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Third Thursday Thoughts: Reflections from the Executive Director

Museums Are for Kids

June 21, 2022 | Third Thursday Thoughts
Dawn LaRochelle, Executive Director

I have a new obsession, and her name is Linda Skeens. If you’re asking who Linda Skeens is, you are in excellent company: scores of people have been asking the same question. Confused yet? Allow me to unpack this one for you. 

Deep in southwest Virginia, there’s a county fair where, last month, one woman won first, second, and third place for best cookies. She also swept all three awards for candy and savory bread. In fact, she won the blue ribbon for cake, pie, brownie, sweet bread, and best overall baked good (that was strawberry fudge – yum!).

It didn’t stop there. She also won for canned tomatoes, canned corn, pickled peppers, sauerkraut, relish, spaghetti sauce, and both jelly and jam. Then, she took top honors in quilt embroidery. And after the Virginia Kentucky District Fair posted these utterly dominating results to Facebook in June, she went viral, celebrated in song, on social media comments, and in too many memes to count. And yet, this culinary wunderkind, this Food TV Network star in the making, this Internet celebrity named – you guessed it – Linda Skeens was nowhere to be found. As in, zero digital footprint. Say whaaaaaat?!

You read correctly — the winningest woman in country fair history does not have any social media accounts. Two other Linda Skeens (one in Blacksburg, VA and one in Morehead, KY) had to pin disclaimer posts to the top of their Facebook pages notifying readers they were not the stove-and-oven wizard after they were deluged with private messages and friend requests. Turns out she doesn’t have email or a cell phone, either. As one poster lamented, “She showed up, showed everyone what a winner looks like, and left without a trace.”

Ironically, it took a very 2022 TikTok video by Dallas radio personality Mason Moussette to finally track down the very not-2022 social media-shunning Linda Skeens: Skeens’ granddaughter saw the video and put Moussette in touch with Skeens. “You do realize that everyone on the internet wants you to cook for them,” Moussette told Skeens, using Skeens’ land line. “Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner — they want you to cook it all for them.“ Skeens’ reply? “I’m busy cooking for my family.”

Museums, like Linda Skeens, can be a bit of a throwback to an earlier, pre-Internet era. Which means that it’s a challenge to get our youth to walk through the museum door. I often comment that at the Maine Jewish Museum, our biggest competition for the hearts and minds of young people is not other museums, it’s the iPhone. My own sons have, to my chagrin, argued that it’s a waste of time to go to a museum when, and I quote, “you can get the same information a lot more efficiently through an Internet search.” 

But as much as it’s tempting to wring my hands and get all sentimental about the good old days, when we played with wooden toys and trudged 10 miles to school in blizzard conditions, I, too, hated museums when I was a kid. Even now, I shudder remembering being dragged by my well-meaning parents across hard marble floors for hours on end to stare at art I wasn’t allowed to touch and that, from my vantage point, had exactly zero relevance to my life. My favorite part of those forced cultural excursions was getting to eat Jell-O with Cool Whip in the museum cafeteria when the visit was blessedly over!

For these reasons, one of my first major undertakings as Executive Director of the Maine Jewish Museum was to create a new Kids Korner on our underutilized second floor, complete with chalkboard, whiteboard, construction paper, crayons, markers, crafting supplies, and sensory tactile toys, as well as a reading nook overflowing with Jewish and art-themed books. And for what will be the first of many future family-oriented programs designed in conjunction with our art exhibits, local artist Juliet Karelsen will be leading an in-person, hands-on workshop on cyanotypes – the age-old process of placing objects on paper or fabric treated with light-sensitive chemicals to create prints that turn a deep cyan blue when exposed to the sun — from 1 – 3 PM on August 3 (rain date August 10) for art lovers of ALL ages. Museums should be for kids, and kids deserve to have a fun and meaningful experience at the museum in ways that engage all their senses, stimulate their creativity, and awaken the budding artists inside them.

Not that I’m against embracing technology, including that newfangled social media thing, in the inner sanctum of the museum. On the contrary, I’m very much in the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” camp, and I have grand plans for some cool new tech at the Maine Jewish Museum – stay tuned! But museums are designed to preserve and protect the beauty of what’s old as well as what’s new… and there is something to be said for making like Linda Skeens and being too busy creating to spend time posting. Either way, if you are a kid or have a kid or are a kid at heart, I hope you’ll check out our new kid-friendly offerings at the Maine Jewish Museum. And if you manage to get in touch with Linda Skeens, make sure and get that strawberry fudge recipe for me!