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Online exhibit features Montana Historical Society collection items

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HELENA - The Montana Historical Society recently unveiled a new online exhibit through its digital vault.

The exhibit looks to highlight some of the treasures held in the care of the historical society and make them more accessible for all to see.

Its title: “Appropriate, Curious, & Rare: Montana History Object by Object.”

“That’s an early quote from a publication that talked about the kinds of materials that the society collected,” Outreach and Interpretation Program Manager Kirby Lambert said. “It said they collected things that were curious, appropriate and rare, which is a phrase that I’ve just always loved.”

According to Lambert, it wasn’t easy to pare down the society’s hundreds of thousands of objects, artifacts, papers, photographs, and more to just a handful to showcase in the new online exhibit.

“It’s a process that many people have been involved in and the hardest thing about it was narrowing down which objects would be included because there are so many artifacts in the collection,” Lambert said. “There are approximately 60,000 items in the museum collection alone, 500,000 photographic images and then, of course, all the materials in the research center and the library.”

They started at 500 and ended up at about 65. From there, the materials were organized into chapters.

“The first chapter, for example, is Montana Before Montana," Lambert said. "There were certainly people here for thousands of years before anyone ever thought about it being a state. Native Americans of course, but then people like Lewis and Clark were here long before the concept of Montana.”

The collection includes the earliest letter in the research center collection – dating back to 1810.

“By a trapper to Pierre Choteau back in St. Louis about what was going on at the Three Forks area and their trading post," Lambert explained.

The online exhibit showcases the letter — and the transcription — since the original is written in French.

Among Lambert's favorites is a skull carving done by Father Anthony Ravalli in 1870 – known as Memento Mori – a reminder of mortality.

“Just interesting to see that it was carved by Father Ravalli and it’s a physical connection to somebody who was so important to Montana history and his skill as a sculptor because it looks so real," he said.

Lambert hopes the online exhibit will reach across Montana and beyond.

“We hope that it reaches people that can’t come here, but also increases visitation to the society," he said.

The new exhibit became available to the public on February 2nd, which marks the 153rd anniversary of the founding of the historical society.

Click here to visit the Montana Historical Society's online exhibit.

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