New director, exhibit at Delaware Agricultural Museum

New executive director of the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village in Dover stands in front of the newest exhibit “Grandma’s Wash Day.” (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Carolyn Claypoole has always had a love for history at an early age.

“I grew up in Laramie, Wyoming,” Ms. Claypoole said. “My mother was a fourth-grade teacher. That’s the grade when you typically learn state history and she fostered my interest in the history of the American West. My parents took us on camping trips around Wyoming in the summers and we would always visit historic sites along the way.”

Later as a student at the University of Wyoming, Ms. Claypoole and her friend attended a weeklong living history camp of interpretation at Fort Laramie, which helped further solidify her passion for history.

“We lived and worked as Army laundresses would have during the 1870s and it was awful,” Ms. Claypoole said. “The living conditions were terrible and the food was worse. But needless to say, the experience gave me a true appreciation for how people lived back then and the hardships they endured.”

Ms. Claypoole’s love of American history continued and expanded throughout the years to the point that she was recently named the new director of the Delaware Agricultural Museum & Village in Dover.

“Excited isn’t a big enough word,” Ms. Claypoole said. “I am energized.” “This is the job I’ve been looking forward to for many years.”

She held positions over a 16-year period with the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Claypoole is also active with the Lewes Historical Society, currently serving as chairwoman of the society’s collections committee.

Assuming her position on April 30, she replaced former DAMV Executive Director Di Rafter, is relocating out west after 12 years at the museum.

The Kleanwell Electric Washing Machine, circa 1920, sold for $87.50. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“I started on April 30,” Ms. Claypoole said. “I can sum up my experience so far easily. It’s challenging, interesting and very rewarding, as I’m extremely fortunate to work with a terrific museum board.

“As a whole and individually, they could not be more supportive of a number of the new ideas and initiatives I have pitched and hope to enact over the coming months.”

The museum recently opened its newest exhibit called “Grandma’s Wash Day”.

The exhibit includes various household items and traces the evolution of devices and machines dating from the mid-1800s to 1933 that were used to launder clothes.

“The early model machines in the exhibit from roughly 1889 to 1920 are incredibly intricate in their design and are also beautiful examples of American craftsmanship,” Ms. Claypoole said. “As you examine them, you wonder who and how someone came up with the design concept for the machines.”

The exhibit will be in place through the fall of 2019 at the museum at 866 N. Dupont Highway.

The wash day exhibit was curated by Maegan Peterman, a former intern at the museum and Don Boon and Richie Shehorn, two volunteers of the museum, said Ms. Claypoole.

“The wash day exhibit is intended to enhance patrons’ understanding and appreciation for the people who settled in rural areas of this country, the joys and hardships they experienced as well as the routine aspects of their lives,” Ms. Claypoole said.

Ms. Claypoole said the response from visitors has been great so far.

“The exhibit tends to elicit comments from nearly everyone who stops to look at the machines and to read the exhibit panels,” Ms. Claypoole said.

The “Easy” Electric Washing Machine, circa 1912-1925, had two components: a washing machine and a spin dryer. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

One comment from a patron regarding her relatives said “A farm family who had this wonderful contraption, a 1930 gas-powered Maytag washing machine but had to tote water uphill from the well just to fill it — amazes me”.

Ms. Claypoole said revisiting history firsthand helps people better appreciate families, or people who lived during that time.

“It tells you two things that are not readily apparent,” Ms. Claypoole said. “One, the machines were marketed to people in rural areas who had no electricity and two, so-called modern conveniences are less than convenient in areas where there was also no indoor plumbing.

“These are facts that don’t come to mind for most people when they look at the exhibit and they are an important part of the story and historical interpretation.”

Arshon Howard is a freelance writer living in Dover.

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