New director now at helm of Potsdam Public Museum
BY CHERYL SHUMWAY
North Country This Week
POTSDAM – A “Changing of the Guard” recently took place as the retiring director of Potsdam Public Museum assisted the new director last month.Mimi Van Deusen retired after serving as museum director for the past 14 years. Erin Cheney, of West Stockholm, is now filling her shoes.
They both noted there are a lot of “moving parts to this job.” Van Deusen and Cheney said the job includes building of exhibits, maintaining collections, archiving new additions, public outreach, budgeting, and communicating with the Museum, Village, and Town Boards, and the Friends of the Museum.
“We do a lot of research requests, mostly genealogy. People have traveled from other countries to do family research. We’ve had people break down in tears, happy to find missing puzzle pieces to their family history,” Van Deusen said.
“It’s very rewarding to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Looking back on her 14 years Van Deusen said she especially enjoyed the different exhibits the museum held each year. She said some of her favorites were the Clarkson family genealogy, China exhibit, and history of tattoos.
She has fond memories of elementary school programs and holiday Open Houses each year and of the Sandstone Festivals with walking tours of churches, cemeteries and many sandstone buildings in Potsdam.
Other highlights were the Civic Center added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2015 and obtaining historic markers in Potsdam. Van Deusen is hoping the newest historic marker will arrive this spring in honor of Julia Crane, founder of the Crane School of Music.
“The school exhibits we do each year create memories for the kids. They are excited to return, and it is a big highlight of the year. Adults that visit the museum often say they remember when they came here as elementary students,” said Van Deusen.
There have been many changes while Van Deusen has been director. The former one-page website with their address and telephone number is now a multi-layered comprehensive website full of links, stories and images of Potsdam, including over a dozen past exhibits.
The digitization of over 5,000 photographs, documents, and maps are now scanned, organized and able to be shared.
The museum is currently working on “PastPerfect Online,” a project that will share 5,000 images, plus collections, said Van Deusen.
“I have learned from Mimi’s guidance,” said Cheney, who has been an aide at the museum for the past five years. She completed her major in history and museum studies at SUNY Potsdam and her Master’s degree in Public History at Southern New Hampshire University.
Van Deusen said, “Erin has been a godsend. Sometimes it’s hard seeing the forest through the trees. ‘You’ve got to step back and look at the big picture,’ Erin would tell me.”
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