By Ray Smock
The Byrd Center is pleased to report that our traveling exhibit on the career of Senator Robert C. Byrd was launched here in Shepherdstown and is now on display in the Parkersburg Arts Center in Parkersburg, WV. This exhibit is the first of many projects that will come from the extensive archive of the longest serving senator in U.S. history.
You can learn more about the exhibit and its schedule here. What I want to tell you about is what went into the making of this exhibit.
Only time will tell how well we meet this challenge. From the opening reception held at Shepherd University on April 29, and the fine reception we got in Parkersburg, the impression was most positive. People who knew Senator Byrd told stories about him. A single image, or a quotation from Senator Byrd, often brought back memories. Our exhibit may be limited in size, but not in its ability to spark conversations about Senator Byrd, national and international politics, the way Congress works, country music, the economy of West Virginia, and the story of West Virginia and its people.
We could not have assembled this exhibit until we had processed the bulk of Senator Byrd’s papers, a task that took more than five years. Director of Research and Programs Dr. Jay Wyatt and Archivist Jody Brumage worked as a team trying to find the right image, the right quotation, the right document to convey the stories we had selected. Throughout the exhibit we let Senator Byrd set the tone of our narrative with quotations from his Senate speeches and other writings. Assembling all these elements was not unlike working a jigsaw puzzle, except this was more challenging because so many different pieces could be used in different places, unlike a jigsaw puzzle where a piece fits only in one place.
Have we told the whole story of Senator Byrd’s remarkable career in this exhibit? No we haven’t. This is a beginning of what we know will be a long and fruitful journey of discovery into the history of the United States, West Virginia and its people, the United States Senate, the U. S. Constitution, and the biography of a truly great senator. I hope you can join us on this journey as we share what we and other researchers will discover in the years ahead.