Friday, November 5, 2010

A behind-the-scenes tour of the Pioneers Museum, part II

Posted By on Fri, Nov 5, 2010 at 10:13 AM

In part I, we toured the basement of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, and viewed some pieces in its great collection. With our guide, museum director Matt Mayberry, we now went from the bottom of the building to the top.

A spiral staircase leads you from the base of the tower to the clock room and balconies above that, which are closed to the public.

Up in the tower we saw the workings of the clock, which is the second in the building's history, replacing the original one in 1915.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Up in the tower we saw the workings of the clock, which is the second in the building's history, having replaced the original one in 1915.

This tidy mechanism turns the four poles on top to control the hands on each clock face. To adjust the time, as they will do this coming Sunday for the end of Daylight Savings, a CSPM employee will pull a small pin out of the gears and rotate the poles to the correct time.

Though the clock and the chime are electric now, Mayberry hopes to one day restore it to its original pendulum mechanism, which required a pendulum to swing through a hole in the floor and raising a set of four counterweights each week.

Now, the pendulum is stored in the clock room, but a new gear will need to be measured, cut and installed for it to work without electricity.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Now, the pendulum is stored in the clock room, but a new gear will need to be measured, cut and installed for it to work without electricity.

On the balcony above the clock, there are cast-iron balustrades, which were stripped and coated with primer. A less stark shade of paint will follow.

Interestingly, the building is supported by a steel structure, making it highly stable and somewhat 'high tech' for its time. The stonework and masonry is largely just a façade.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Interestingly, the building is supported by a steel structure, making it highly stable and somewhat 'high-tech' for its time. The stonework and masonry is largely just a façade.

When the building was constructed, it was the tallest in the city.

Hello Indy.

Back on the public floors, we wandered with Mayberry through the old pharmacy exhibit, which is tucked behind the medicine and dentistry displays. In case you’ve missed it before, go back. Inside a huge corner case sit hundreds of jars, bottles, droppers and beakers of old medicines. You could spend a half hour peering in on the old rubs, tonics, salves and tablets, all with their original labels. And enjoy the smell — the place is filled with a strangely pleasant off-gas of herbal elixirs and evaporating alcohol from the subjects on the shelves.

In the large courtroom, Mayberry pointed out the meaning behind the gold and silver murals painted on the walls. The figures stemmed from the Populist movement of the time, which included a push to make the economy more accessible. Populists wanted the government to back silver the way it did with gold, a move that would help more people become wealthy, especially in silver-rich Colorado.

In the museum, the figure of silver is that of a lovely woman, with a shimmering dress and a calm face. Gold, on the other hand, is an androgynous figure with a scaly robe. A smaller figure languishes in the clutches of a snake that encircles the robe. This was essentially a political cartoon supporting Populism, Mayberry says, and painted on the walls of a courtroom, something unimaginable today.

Silver, with an example of unrestored wall space.

Figures, animals and plants play largely into the design of the building, typical of Art Nouveau style. There are seven faces in the large courtroom alone, which was restored back in the ’90s for $375,000. That same amount was paid back in 1903 to construct the whole building.

Needless to say, the Pioneers Museum is a bitchin’ place. (That’s my favorite way of describing it in one line.) And with that in mind, remember it does need donations to move forward into the next phases of restoration. For that, call 385-5990 or visit cspm.org.

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