AfterWARd, the new exhibit at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. A visit with Curator Kate Gruber

The stacks of books reflect Knox’s role as a bookseller before the war.

If you have not made a trip to the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (the former Yorktown Victory Center) then you are missing out. Not only does the museum great exhibits on the causes of the war and the events leading up to Yorktown (with great technology), there is a changing exhibit gallery that allows for short term exhibits. The first exhibit opened in June and features the lives of four prominent Revolutionaries after the American Revolution.


Recently ERW interviewed one of the curators for the exhibit, Kate Gruber.  She was nice enough to chat with us about the exhibit and how it came about. Some of you may remember Kate’s work as a guest blogger in previous ERW posts.

ERW:   What inspired the idea of the exhibit?

Gruber:   We learned through conducting a series of focus groups that our visitors want to make personal connections to the past. Here in Hampton Roads, we have a large population of active-duty servicemen and women and their families, and a very large population of veterans. We felt that a special exhibition focusing on the veterans of the Siege of Yorktown would help our audience make those connections that they are looking for, and indeed, draw a new audience to experience the timeless stories found within the exhibition. We also wanted visitors to leave the gallery feeling very connected to this history—we want visitors to see legacies of these veterans all around them today.

ERW:   How did you decide on the particular characters you focus on in the exhibit?

Fan of the popular play Hamilton will enjoy the Alexander Hamilton part of the exhibit and the references within the displays.


Gruber:   As you can imagine, we started with a very long list of historical figures that we could have included in the exhibit. We wanted every historical figure to have a contribution to the Siege of Yorktown, and we selected individuals whose post-war lives as veterans would resonate with veterans today. We expanded upon that for our Legacy Wall, which tells the story of even more veterans, from the Revolution all the way to present day. For the wall, we selected personal stories that we felt were very relatable and included a wide variety of experiences that would resonate with visitors. And with the Legacy Wall, we invite you to add your own personal story to share with others.

ERW:   How did you find the artifacts in the exhibit (loan items) and how long did it take to accumulate all of them?

Gruber:   We plan, develop, and research our special exhibitions years in advance of their opening. Afterward is the culmination of many, many months of reading, digging in the archives, and because Afterward features incredible objects on loan from other institutions, connecting with other museums and collections to select the best objects to tell our story.

ERW:   Is there a unique story behind one that you enjoy the most?

Gruber:   When I’ve been fortunate enough to give tours of the exhibit, I start each object’s story off with “this is my favorite object in the exhibit!” And it’s always true—there are many unique pieces in the gallery that have come together to tell surprising stories and it’s impossible to pick just one. What’s unique though, I think, is the entire assemblage in the gallery—we have a tiger-shaped cannon from India, a weather vane in the shape of a dove, a whiskey still, an affidavit, a carriage—what do all of these things have in common? Together, they illuminate how veterans of the Siege of Yorktown shaped America, and, indeed, the world we know today.

ERW:   All in all, how long did it take to research, write and install the exhibit?

Gruber:   Years!!!

The entrance to the exhibit, AfterWARd.

ERW:   How has the exhibit been received?


Gruber:   Very, very well. Our visitors are learning surprising stories about the historical figures they thought they knew, and learning a lot about how those veterans still impact their lives today. I love hearing visitors talk and interact in the gallery—“Wow, I didn’t know that!” I really enjoy watching our visitors interact with the Legacy Wall, reading about the post-war lives of veterans like Johnny Cash—did you know he was a veteran? And of course adding their own stories to the wall—it’s very special that we get to invite our visitors to contribute and become part of the exhibit.

ERW:   Why should people come see the exhibit?

Gruber:   Veterans are very special people who have sacrificed so much for our nation—and that’s true whether we’re talking about the American Revolution or our servicemen and women today. It’s important to realize that many of the things facing veterans–sacrifices, choices, and questions about the future—are timeless in our country’s history.

ERW:   What is next for the museum’s changing exhibit gallery?

Gruber:   The next special exhibition at Yorktown is “Blast from the Past: Artillery in the War of Independence.” It will open in June 2018.

We thank Kate for chatting with us and if you can make it to Yorktown before November 27th, seeing the AfterWARd exhibit is a must!


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