New museum to focus on the art of survival

History: A Bel Air mansion's icehouse will house artifacts showcasing Native Americans' relationship with the bay.

August 14, 2005|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Liriodendron Foundation is planning to open a Maryland history museum showcasing artifacts such as tools and animal skulls from American Indian culture dating from 1500 B.C. to 500 B.C.

The Chesapeake Culture B.C. Museum - which stands for before the Colonies - is scheduled to open next year and will be located in a 14-by-28-foot restored icehouse at the historic Liriodendron Mansion in Bel Air.

The foundation is working with Dan Coates, an Army National Guard helicopter flight instructor who is president of the Archeological Society of the Northern Chesapeake, a county group that studies the archaeological remains in Harford.

"This museum will not carry the typical beaded moccasins you see in a Native American museum," Coates said. "Rather than the typical artistic displays of the Plains and Western Indian cultures, the exhibits will focus on the survival culture of this area, and the close interaction between man and the Chesapeake environment."

Coates said the exhibits will answer the question: What attracted people to Maryland in prehistoric times?

"When newcomers move to Maryland, they know exactly why they did," Coates said. "But kids today don't get the basics of a prehistoric state. They don't know why the early people came to this area. We hope to teach them about the time in Maryland before the Colonies."

Coates, the great-grandson of the original owner of the mansion, said the museum will feature artifacts he has compiled from several private sources and will provide hands-on demonstrations on how the artifacts were used.

"One of the items we will exhibit and have the kids work with is the soapstone," Coates said. "This was a material that originated in the lower Susquehanna area that allowed archaic men to make permanent containers for cooking."

Kids can guess what animal tracks are on the museum floor as they view the artifacts.

In addition to the permanent collection, the museum will present temporary exhibits and invite demonstrators to share their skills, Coates said.

Plans are under way for a 14-foot-wide thematic mural depicting early Native American life.

The museum initiative is indicative of the foundation's arts and cultural endeavors since the county purchased the historic property in 1980 from descendents of Howard Kelly, the original owner of the mansion. The sales agreement had a stipulation requiring that the property be used as an arts facility.

The idea for the museum came after the foundation hosted a successful children's program during which youngsters visited an exhibit and learned to scrape down deer hide and carve soapstone bowls, Coates said.

One key step in the planning of the museum was restoration of the icehouse, which was done with donations and assistance from students enrolled in the Harford Community College building and restoration program.

"The icehouse is large for an icehouse," said Coates. "It was built partially underground, and we want to teach the kids [the importance of the icehouse on the Colonial estate]."

And as the museum project moves forward, there may be a need for more funding.

"We've decided to do the project and when it's done, it's done," said Bill Bates, president-elect of the foundation.

"We may have to raise some money to complete the project. But, we're excited about it. Our collection will be the only one of Native American artifacts with its own museum in the area."

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