Continuing the series of reporting from the AIMA conference in Estonia, here’s another piece by our President, Dr. Debra Reid:
June 27, 2013 – Open Air Museums and their History
The Estonian Open Air Museum (EOAM) has more than seventy historic buildings on nearly 80 hectares. Most began as farm dwellings, sheds and outbuildings, before relocation to the museum during the late 1950s to 1990s. The museum fits the standard model explained in detail in the world-wide encyclopedia of open air museums by Sten Rentzhog, Open Air Museums: The History and Future of a Visionary Idea (2007), available from ALHFAM (http://www.alhfam.org/pdfs/Sten_BookORDER_FORM.pdf). The museums acreage, building distribution and rich gardens remind me of Old World Wisconsin, one of the most Skansen-like of the open air museums in North America, and one conceptualized around the same time as the Estonian museum.
A new book by John D. Krugler, Creating Old World Wisconsin (2013), explores the struggles to create the outdoor museum of Wisconsin’s ethnic architecture (http://uwpress.wisc.edu/books/5126.htm). It seems amazing that such similar appearances can result from different cultural histories and political and economic situations. Estonians first envisioned their national museum in 1913, but it was not founded until 1957. In between, Estonians declared themselves an independent republic in 1918 and fought a war for recognition; were occupied by the Soviets in 1939, by Nazi Germany in 1941, and again by the Soviets until regaining independence in 1991. The museum began during the Cold War.
Thousands of tourists disembarked from dozens of busses during my five hour stay on June 25. It appears that Estonian tourism and promotion which features the museum works well, particularly at the height of the summer tourist season (still dusky after midnight). Those visitors learned a lot about architecture and a bit about the history of Estonian farm and rural life. Yet, they, like me, did not learn much about the context of the museum’s creation, but Sten Rentzhog’s book certainly prepared me well for what I encountered.