Traveling Smithsonian exhibit comes to Escanaba

ESCANABA – Residents will have a unique opportunity to see a world class museum exhibit without traveling too far from home. A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition chronicling America’s labor force comes to Escanaba later this month.

The Escanaba Public Library, in cooperation with Bay College and the Michigan Humanities Council, will bring the exhibit to Escanaba Feb. 19 through March 28. Bay College will be hosting the exhibit titled “The Way We Worked” in the South Gallery of the Besse Center, and the library will be hosting supporting events and speakers throughout the exhibit’s six-week stay.

“The Escanaba Public Library received the grant from the Michigan Humanities Council,” noted Carolyn Stacey, library director. Stacey added the Humanities Council had set up a web page specifically for the Escanaba branch of the exhibit’s tour at

The 650-square-foot exhibit features photos and text documenting the clothing, places, conditions, and social conditions of America’s labor force throughout the mid 19th and late 20th centuries.

“It should be pretty high quality work, and from what I’ve seen it is,” said Larry Leffel, arts coordinator at Bay College.

In addition to the images of workers from throughout the country in the exhibit, the Delta County Historical Society will be contributing photos of local workers from the same period. Commercial fishermen, loggers, ore dock workers, and other laborers will be featured.

“It’s just very appealing to have those kind of connections,” said Leffel of the local photos.

Leffel believes it is beneficial for the college to host an exhibit on labor because it shows students studying subjects like auto and water technology what their fields were like in the past. He also feels that the exhibit is relevant to today’s political and social discussions about the role of labor, labor relations, workplace conditions, and labor inequalities.

“We hope to get people interested in social issues in a less biased environment,” he said.

The opening reception for The Way We Worked will take place on Feb. 19 from noon to 3 p.m. at the Besse Center. At 1 p.m. John Beck will present the exhibit. Beck is an Escanaba native, associate professor of Human Resources and Labor Relations at Michigan State University, and the state historian for the project.

Refreshments will be served at the opening reception, and music will be provided by local musical group, The Attic Brass.

The library’s series of supporting programs will start off on Wednesday, Feb. 20 with the Delta County Historical Society’s monthly lecture, a multimedia presentation on the history of commercial fishing in Delta County. The presentation will begin at 7 p.m. in the Escanaba City Council Chambers.

The second program in the series is titled “Dollar-a-Day Boys: A Tribute to the Civilian Conservation Corps.” Author and storyteller, Bill Jamerson will present original songs and stories about the Corps.

“That’s more of a family program. We wanted something that appealed to everyone,” said Stacey.

The final program in the series is a concert titled “Music from the Backyard & Front Porch” presented by Lauren Pelon of Minneapolis, Minn. The concert will feature music of America’s indigenous peoples, as well as the songs and instruments of immigrant populations.

More information about the exhibit and other programs at the Escanaba Public Library can be found at