‘Driftless Strong’: Walk-up exhibit captures how COVID-19 has changed normal life

Mount Horeb’s Driftless Historium created the exhibit as a way for the community to safely connect and remember they are not alone.
Published: Oct. 11, 2020 at 10:06 PM CDT
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MOUNT HOREB, Wis. (WMTV) - The Mount Horeb Area Historical Society is working to document history while living through it during the COVID-19 pandemic. A new walk-up exhibit is capturing the ways the pandemic has changed everyone’s lives.

“These are things that a year ago, I would have thought, what am I doing in this photo?" said Destinee Udelhoven, director of the Driftless Historium.

When the Driftless Historium closed down in March due to COVID-19, staff wanted to find a way to continue their work.

“We were kind of struggling to connect to our audiences,” Udelhoven explained.

The Historium decided to turn the front windows of their building into a walk-up exhibit.

In the fall, the Historium asked the community to submit photos depicting the new routines everyone was dealing with during the pandemic, and almost two dozen people responded.

Some shared photos of furry additions to their family, like Renee Riphahn, who adopted her puppy Runa in May.

“I knew I could spend time with her, we could bond, we could learn,” Riphahn explained, adding she had held off on getting a pet because she traveled frequently for work.

Other people shared pictures of deserted streets during quarantine.

“Living so close to town and coming in and finding it just so empty was just shocking because it’s always such a bustling place full of life and people,” explained Ron Lutz II, a photographer who shared photos for the exhibit.

The Historium chose over 30 photos to put in the front windows, depicting everything from virtual learning to drive-by birthday parties to reuniting with family members. They called the exhibit Driftless Strong.

Deanna Gajewski shared several photos of her daughters Emily and Adalynn, including one of Emily, now five, hugging her grandma for the first time in several months.

“The minute that we pulled into the driveway, they basically got themselves out of their car seats, they stepped down and out and this was that moment,” Gajewski explained, adding, “They stayed that way for several moments, kind of like they wouldn’t let go of each other.”

Emily Gajewski hugs her grandma for the first time in several months.
Emily Gajewski hugs her grandma for the first time in several months.(WMTV/Sanika Bhargaw)

Udelhoven said she hopes the new exhibit is a way people can safely connect and see how everyone’s lives have shifted.

“We are living through history every day, especially right now. This is going to be something we look back on for generations and talk about this time,” Udelhoven said.

Gajewski said she hopes the pictures will soon be just a memory.

“They’ll remember, ‘Oh my gosh do you remember the swimming lessons where we had to wait six feet apart from each other?’” she explained.

For now, Udelhoven said the exhibit is a reminder—everyone is going through this together.

“[It] kind of makes you feel like part of a bigger culture and community,” she said.

Lutz, who saw the exhibit for the first time Sunday, added, “Generally, I’m very reclusive, so it’s just nice to be able to know I’m not alone."

The Driftless Strong exhibit will be up until Nov. 11. After that, the pictures will stay in the Historium’s archives for future generations.

Udelhoven said the Historium received more pictures than the 30 they could display in the windows. To see all the pictures shared, visit their website.

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