Heavy Lifting: A Human and Technological History of Moving Slate from Quarry to Market, 1850-Present



of an Exhibit

by Krista Rupe

Published on January 08, 2009 , Modified on August 26, 2009

  • Description:

    An intensely weighty 1950s Mack Truck is parked proudly at the entrance of the Heavy Lifting: A Human and Technological History of Moving Slate from Quarry to Market, 1850-Present exhibit at the Slate Valley Museum. It’s weathered frame welcomes visitors in to learn about evolution of the machinery used through years in the local slate industry. The exhibit shows how technology advanced and the slate industry grew in the area. Each of the items in the exhibit holds tales of the strong men and women who worked full of pride to extract the beautiful slate from the quarries Slate Valley in New York and Vermont.
    One of the first things one notices is the size of these mighty tools. The first apparatus you encounter is horse drawn scoop from the 1800s. I look at its weathered casing and envision the power it must have taken from both the animals and the men to put it in motion.
    The museum does good job of describing of each piece of equipment in the show. When I’m looking at the Owen Jones carriage and Billy wheel from the early 1900s I learn that it was invented in Poultney, a Vermont town neighboring the museum. The exhibit also does a great service of connecting the exhibit the local existing slate community through the oral histories shared on the captivating 30-minute heavy lifting documentary. Here we see historic photographs from the museums collection and video footage of modern day quarry work in action. There is a quaint theater section in the center of the exhibit space where guests can relax and take it the film at their own pace.
    Along the walls there are photographs from the past, not so past and present chronicling the models of different machines, like a forklift. This brings us to my favorite piece in the show, the 1950s Transport Military Surplus Forklift. It sits there under a bright light as if on a moment’s notice it could be ready to go into action. From the label text I discover the forklifts and pallets made a very significant impact on the transport of slate to market and it almost makes the little yellow forklift seem even bigger as it represents a link in the generations of slate workers who have worked so hard at their craft. When I visit the Slate Valley Museum I like to also explore their standout permanent exhibit on immigration so I can be reminded of the customs and traditions of the immigrants from Wales, Ireland, Eastern Europe and Italy who traveled to the Slate Valley in the 1830s so I can celebrate the long heritage of slate working. The Heavy Lifting exhibit was an interesting way of looking at the technology and tools that encompass the slate industry and how it connects to that history. This interesting and well thought out exhibit with its strong commitment to community shows the Slate Valley Museum is doing an amazing job of honoring their community and one of its treasured natural resources.

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