New historical museum director working on less is more theory

Huntington County Historical Museum Director Mark Stouder (right) and museum volunteer Jim Dinius look over a model of Huntington as it appeared around 1835. Stouder joined the museum as director late last year.
Huntington County Historical Museum Director Mark Stouder (right) and museum volunteer Jim Dinius look over a model of Huntington as it appeared around 1835. Stouder joined the museum as director late last year. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published Feb. 8, 2015

Mark Stouder is going with the theory that more can sometimes be done with less.

So while the Huntington County Historical Museum was on its regular month-long shutdown in January, Stouder and the museum’s volunteer crew were weeding through the displays.

“What we’re trying to do is thin it out a little bit and let the exhibits tell a story,” Stouder says.

Stouder himself is still becoming acquainted by the museum’s story, having been hired as its director in December. The museum was open just 11 days under his tenure before it closed for a month in January.

But while the museum’s doors were closed to the public, its new director, board members and crew of volunteers were spending the month cleaning and reorganizing — something that’s done every year in January — and the director was familiarizing himself with the museum and its contents.

Although Stouder says he’s always had an interest in history, he admits to not having any previous familiarity with the local historical museum.

“I didn’t even know it was here,” he says, referring to the museum’s location on Court Street. “I thought it was still on the top floor of the courthouse.”

He’d spent his career working in the printing business, first at Our Sunday Visitor, in Huntington, and then at Renaissance Publishing, in Auburn, and had finally retired.

Then the opening at the museum came up. And his wife sent in his resumé.
“She said she sent it in because she thought I would enjoy that,” Stouder says.

It piqued his interest, and the museum’s board decided Stouder would be a good fit.

“At 66, I can do what I want, not what I have to,” he says.

Since taking the job, Stouder has been acquainting himself with the historical items on display in the museum’s public areas and the many more items that are packed into its storage areas.

“I was surprised by the amount of things we have in certain exhibits,” he says.

Sometimes, a display would have many of the same items; other times, the display packed in too much to be easily absorbed by a visitor.

“Sometimes less is more,” he says.

In addition to paring down the exhibits, Stouder is adding signs in front of each display to explain its significance.

“We’re going to try to make each exhibit a little special,” he explains.

The signs will explain why the object is in the museum, its significance to Huntington County and the story behind the item on display.

“You’ll see what the story is behind the picture, or whatever it is,” he says. “We want people to come through, enjoy it and understand its significance.”

It’s not a task he’s taking on by himself. The museum has an exhibits committee that weighs in on what should be on display and how it should be displayed.

Exhibits are changed every three months.

Stouder wants to eventually replace the paper signs with recorded information. By pushing a button, a visitor will be able to hear the story while looking at the exhibit.

School groups tour the museum in the spring and in the fall, and volunteers are stationed at each exhibit to offer an explanation to the students — something that other visitors don’t get.

“If you’re just walking through by yourself, you may not understand the story,” Stouder says.

Stouder has also added some background music that’s being piped through the museum. One day earlier this week, it was 1930s music, but different eras can be featured on different days.

The background music, he says, is more welcoming than the silence.

“People can spend two or three hours in here just looking at stuff,” he says. “The music makes it kind of nice.”

The Huntington County Historical Museum is located at 315 Court St., Huntington. Hours are Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission is by donation, and both individual and family memberships are available.