A new exhibit at the Jefferson Arts Gallery in Monticello captures the immigrant experience and how ever-changing forms of transportation – from horseback and stagecoach to railroad, automobile, airplane and spaceship – contributed to American history.
"Journey Stories," on view Jan. 11 to Feb. 22, is a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit that features photographs, paintings and written accounts from colonial times through the westward expansion and beyond.
Catching sight of the New World in 1754, German immigrant Gottlieb Mittelberger wrote, "After a tedious voyage . . . all crept from below on deck . . . and they weep for joy, and pray and sing, thanking and praising God."
The collection guides visitors from the arrival of immigrants on ships to wagon trains rolling westward, from the growth of railroads to the exodus of Oklahoma farmers in rickety trucks during the 1930s Dust Bowl era. It also examines the growth and abolition of slavery.
"When I found I had crossed the line . . . I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person,” wrote Harriet Tubman in her account about escaping from slavery. “There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven."
Visitors can view excerpts from letters, artifacts and photos or push buttons to hear recorded messages about the pioneers who trudged the Oregon and Sante Fe trails.
The collection depicts history at a personal, often poignant level. The stories are drawn from different nationalities and immigrant experiences, but they share one thing in common: They all describe American history through the lens of a personal quest, whether to escape poverty in Europe or slavery in the South, to find gold in California or free land on the Midwest's vast, open prairies.
The Jefferson Arts Gallery is at 575 W. Washington St. in Monticello. Info: http://www.jeffersonartsgallery.com