There are times when you’re made to see the past wasn’t so long ago, and the future is happening quicker than you realize. That’s what happens when you walk through the “The Way We Worked” at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Museum.
The show is a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit that explores the evolution of how the American workforce performs its jobs. It runs through June 29.
The museum has installed a local exhibit, “Farming on the Farm, Agricultural Operations at Angola,” to coincide with the Smithsonian’s.
“That was one of the requirements of this exhibit,” says Genny Nadler Thomas, the museum’s program and development director. “Museums that host this exhibit must also have a local show, and we’re showing an exhibit about agricultural work at this unique city — Angola.”
Thomas is referring to work by Angola’s inmates and its community of workers, some of whom live in a residential area on the prison farm’s vast spread.
“‘A lot of people have lived and worked here through the years, and we’re interested in their stories,” she says. “They not only can come here and see the exhibit, they can add something of their own.”
The museum has set up a recording station for visitors to share their own Angola stories.
“We’ve already had several people who have come through and told their stories, and all of these stories go straight into the Smithsonian’s archives,” Thomas says.
And all of this combines with the Smithsonian’s show to make visitors stop and think about the journey between old and new.
“What would life be like without teachers, doctors or firefighters?” Thomas asks. “Everyday, Americans are hard at work on farms, factories, in homes or at desks keeping our communities thriving.”
The Smithsonian illustrates these jobs through a series of panels paired with interactive displays. “There are areas where visitors can view films,” Thomas says. “The show covers everything from child labor to smartphones.”
Not that long ago people used typewriters to write reports or correspondence. Now people communicate by text message or an email.
“Yes, we have typewriters in this show,” Thomas says. “And the exhibit looks at how some people now do their entire jobs through a smartphone.”
There also are examples of hard hats and miner’s hats, along with photos of workers doing their jobs at the turn of the century.
“And we have photos from the 1960s, when computers took up entire rooms,” Thomas says. “… They were so big, and now we use laptops. The exhibit looks at that, too.”
“The Way We Worked” covers 60 years of American labor. The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities chose the Angola Museum as its host as part of the Museum on Main Street project, a project that brings exhibits and program to rural cultural organizations.
After leaving Angola, the exhibit will travel to five other Louisiana communities, where it will make others stop and think about then and now.