored what our visitors and Stewart fans asked for. We created a hallway with pictures of Jimmy, his wife Gloria and their children because visitors inquired about the Stewart family most often. We expanded and enlarged his military history display because veterans asked for more. We constantly asked ourselves what we would want to see in a museum. We created new elements to connect and broaden the displays. Lastly, we spent long hours laying our vision on the gallery floors and then finally rehanging everything and creating new, exciting exhibits. My arms have never been so sore from all of that hammering! We had a deadline of 2 ½ weeks to get it all done. There were times we didn’t think we would make it but everyone pitched it and we finished with just hours to spare!
We have six galleries filled with all things Jimmy and interesting historical items that put them into context. In these galleries we have the history of the Stewart ancestors, his family and growing up in this quaint small town. We honor his heroic military career, World War II service and his love of aviation. We showcase his impressive 80 + film career and highlight directors he worked with such as Capra, Hitchcock and Mann. His numerous awards, military uniforms/medals, costumes, props and personal items are all displayed throughout the museum with more pictures and stories to bring them to life. We saved a special location that is now a rotating gallery. This gallery will change exhibits 3 to 4 times a year giving fans, young and old alike, a reason to return to learn more about a new aspect of Jimmy Stewart’s life.
Our update didn’t stop there. We designed a new logo for museum, ordered new and unique items for The Shop Around the Corner (our museum gift shop) and updated our website! 25 years old never looked so good!
The last phase of our update was to include touch screens and fact reveals to create a more hands-on experience. We had to put that on hold because of COVID-19. Hopefully, sometime next year, these new features will be up and running when we can all safely experience them. Jimmy would have wanted us to be safe.
It was a labor of love for the whole museum staff. We are all big fans of this man who truly had a wonderful life! The most fun we had was going through the archives searching for hidden treasures that certainly needed to be on display! If you haven’t been to visit the museum, I promise you it will be worth your time and worth the trip. If you have been here already, please come back! You’ll have a brand new and “wonderful” experience!
I would be remiss if I didn’t include special thanks and shout-outs to the following businesses who supported us in so many ways: The Stewart Foundation, Indiana Borough, S&T Bank, The Reschini Group, First Commonwealth Bank, InFirst Bank, Tyger Paint & Wallcovering, Planful, The Indiana Gazette, Indiana County Endowment, Indiana Rotary, Indiana County Tourist Bureau and Downtown Indiana. Lastly, thanks to the museum staff for all of your hard work and passion and to the James M. Stewart Foundation Board of Directors for their guidance and constant support. This community came together for our very special hometown hero!