They cover 130 years of the American workplace, be it in factories, fields, offices or elsewhere, and the people and changes they represent.
The Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit, “The Way We Worked,” opens in Ashland’s old Adams Drug Store building on the city’s downtown square Nov. 2, and will remain in place through Dec. 25.
You’ll see youngsters photographed in the exhibit, far too young to be part of today’s work force, as they labored in the pre-child labor law era, in bare feet and without safety equipment; how the process of automation took place; the onset of technology and the bleakness of some workers’ lives transposed against the different emotions of others.
Together, they bring forth a picture of 130 years of workers in America, the individual photographs taken from the collection found at the National Archives.
The display is part of the Smithsonian’s Museum On Main Street Program, which works to include smaller towns on the museum’s exhibit tours, be it through local museums, historical societies or other cultural outlets.
The program works with state humanities councils, such as the Alabama Humanities Foundation, in this case, to arrange the exhibits.
Opening ceremonies for the exhibit are set for Nov. 2 starting at 4 p.m. on the downtown square and the city is expecting plenty of dignitaries to be on hand, along with lots of local and area residents, said Ashland Mayor Larry Fetner.
The Clay County courthouse will be open for the occasion as well.
Everyone is invited to attend the celebration of history, and daily hours for the exhibit will be Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and on Sundays, from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., Fetner said.
“We are really honored to have this exhibit in our city,” he said. “I expect the courthouse to be open for the event, and people are invited to tour it, too. This will be a very special day for us in Ashland and in Clay County.”
“This exhibit is important in acknowledging and celebrating our past, while forming a bridge to the future,” said Becky Boddie, a member of Ashland’s City Council. “This project allows us to do just that.”
Ashland is one of just six cities in the country selected to become an exhibit site for 2013 through 2014.
In addition to the exhibit itself, the city of Ashland will distribute historic information about its own history, which includes important dates from the city and Clay County’s history and a historic collection of its own photographs taken through the decades.
There are also text and graphic panels that accompany the exhibit, and five large photographic murals. The exhibit itself weighs 1,350 pounds and involves 300 running feet of exhibit space.
This latest tour of “The Way We Worked” opened Sept. 14 in Red Bay, Ala., and in addition to Ashland and Red Bay, includes stops in Andalusia, Fairhope, Northport and Wetumpka.
“The Way We Worked” started making its way across America in October 2011.
The exhibit records the years of workers in America with photographs taken from 1857 through 1987, and reflects not only the changes in the way work is done, but also depicts details such as the clothing people wore, the conditions under which people worked, and how the changes of immigration, ethnicity, segregation and desegregation evolved in society.
“The work that each of us does every day speaks volumes about who we are as individuals, as communities and as a country,” said Anna R. Cohn, director of the Smithsonian’s Traveling Exhibition Service.
The Museum on Main Street program is a partnership of SITES, along with the state humanities councils.
Accompanying the photographic exhibit for various locations will be a video showing a range of American workplaces along with audio segments with workers themselves talking about their work experiences.
“The Way We Worked” is arranged in five sections.
They include “Where We Worked,” which looks into the actual places that Americans worked, spanning workplaces from farms to factories, inside mines and eating places, and how demographics affected the roles and status of workers.
“How We Worked” brings a look at the way technology has developed over the past 130 years for workers, and features examples of these such as the organization of assembly lines and showing the actual tools utilized for various jobs and trades.
The section “What We Wore to Work” shows how uniforms have been “badges” of authority as well as status through the years in the workplace and made certain people who were in certain occupations identifiable on sight.
“Conflict at Work” takes a look at some of the disagreements that have occurred through time in the workplace, and also the social conflicts that took place through the years affected work.
And finally, the section of the exhibit titled “Dangerous or Unhealthy at Work” includes photographs taken of situations at work by those who were working for social reform regarding child labor, the time spent at work each day and unhealthy workplaces.