Artists, dancers, musicians, storytellers, milliners, candy makers and representatives of Utah state agencies gathered Friday, Jan. 25, at a “Living History Soirée.” Their individual and collective passion for sharing Utah history in a variety of ways brought the group together with an eye to reviving the Rocky Mountain Living History Consortium.
The event, hosted at the Fort Douglas Military Museum in Salt Lake City, attracted artists and artisans from around the state and featured a Dutch oven meal, artisan displays and presentations by several artists. Participants were encouraged to wear period dress, and most did.
Artisans offered demonstrations of their wares before the event began. Among the displays were a selection of hats made by milliner Mary Ann Barnard and heritage toy candy molds, along with samples made by Chris and Fred Graham.
An ensemble including Sam Payne and Clive Romney told and sang the story of the “Panguitch Quilt Walk.” Kevin and Brian Henson demonstrated an online storytelling technology they call “Map’n Tour,” using the Panquitch quilt story.
Most of those attending expressed satisfaction for the event and the resurrected consortium.
“This has been the most wonderful and fun experience, getting to meet these people who bring history to life,” said Connie Bauer, a member of the organizing group for the Rocky Mountain Living History Consortium.
Storyteller Wendy Gourley said she attended the event to learn more about pioneer heritage arts. “I knew it would be good, because Clive is excellent at everything he does,” Gourley said, “but I was absolutely blown away by his ability to meld story and music.”
“This is a beautiful gathering of people from all areas of Utah to bring together the use of story and song and art and lectures,” said Marina Spence, of the Timpanogos Storytelling Institute. “We’re grateful as an institute to be a small part of this beautiful group.”
“I think the consortium formalizes an affinity that historical interpreters naturally have for each other,” said musician and storyteller Sam Payne. “This organization not only gives them a home where they can enjoy the company of like-minded folks, but also unites them under a vision that could spread the movement beyond its current constituency.”
In 2008, David Sidwell formed the Rocky Mountain Living History Consortium. Then program director of the American West Heritage Center in Wellsville, Sidwell said he wanted to train volunteers to more effectively create an authentic living history experience for center visitors.
He reached out to organizations with similar needs, among them This is The Place Heritage Park and the National Oregon/California Trail Museum in Montpelier, Idaho.
“We were all particularly interested in the abilities of our living history presenters to give the gift of themselves through their presentations,” Sidwell said, “so our first conference had a lot of storytelling and hosting techniques emphasized.”
Around the same time, Clive Romney began his journey as a self-defined “passionate purveyor of pioneer arts. ... I had a very personal experience that turned my heart to my ancestors and telling their stories,” Romney said.
Adding to his personal epiphany was Romney’s experience travelling with his wife’s folk dance company to Europe. “The Europeans cherish their folklore,” Romney said. “Every little town had a festival or house of folklore where they learned music and dances. American folklore is really interesting to Europeans, but in America it is languishing.”
Because of these experiences, Romney formed the Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts organization to authentically represent the stories and people of Utah’s past and present. He also began to meet like-minded people — including Sidwell.
After three years of successful conferences, the Rocky Mountain Living History Consortium began to fade awaydue to fiscal factors. In spite of this, Sidwell did not give up on the idea.
“I still felt that it could do some good,” Sidwell said.
A conversation with Wilson Martin, director of the Utah Division of State History and the State Historical Preservation Officer, turned Romney’s attention to connecting tourism and living history events.
“It was Clive’s energy that revived the consortium to becoming something far beyond what we had originally conceived,” Sidwell said.
Romney and Sidwell agree that the vision is to create a unique niche in the U.S. cultural and heritage tourism market by making Utah the state with the highest quality living history presentations and performances in the U.S.
Romney said he and consortium organizers are working to create a strong network of connections with state agencies, museums, and non-profit organizations to make living history one of the reasons tourists come to Utah.
He said he envisions cultural heritage living history presentations bringing people to Utah the way Utah’s spectacular scenery and outdoor sports do.
“If folks from out of state came and saw engaging, world-class living history presenters wherever they went, I think it really would make an impact on the state's tourism.
“To do this, we’ll need to help each other with our presentation skills through conferences, trainings and newsletters,” Sidwell said. That is one purpose and benefit of the consortium to members.
Other touted benefits include: connecting with other like-minded organizations, publicity for consortium member events, representation to the Department of Heritage and Arts, the Utah Tourism Industry Coalition, the Utah Office of Tourism, Visit Salt Lake, Utah State Legislators, as well as opportunities to showcase products and talents at an annual “Living History Soiree,” and a web presence at www.rmlhc.org.
Payne’s reaction to the consortium idea sums up what many of those attending the “Living History Soirée” voiced in a variety of ways:
“We're living in a moment during which there's a surge of popular energy surrounding genealogy and heritage. There's momentum behind that idea – look at the success of programs like 'Who Do You Think You Are?' and burgeoning companies like www.ancestry.com.
“It will be interesting to see the consortium reach out to a new audience on its own terms and in new and vibrant ways — an audience just discovering a love affair with its heritage. There are real opportunities there,” Payne said.
If the reaction of those attending the “Living History Soirée” is any indication, the future of the Rocky Mountain Living History Consortium looks bright.
Types of organizations represented in the Rocky Mountain Living History Consortium include: sites that offer living history interpretation, organizations that learn and share heritage arts; organizations who collect, promote and preserve history; state park museums and local history museums. A sampling of the almost 50 organizations currently associated with the consortium includes:
American West Heritage Center
Church History Museum
This is the Place Heritage Park
Wheeler Historic Farm
Heber Cowboy Poetry Festival
Pioneer Heritage Company
Timpanogos Storytelling Institute
Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts
Utah Tour Guide Association
Daughters of Utah Pioneers
Mormon Trail Association
Sons of Utah Pioneers
Utah Division of Indian Affairs
Utah Museum Association
Utah Office of Tourism
Utah State History Division
Anasazi State Park
Fremont Indian State Park
Union Station Railroad, Firearms, Classic Cars Museum
"The Panguitch Quilt Walk" story
An ensemble including Clive Romney and Sam Payne, told and sang the story of the "Panguitch Quilt Walk" at the Rocky Mountain Living History Consortium "Living History Soiree" Jan. 25 at the Fort Douglas Military Museum in Salt Lake City.
Rosemarie Howard lives in a 100-year-old house on Main Street, Springville, Utah. She enjoys creating multimedia projects. Her website is at dramaticdimensions.com.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company