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Smithsonian exhibit in Louisiana, Mississippi

Associated Press Updated: May 17, 2014 at 11:15 am 0

ANGOLA, La. (AP) — Big photographs of Louisiana State Penitentiary inmates working in the prison's vegetable fields are on display with a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution in Angola Museum, just outside the gates to the 18,000-acre prison grounds.

"This is a working farm. Everybody has a job," said museum director Marsha Lindsey. Inmates paid up to 20 cents an hour raise about 4 million pounds of vegetables, which are processed and frozen to feed inmates at Angola and four nearby state prisons.

"The Way We Worked" — part of the Smithsonian's Museum on Main Street program — opens Saturday in Angola and 270 miles away in Tunica, Mississippi. Identical exhibits also are being shown in Rhode Island, Michigan and California.

Each museum, city hall, library or other facility that gets the exhibit must add its own displays and programs.

Tunica's include two movies about farming, one from 1938 and one from the present; a photo of a barber shop in an evacuee camp during the Great Flood of 1927, captioned "Even when times get tough, Delta folks keep going;" and a hands-on exhibit of old-style business equipment and modern equivalents, called "Your Grampa's Office."

"We've rounded up vintage business machines from all over our county area," museum director Richard Taylor said. "You match up the old calculator that has the handle on the side — you push buttons down and pull up the handle — with the modern counterpart, a pocket-sized calculator about the size of a credit card. ... There's a big old file cabinet; we label it as a hard drive."

There's also a 1990s "bag phone" — a hefty cellular phone with transceiver and battery so large that it came in its own shoulder bag.

"For kids it's still old," Taylor said.

Angola's display will become a permanent part of the museum, said Genny Nadler-Thomas, the museum's program and development director. It includes images of modern-day inmates harvesting and planting crops and working with horses and historic photographs of inmates working in fields of cotton or sugar cane.

The museum also will hold a "Farming on the Farm" tour and symposium May 30, featuring warden Burl Cain — a former state agriculture secretary — and agricultural extension service agent Andre Brock.

Inmates don't visit Angola's museum. It gets about 3,000 visitors a month, about 1,000 of them on school tours.

The traveling exhibit includes more than 200 photographs on panels that fit together for a free-standing display, on spinners and in flipbooks, and about 25 artifacts, such as a 1920s candlestick phone paired with a BlackBerry.

There also are five replica hats — a rancher's hat, a women's navy officer cap, a baseball cap from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a yellow hard hat, and a 1940s coal miner's hat with a mounted light. Each is on a rotating stand and is paired with a quotation from someone who might have worn it.

State humanities councils choose five to seven host communities and set the itineraries, Jennifer Schommer, spokeswoman for Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, said in an email.

Louisiana's has been to Jonesboro, Minden, Bunkie and DeRidder; Mississippi's in Meridian, Indianola, New Albany, Decatur and Wesson, where it was shown in Copiah-Lincoln Community College's art gallery.

Some 1,300 people attended the exhibit during the six-week period, said Jeff Posey, the college's director of institutional planning and research.

He said "Wesson: From mill town to college town" tied in with the college's centennial and the 150th anniversary of Wesson, a rural town of about 1,900.

"Our city was home to large textile mills back in the late 1800s that ... made our town one of the largest between the capitol of Mississippi and New Orleans. The town had electric lights before Chicago did, because of the mills that employed several thousand," he said.

Taylor said he's hoping for 10,000 visitors over the two-month stay in Tupelo. The museum usually gets about 30,000 visitors a year, he said.

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