One of the reasons people immigrate to America is to dream big. Innovators, scientists, discoverers are some of the key reasons why this country has fostered Nobel Prize winners, visionaries and award-winning educators.
I?ll never forget the shock and awe of my very first visit to Greenfield Village, Henry Ford?s masterpiece and dedication to all innovations of ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things. I fell in love with the small but impressively efficient dismantled and rebuilt Wright Brothers? store from Dayton, Ohio, where the two tireless tinkerers had initially set up their bike repair shop. I gazed for many minutes at the reproduction of the first light bulb invented by Sir Thomas Edison in Menlo Park, NJ.
It seems as though Nashville singer and songwriter, Dan Murph, was inspired by a similar vision when he chose to put together ?everyday objects? used by extraordinary Americans in his ?Instruments of American Excellence? which opens at the Western Kentucky University Museum September 21, 2012.
Photo Credit:?Dane Penland, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States
We caught up with Dan to ask him how this collection transpired. ?I had no collection to Western Kentucky University whatsoever,? he says. The idea was to inspire students to ?dream bigger? and that anything?s possible. University President Dr. Gary Ransdell has pursued the project for the past two years with collection chairman Dan Murph and a committee of students. And the collection of over 140 pieces features items I personally would be thrilled to see. For example, the underwater camera housing used by Titanic discoverer Dr. Robert Ballard, the hammer used by former President Jimmy Carter to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, one of Tony Hawk?s earliest skateboards, and lab equipment used by Nobel Prize winning scientists.
You can also find other esoteric American memorabilia including equipment used by Sam Phillips to record Elvis Presley at Sun Studios in Memphis as well as the ballet slippers belonging to Julie Kent and Sara Mearns, Principal of the New York City Ballet . There are also those fun Hollywood memorabilia including Patch Adams? clown nose and Liza Minelli?s shoes worn in her Tony Award-winning performance of The Act.
Photo Credit: ?Habitat for Humanity
As I spoke to Murph, it occurred to me that these must have cost a fortune to put together, but he assured me that that wasn?t the case. ?Believe it or not, all these were donations,? he said. Television Show host Jay Leno also donated the microphone that graced his talk show desk at NBC for years.
While the vision of Henry Ford was to collect Americana on a grand scale, the Kentucky exhibit differs in that these are everyday items. ?These items remind us that the actual instruments used by the highest of achievers are not magical or highly unusual,? Murph said, ?but rather that the attainment of excellence is often achieved only by the imagination and perseverance that personify the American spirit.?
Photo Credit: ?The Tonight Show, NBC Universal
Murph?s favorite piece of memorabilia is actually not anything too fancy. It?s a pair of tennis shoes worn by award-winning teacher Rafe Esquith who is considered one of the most innovative teachers of his time. ?Esquith?s school students come really early to school and leave late?voluntarily,? says Murph. Innovative teaching practices included a ?no desk? approach by Esquith. Instead he choses to mingle with the students and he uses his pair of sneakers, which are now on display at the Kentucky Museum. No desk?.imagine!
His sneakers ?gave me goosebumps,? says Murph.
Admission to the museum is extremely reasonable: $5 for adults and free for students of the University. And, as far as museums go, this is unusual in the sense you?re not going to see the skeleton of a Brontosaurus or a piece of the moon. Instead, you?re likely to encounter a hammer and realize its infinite possibilities.
?Instruments of American Excellence? Exhibit
Opens: September 21, 2012