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Matheson History Museum exhibit celebrates 30 years since opening

Gainesville’s Matheson History Museum opened an exhibit Wednesday dedicated to the museum’s history and how it has changed since the 1980s.

The “Weaving a Community” exhibit features the connections between Gainesville culture, community and history starting with the work of the Matheson family. Its opening commemorates 30 years of the museum’s work.

Eleanor Briseno, 82, brought her family from out of state to see the Matheson. As of March 1, the museum features a music exhibit and the history exhibit.

“The museum is important because we need to learn from our history,” Briseno said. “Our heritage and our ancestry give us perspective for how the future will go.”

Briseno said she donates $15 per month to the museum, but she doesn’t often make it out to view the exhibits. The last event she remembers attending is a book reading.

“I enjoy downtown Gainesville and what it has to offer,” she said. “I have a lot of respect for the genuine heartfelt connection that they create using facts and history.”

The executive director of the Matheson, Kaitlyn Hof-Mahoney, said this exhibit took about nine months to put together. The writing and research were completed by the exhibit curator, Willett Hancock, and the design was done by Kilby Creations.

Hancock said he was able to put the exhibit together using scrapbooks from the museum’s archives. The scrapbooks had old photos, event flyers and meeting minutes.

The Matheson History Museum opened on March 12, 1994. The exhibit featured photos and documents going back to that time and even earlier.

From his research, Hancock said he was even able to rewrite history. He said when he was structuring the timeline, he found that the Alachua County Historical Society mistakenly dated the Florida Winter Bible Conference Tabernacle fire three years before the building actually burned down. The museum and newspapers in the area had previously reported the fire to have occurred in 1927, but Hancock found the date was actually 1924.

“It felt good to add to the historiography of the community,” Hancock said. “Matheson has a unique position as a smaller museum to be able to do that kind of work.”

Hof-Mahoney said attendance at the museum varies from month to month. In January, about 250 people visited. On the last day of February, that number was almost 400.

“It’s interesting to see the museum change over time,” Hof-Mahoney said. “We’re becoming more of a community hub and are able to tell a wider range of stories.”

In the past five years, the museum has featured exhibits on the history of Pride in Alachua County, desegregation of public schools, and immigration and language in the area. Hof-Mahoney said this is a clear example of how the museum has grown over time.

“We want every community to feel welcome and seen,” she said. “Gainesville is so lucky with places like Matheson, the Cotton Club Museum, the A. Quinn Jones Museum, the Harn and so many others that can share perspectives for every story there is to tell.”

Hancock agreed. He said the clear change from what the museum used to display and what it displays now is reflective of the social climate of the last 20 years.

“I guess that’s the whole point of the exhibit,” he said. “It’s about what museums are supposed to be doing, and what we’re supposed to be presenting, and why.”

Briseno, Hof-Mahoney and Hancock all said they hope more people visit the Matheson and the work it’s doing.

“We really are just trying to bring people together and share a wider range of voices,” Hof-Mahoney said of the museum’s role in the community.

“Florida has a very troubled and diverse history,” Hancock said. “It’s important to remember that and to be wary of approaching the same dangers that people in the past faced. The Matheson wants to create an ongoing community interested in our history.”

Hof-Mahoney said the museum does not have a curator on staff due to lack of funding. (Hancock’s official title is visitor engagement assistant, and he said he holds the same one at the Harn Museum.) Interns and community groups help put together the exhibits.

The “Weaving a Community” exhibit does not have an end date in sight, Hancock and Hof-Mahoney said. The Matheson holds exhibits until a new one is proposed, either by the community, interest groups or curators.

The Matheson History Museum is located at 513 E. University Ave. and is open Wednesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Marta is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing