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Memorial Hall Museum exhibit features 300 ordinary objects that shaped how we live

  • Suzanne Flynt of Memorial Hall Museum in Old Deerfield and Van Wood of Small Corp use suction-cup handles to cover Franklin County woodworking tools on display in a re-tooled tool room on the third floor of the museum.<br/>Recorder/Paul Franz

DEERFIELD — After about seven months of renovation, the Memorial Hall Museum’s largest room is reopening today for its first exhibit, some would say just in time for Father’s Day.

Featuring Franklin County’s agricultural and crafts past with shovels, yokes, ploughs, tape looms, cobbler benches, and other historic tools, the exhibit, “Tools, Trades and Tasks: All Work and No Play?” in the Main Hall will honor fathers on Father’s Day with free passes.

Offering a glimpse into western Massachusetts’ rural past, Tools, Trades and Tasks is an exhibition of 300 ordinary objects that helped shape and transform the landscape and economy of Deerfield and surroundings towns. It focuses on life from colonial times to the early 20th century through tools like the dung fork and spinning wheel.

“We tried to show the tools of everyday life so people get a sense,” said Suzanne Flynt, the museum curator.

The exhibit is essentially a nearly 50-year-old installation with a face lift, said Tim Neumann, executive director of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association.

Tools, Trades and Tasks is installed in Memorial Hall’s Main Hall. This gallery now has nine new exhibition cases, improved lighting and viewing.

Throughout the Main Hall, farm and woodworking tools decorate the walls. The exhibition includes equipment used in agriculture, food and cloth production; woodworking, coopering, and shoemaking trades; early vehicles from Montague and Greenfield; washing and broom-making machines.

The Main Hall is divided into sections from the agricultural area to municipal services to textile production.

The exhibit also shows how everyday life on the farm in rural New England was defined by the season and weather and by gender. While men and boys worked in fields, raised livestock and hunted, women and girls were responsible for food production, housework and dairying.

One of the most unusual sections is municipal services. It features the first fire pump in Deerfield and a Deerfield light pole from 1967, for example.

In the domestic section, there is a 1915 Red Electric washing machine and a butter churn. The domestic section highlights how central bartering for goods was to the early colonial society, Flynt said.

While much of the exhibit focuses on early history of work, Flynt said the exhibit also portrays games and play from carving whimsies and ice-skates. On the far wall, the popular Mack the Giant Ox banner hangs. Mack, supposedly the largest ox in the world at the time of his death in 1906, was raised by James Avery of Buckland.

It is the first time the room will be open since November.

In about six weeks, the roughly 1,000 objects in the Main Hall were inventoried and except for the largest objects were moved from the Main Hall to adjacent rooms for safekeeping. The 1970s barriers were also dismantled. Additional floor space was gained by removing two large vehicles — Frank Boyden’s cart of Deerfield Academy and C. Alice Baker’s sleigh. With permission from the Boyden family, the cart was donated to Deerfield Academy. The sleigh was temporarily moved downstairs until it can be moved to the Town Hall.

Memorial Hall is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for youth and students ages six to 21.

For more information, call 413-774-7476, ext. 10. or visit www.deerfield-ma.org.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268 On Twitter, follow @RecorderKatMcK

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