Union Station partners with Smithsonian to tell story of 'The Way We Worked'

Sunday , January 08, 2017 - 5:15 AM2 comments

MITCH SHAW, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Throughout Weber County’s history, work has not only driven the economy, it’s shaped the area’s identity.

Farming, the railroad, the defense and military industry, and today, outdoor recreation. Those and other industries have all kept Weber County’s money moving, but they’ve also helped to define who we are.

That notion will be highlighted later this month at Union Station when the Smithsonian Institution brings its traveling exhibition “The Way We Worked” to Ogden.

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The exhibit illustrates the radical changes in the American workplace between the mid-19th century, when more than half of the country made a living by farming, and the late 20th century. It features 86 photographs from the National Archives and other artifacts that document the history of work in America — from clothing and locales to conditions and conflicts.

According to the Smithsonian, the exhibition will be divided into five sections:

1. Where We Worked: The places Americans worked, from factories and mines to farms and restaurants.

2. How We Worked: How technology and automation impacted the workplace.

3. What We Wore to Work: The concept of uniforms serving as badges of authority and status, and how they made certain careers immediately recognizable.

4. Conflict at Work: Rifts between workers and ownership over working conditions, wages and hours. This section will also highlight how social conflicts influenced the workplace.

5. Dangerous or Unhealthy Work: Photographs taken by social reformers campaigning against child labor, dangerously lengthy work days and unsanitary workplaces.

In concert with the Smithsonian’s exhibit, the Union Station Foundation will feature a similar, Weber County-based display.

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Holly Andrew, Union Station museum manager, said that exhibit, titled “Weber: The Workforce and The Industry,” will highlight the experiences of diverse and innovative Weber County residents who worked in a wide range of local industries across several eras.

The exhibit will include oral histories, photos, artifacts and other objects from Weber County residents of all ethnicities, genders and ages. Andrew said diversity and resiliency in Weber’s workforce are the two main themes of the exhibit.

Andrew and Danielle Susi, Union Station’s Public Programs Coordinator, said the display will explore how the railroad, the military and some industries of today have developed Weber County and shaped its populace. The railroad doubled Weber County’s population “basically overnight” and the military, specifically Hill Air Force Base and the old Defense Depot Ogden, tripled it, Andrew said.

“We want this (exhibit) to help people understand how their lives have been influenced by our collective work ethic,” she said.

Both exhibits are free to the public and will open at noon on Jan. 28 at the Union Station, 2501 Wall Ave, Ogden. They’ll run though March 19.

Several public programs — like poetry workshops, panels and lectures — will be held in conjunction with the exhibit. Utah Public Radio will record 15 oral histories from community members on Feb. 25, March 7 and March 17.

After its run at the Union Station, Utah Humanities will take the Smithsonian exhibit to five other Utah communities from March through January 2018. The foundation’s Weber County version will go on tour of local libraries across the Wasatch Front, although those dates have not been determined.

Charlie Trentelman, secretary of the foundation, said the exhibits are a precursor of things to come at the station.

“For a long time, people had no reason to come down to the station because they saw it once 20 years ago, and said, ‘What’s the point?’” he said. “But now, we’re actively working to bring new and interesting things for people to come and see. The (station) is changing.”

The Way We Worked, an exhibition created by the National Archives, is part of Museum on Main Street, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and Utah Humanities.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at facebook.com/MitchShaw.StandardExaminer.

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