As jolting as that may sound, this move by its board of directors begins an exciting chapter that our community can embrace with confidence and excitement. You see, the museum, which for decades has had a home on Center Street, full of information and exhibits from the age of the dinosaurs clear through our pioneers and politicos, has made plans to redesign and expand its space right where it is—not in some location away from the heart of downtown.
The museum has been crunched for space for decades. Generous donors have filled it with photographs, quilts, prehistoric pots and baskets, radioactive uranium-boom memorabilia and love. Lots of love. The people of Moab have made this a repository that is a sampling of the Moab area and the richness of this country. And while its contents could surely use a much larger building, it’s just not practical in our little town right now. So its board of directors has wisely made the choice to reconfigure the space that it has, just a block off Main, into a modern exhibit place that efficiently blends form with function within the confines of walls, budgets, and important stuff that needs to be saved and seen. Reconfigured exhibits will teach people about the greater Moab area in updated ways. In the words of museum officials, the museum will be “reimagined.”
For decades the museum has been a place of wonder and history. When I was a kid, it was one of those places I could slip into, perhaps with a best friend or a cousin in tow, and see fascinating things that I would marvel at over and over again. It was always a welcoming place, with a friendly person at the front desk—Virginia Fossey for the entire time I was growing up—happy to have visitors. I could roam freely from one interesting thing to another, touching base with Moab’s roots.
My favorite display both then and now is the rocks, which under normal light don’t look much different than what I might see while hiking around the Colorado Plateau. But those very rocks, which turn on a rotating platform, glow with magnificent colors when bathed in a black light. That exhibit is magic to me every time I go to the museum as I see the colors transform, still not quite understanding how the light and conditions can make plain objects look so wondrous.
I’m sure that display alone has entertained and educated untold thousands of kids and adults over the years. Moab was born of rock—in so many ways—and the rotating stones are just one educational example.
So is the room named for Virginia Fossey, where murals show how the area underwent magnificent, eons-long cycles of change that at times both covered southeastern Utah with oceans and flora, then left it barren again. It’s mind boggling, but the artistry of paint and written interpretation reveal the big picture.
One exhibit that always shocked me a little is no longer there. It was the display of a Native American dwelling place, cradling the mummified body of a tiny infant, lying in a faux space that looked much like the place in which it was found. I was always a little horrified by it, but also hugely interested. Over the years it became apparent that such an exhibit was no longer politically correct. Museum officials wisely took the sacred body out of view, then eventually made arrangements to take it back to its Four Corners place of origin where it was blessed and I presume, buried again, where it belonged.
If all goes well the museum will re-open in a year with updated exhibit designs, contemporary techniques, and stories that interpret our region’s geology, history and cultures. While the building is closed, the museum will host specialized programming, lectures and temporary exhibits. Shelved for a while is a plan to build an entirely new museum on Highway 191 near the river bridge. Perhaps someday the funding will be in place to create an entirely new place in a new space. But for now, there couldn’t be a better place for the museum.