By Alexa Solis
Floor length skirts swept across the floor, glittering jewelry flashed in the light and perfectly shined shoes complemented tidy tuxedos as members of the Nevada Museum of Art, prominent local figures and reporters mingled. They floated about the Wiegand Gallery while waiting for the grand reveal of the Emancipation Proclamation exhibit.
The presentation of the Emancipation Proclamation was the culminating event for The 36th Star: Nevada’s Journey from Territory to State at the Nevada Museum of Art. Different from most exhibitions at the museum, The 36th Star was a historical exhibition commemorating Nevada’s early history in honor of the state’s sesquicentennial.
Amanda Horn, director of communications for the Nevada Museum of Art, stepped past the cases of documents and flags delineating Nevada’s early history and commanded everyone’s attention as she introduced Gov. Brian Sandoval.
“Nevadans back then could never imagine what we’d become, where we are and who we are,” Sandoval said. “The one thing that they would have hoped for was that we’d maintain pride in our state and our country now – the way that Nevadans had back then.”
“Shall we do the honors?” Horn asked as she looked at Sandoval.
As he nodded his assent, quiet anticipation fell over the room. They looked at each other and began to pull down a blue velvet curtain. The curtain fell to the ground, and there it stood. Spread across several cases, the Emancipation Proclamation presided over the room. Though the ink is faded in places and the pages are yellowed with age, it continues to captivate Americans today.
“I think this really helps instill a true sense of Nevada pride for people from the state. I’m not a native Nevadan, but learning about Nevada history has become so important to me,” Horn said. “I feel like a native having learned what it means to be battle born.”
The exhibition sets itself apart from the museum’s usual projects.
“For us as an art museum, it’s a little out of the box to do a historical exhibition,” Horn said. “We’ve really been able to attract a different audience. Audiences that aren’t typically interested in art have come to learn about the history.”
The exhibition held many of the cornerstones of Nevada’s road to statehood. In addition to the Nevada Day presentation of the Emancipation Proclamation, there were also Timothy O’Sullivan Civil War photographs, Civil War-era muster rolls of Nevada volunteers and the 175-page transcription of the telegram consisting of Nevada’s State Constitution. That telegram, sent from Territorial Gov. James Nye to President Lincoln, is the longest and most expensive telegram in history.
“When we knew that Nevada was going to be doing a year-long event to celebrate their sesquicentennial, we wanted to do something extraordinary that no other institution could,” Horn said.
In order to create a comprehensive exhibition, the Nevada Museum of Art worked with the Library of Congress and the National Archives in Washington D.C. to obtain the O’Sullivan photographs, as well as the Emancipation Proclamation.
The staff at the NMoA worked with the National Archives to make sure that the museum has the adequate capabilities to host such a delicate document.
“[The Emancipation Proclamation is] only displayed 36 hours a year because it’s incredibly fragile,” said Morgan Zinsmeister, a senior conservator at the National Archives. “It’s been restored numerous times over the years, it’s been displayed for years and that’s taken a toll.”
The National Archives scouted the museum to make sure that it met all security and temperature control requirements needed to house the Emancipation Proclamation for the Nevada Day weekend.
“They had to come here and inspect our site to make sure that we could accommodate it,” Horn said.
The occasional laugh pierced the hushed, awe-filled murmur that filled the gallery as people looked at the Emancipation Proclamation. With the clicking of heels and the clinking of glasses, Sandoval gave a final look at the room around him.
“I feel like I’m in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian Institution,” Sandoval said. “It’s humbling to be next to a document that is signed by the greatest president, and a document that changed the history of our nation forever.”
Alexa Solis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @alexacsolis.