Old Pen museum receives some new features
By Thorn Compton
RAWLINS — The Wyoming Frontier Prison in Rawlins is receiving a facelift, but unlike other recent renovations this one focuses on the content of the museum, not the buildings or lawns.
TheWyoming Cultural Trust Fund awarded a $5,518 grant to the Old Pen for an update on its exhibits, and Tina Hill, site director at the Old Pen, chose to use the grant in a few unique ways.
“For this grant, we chose to focus on three things,” Hill said in her office while work was being done in the museum. “First we have new window pulls that have stories of different inmates, a warden, and one of our female inmates on them. They give us a place to put information and they help us keep UV light out of our exhibit space.
“We also have an interpretive panel, which I’m pretty excited about because before people would just kind of wander around the museum and get their information as they could but now the interpretive panel sets the stage for what visitors will learn about.”
For the final stage of the renovation, the Old Pen will now have an inmate art gallery to display artwork made by inmates over the 80 years of the Pen’s operation.
“We will hang all the inmate artwork together instead of having it gathered throughout,” Hill said of the gallery. “The art is all from inmates that were housed here. Most of the artwork is from the 60’s and 70’s, it seems like that is when they were doing more of that work in the Pen.”
Paintings won’t be the only thing featured in the gallery, Hill said there is leatherwork and ceramics done by the inmates, as well as a bench made of matchsticks.
One of the primary features of the gallery will be artwork done by Arthur Orcutt during his time at the Pen. The largest painting in the gallery is a mural of the Pen done by Orcutt while he was inside.
“I’m happy that we can make Orcutt’s large mural stick out more, be more prominent,” Hill said. “Before (Wednesday) we actually had things in front of it.”
The goal of this work is to bring fresh perspective to visitors of the Pen, Hill said, even to people who have visited many times.
“We are thinking about having an open house for our new galleries, which will bring people from the community in,” Hill said. “I think it will bring people closer to the inmates, instead of just looking at the big building. We love to tell inmates’ stories. The inmates make this building seem more alive.
None of the renovation would be possible without the $5,518 grant awarded by the Cultural Trust Fund. Hill said their continued sponsorship of the Old Pen is humbling.
“I’m really grateful of the Cultural Trust Fund. Especially this year and the year coming up, funds are very short for us,” Hill said. “We wouldn’t be able to do this renovation without the Cultural Trust Fund.”
This is the third grant the Fund has awarded the Old Pen in recent years. Hill said without a grant from them six years ago, she wouldn’t have been able to hire and keep her bookkeeper, Galen Hiatt.
“Two years ago we did a huge project to do some renovation on the outer walls,” Hill said. “We got a big chunk of the grant through the Wyoming Business Council but we were $50,000 short and the Cultural Trust Fund gave us the rest.”
While this is a smaller grant, Hill said it would make a big impact because “its one people will really see.”
“For us, our number one concern is the upkeep on the building,” Hill said. “This grant is good for us because we can work on our collections. It’s really satisfying to work on our collection instead of just the lawn and building. All of these pieces go together to tell our story.”