Major overhaul for exhibits, displays

Top: Diane Formo, Wilder Museum curator, is ready to celebrate the museum’s re-opening. At right: This lamp was used as a prop in “Gone With the Wind.”


By Kim Hurley

Freelance Writer


Include the Grand Re-Opening Celebration of the Wilder Museum on your list of festivities to enjoy during Strawberry Days on Saturday, June 7th from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Located at 123 West Mission Street in Strawberry Point, the original Wilder Museum was established with the purpose of housing the collection of hundreds of heirloom dolls belonging to two local sisters, Blanche Baldridge and Gladys Keneally. They had intended to donate their collection to the Iowa State Historical Society. However, when the community realized that they were about to lose this important local collection, money was donated by the Mary and Frank Wilder estate, the City of Strawberry Point purchased the land, and the original Museum was constructed and opened on April 4, 1970.

In the 1980s, the Alderson Addition was built. Marcy Alderson not only taught piano in Strawberry Point, he built exquisite collections of glassware, furniture, and porcelain, all of which are on display at the Wilder Museum.   

The completion of the Munter-Knight wing was celebrated in May 21, 1993, after local residents, Duane Munter and Harold and Leonore Knight donated the money and land for it. 

“The mission of the Wilder Museum is to preserve and maintain collections reflecting the heritage of the people of Strawberry Point, Iowa and the surrounding communities, promoting education and increasing awareness of the culture and diversity of Northeast Iowa,” states Diane Formo, director and curator of the museum. This is apparent in the vast array of artifacts, collections, and exhibits on display at the Wilder Museum, which spans 7,450 square feet. According to Diane, Guests particularly comment about the variety, quality, rarity, and presentation of the artifacts and collections.

There are collections of toy tractors; Victorian Art Glass, furniture, and lamps; textiles; business items; railroad memorabilia; cobbler items; Bibles dating back to the 1700s with some in German; rocks, geodes, and Indian artifacts, and Myrwyn Eaton Impressionist works.  Exhibits displaying other artifacts and collections include Dolls and Dollhouses, Military, Prairie Farm, Prairie Kitchen, Doctors, and Textiles.

In the Dolls and Dollhouses Exhibits, dolls can be found to be made of felt, composition, porcelain, china, corn husk, wax, brass, and tin. The dolls made in the United States include depictions of George and Martha Washington, Shirley Temple, Orphan Annie, and the Campbell Soup kids. Other countries represented in the doll collection include Germany, France, England, Italy, and Mexico. A large number of the dolls include real human hair or mohair wigs. This exhibit also showcases doll houses and doll furniture.

The Military Exhibit includes items dating back to the Revolutionary War such as medals, uniforms and weapons, as well as confederate and foreign currency.  Especially noteworthy in this exhibit is a Purple Heart from World War I and a Nazi youth arm band.

The Prairie Farm Exhibit, which highlights the settlement era of Strawberry Point, includes a goat treadmill and prairie farming tools.

Included in the Doctor’s Exhibit is a doctor’s chair from the mid-1900s as well as doctors’ bags with original medicine bottles.

Featured among other items in the Textiles Exhibit is an 1847 handmade loom as well as a grouping of five spinning wheels, a Flapper-era wedding dress from the 1920s, a coat and hat made by a milliner from Lamont, Iowa, and a collection of quilts.

Diane explains the main job responsibilities of the five seasonal employees of the Wilder museum, “First and foremost, our employees are tour guides, doing what we can to make each guest’s experience the most interesting and rewarding possible.” Employees also do research to learn more about the amazing artifacts housed at the Wilder Memorial Museum and to be more knowledgeable. This makes them better able to “tell the story” and answer questions that guests may have. Furthermore, each employee is cross-trained to work in documentation and cataloging, care and maintenance of the artifacts. Finally, the employees assist in the Gift Shoppe of the museum. 

The museum is fortunate to have seven volunteers.  However, Diane pipes up “we would love to have more.”  Like the employees of the museum, the volunteers do a variety of tasks. Besides working in the Gift Shoppe, most of the volunteers work at the Welcome Desk, greeting guests upon their arrival and checking with them when they leave. Some of the volunteers also help with yard work, maintenance, research, and office work.

“We tore down walls, moved walls, and added walls,” Diane said about the remodeling. There are not only new exhibits, but there are also redesigned and relocated exhibits. Hence, every exhibit has been affected or changed in some way.  

Although most of the exhibits are permanent, the design of the make-over project facilitates the rotation and changing out of artifacts on a regular basis. This will also allow entire exhibits to be changed with only a few minor alterations. The new design will further provide space and adaptability for traveling exhibit loans, a new feature at the museum which Diane hopes to grow.

 On average, several hundred guests visit the Wilder Museum per season.  Diane predicts, “We anticipate visits will increase significantly this season.” During the months of May, September, and October, the museum is open only on Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, it’s open Sunday through Thursday, 1 to 4 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.   

The admission fee is $7 for adults. Depending on the size, the museum offers special discounts for groups.  Besides admission fees, the Wilder Museum is financially supported through donations, interest from a trust, and memorials.  

Diane, along with her Board of Directors, staff, and volunteers, invites you to stop in and see all the change and improvements of the Wilder Museum at its Grand Re-Opening Celebration. Again, it will be held in conjunction with Strawberry Days on Saturday, June 7, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the Museum is a Free Will Donation. Brats and hot dogs will be sold as a fund raiser to help reach the make-over goal.  There will be face painting and temporary tattoos.

“We’ve had thousands of hours of labor donated to this project,” expresses Diane excitedly, “I am so impressed and proud of the work our volunteers have done, and all the wonderful things that have been donated to help make our Museum become better than ever! Please join us!”

For further information, Diane Formo can be reached at 123 W. Mission Street, PO Box 206, Strawberry Point, IA 52076, 563-933-4615 (museum phone), or 563-920-8712 (mobile phone).






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