Pragmatic Historian
art history inspiration pragmatic historian

Artists, for Inspiration, Check Out Your Local History Museum

Last night, Hubby and I attended the new play, “Darling,” written by Teryn Verley and performed by the Little Falls Summer Musical group. The play is a fictionalized version of the 1905 unsolved murder of a young woman named Annie Kintop. Annie lived in the small community of Darling in Morrison County, MN. Because there were so many suspects and the murder remained unsolved, it’s a story that has received a lot of interest over the years. Even at the time, the story received national attention.

Front of playbill for "Darling," written by Taryn Verley and performed by the Little Falls Summer Musical group, shows a young woman of the Victorian era leaning against a counter facing the windows in a train station, though the woman is looking at the viewer. August 2021.
Front of playbill for “Darling,” written by Taryn Verley and performed by the Little Falls Summer Musical group, shows a young woman of the Victorian era leaning against a counter facing the windows in a train station, though the woman is looking at the viewer. August 2021.

The play was written as a rapid-fire set of short scenes, going backwards and forwards in time, trying to show various aspects of Annie’s life, the murder, the suspects, the evidence, and how authorities attempted to solve the crime at the time. Songs of the era were interspersed throughout the production. The play was gripping and emotional, a very powerful reimagining of what could have happened given what was reported at the time. It did what art is best at – making the audience care about the lives of other people.

I’m not sure where the playwright first heard the story of Annie Kintop, but we have had a file on the case for decades at the Morrison County Historical Society. It is one of the many cases we have gathered information on and filed in our Murders box in the archives. When the play’s producer, Michael Burr, was looking for a production that tied into local history a couple of years ago, we discussed the Annie Kintop story. As the project developed, he knew he wanted to add an exhibit that provided the facts of the case from a historical perspective and asked us at the Morrison County Historical Society to put one together, which we did.

I was in charge of the exhibit last night (we don’t want to leave museum artifacts unattended), and judging by how closely people were reading the exhibit materials (written artfully by our museum assistant Grace Duxbury), they were as entranced by the factual history as by the fictionalized version presented in the play.

It’s absolutely marvelous that local history was used as inspiration for this dramatic work. This was not without some people being very concerned about dredging up a negative incident from the past and how it might affect descendants of those who were involved. These concerns were taken into consideration for the production.

But, it points to an interesting use of history … as inspiration for artistic works. For the quarter century I’ve been working at a local museum, I have never run out of history to explore. This is local history, focused on one small geographic area, most of it never making it to a national stage.

Think about all the potential inspiration that local history can provide to artists of all types. I wish more artists would visit small, local museums for this sort of inspiration, but here’s a little secret: You don’t have to stick to the formal exhibits. You can do research for inspiration, which doesn’t need to be limited to the archives. Depending on the policies of each museum, you may also be able to request to see three-dimensional items that aren’t on exhibit, provided you give staff enough time to get them out of storage and follow any guidelines related to the artifacts.

Local history museums have a rich vein of inspiration to explore. Artists, start prospecting! (And if you find yourself go back over and over to your favorite local museum for inspiration, become a member and support their efforts.)

Thoughtful comments welcome.