Thursday, June 3, 2021

Creating the Japanese Railroad Workers Exhibit

Exhibits take lots of time, planning, research and resources to create, the Museum’s new Japanese Railway Workers exhibit is no exception.  The process began in 2018 when staff members discussed the railways’ connection to the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company that the history of the Japanese community there was an important story that was not regularly told to the wider community.  Seeing this gap in historical interpretation, the Museum felt that creating an exhibit to share this unique history was important. 

Jessie Cunningham, the Museum’s Deputy Director began the research process and applied for a 4Culture grant to produce it.  Ms. Cunningham worked with Robert Fisher at the Wing Luke Museum, as well as Densho and the Snoqualmie Valley Museum. She also independently researched the topic to begin creating what became the exhibit.  Inspired by her research, the exhibit grew from just focusing on Japanese Railway Workers at the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Co to also introducing the wider history of Chinese and Japanese Railway Workers.

One major challenge Ms. Cunningham found in the research phase was the lack of information and having to piece the story together from limited resources. But of course, that is why the story is so important!

Cristy Lake, the Museum’s Collection Registrar, is also the Assistant Director at the Snoqualmie Valley Museum and helped Jessie in her research throughout the project.  Dave Battey, a Snoqualmie Valley Museum board member and official historian for the town of Snoqualmie Falls, provided research material including a powerpoint created by the now closed Weyerhaeuser Archives and digital copies of documents from the George Abe family. 

The Wing Luke Museum and Densho provided many images and Densho also provided the an oral history interview with a former resident of Snoqualmie Falls. Special thanks to Dana Hoshide from Densho for helping obtain usage permission.

In 2019, 4Culture awarded a grant to create the exhibit. Ms. Cunningham spent much of 2019 researching and creating text for the sections of the exhibit. When, later that year, Ms. Cunningham took a position at another organization, Ms. Lake took over completing the exhibit.  Ms. Lake worked with Arisa Nakamura and Emily Halladay-Ptaček-Choi of Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington to provide feedback and recommendations on the content and with Northwest Railway Museum staff members Richard Anderson, Emily Boersma and Peggy Barchi to review the final exhibit content drafts.

Due to space limitations, after much review, the exhibit was streamlined. This proved a difficult task as there were so many important stories waiting to be told. After much work, the exhibit content was sent to Lee Ater of Lot22 Creative who designed the exhibit panels.  Gary James, the Museum’s Shipwright, fabricated the panel stands. Arscentia printed the panel text and images.

In all, the exhibit would not have been possible without the collaboration of numerous people, organizations and businesses; hundreds of hours of work; and supported with grants from 4Culture and the the Quest for Truth Foundation, and by the Museum's general fund.

You can visit this new exhibit in the Museum’s Train Shed Exhibit Hall, currently open Wednesdays through Mondays, 11am to 4pm.