Bridging History & Creativity: The Portland Museum’s AHOY program

Aug 19, 2021 | Community, Explore Louisville

“The old Victorian will look like a very historic home from the outside, [but] when you go inside, it will be so immersive,” says Katy Delahanty, Portland Museum Executive Director.

The Portland neighborhood has a rich Ohio River-related history, and it began even before 1811 when General William Lytle purchased the 3,000 acres of land that officially became the town. It was, as its name implies, the port for vessels of all kinds that came upon the Falls of the Ohio and had to stop.  But the area has long been about more than just the river and boats. The Portland Museum, located at 2308 Portland Avenue, has served as the history hub for the area, but a planned family experience called AHOY will increase its visibility and connect people within and beyond Portland proper.

Katy Delahanty, executive director of Portland Museum, anticipates that AHOY (which stands for Adventure House of You) will take about three years to bring to life. The museum acquired a Victorian home next door and intends to connect the two buildings with some type of glass pedway which will allow families to “go from the history to the fun,” she says. Although AHOY can be enjoyed by people of any and all ages, “Part of the design phase is gathering kids from the neighborhood to help decide what goes in the space,” Katy adds.

The fun and challenge for the Portland Museum staff and board is how to bridge history with creativity. One idea is that mechanisms from the 19th and 20th centuries, such as stereoscopes and magic lanterns, may be featured as visitors move from the museum to AHOY. Once they enter the Victorian house, however, they may find slides, climbing apparatus, and sensory delights that may remind them of St. Louis’ City Museum. “The old Victorian will look like a very historic home from the outside, [but] when you go inside, it will be so immersive,” Katy says. Because of Portland’s river connections, nautical themes will be evident in AHOY, whether that be steamboats, river travel, or the Falls of the Ohio.

The outdoor area will include a play space with natural items that children can climb in, on, or over. “We’ve had one of our first natural sculptures made by Joe Autry who is from the Portland neighborhood. He did a chainsaw sculpture of Mary Miller, who was the first steamboat captain in the United States who came from our neighborhood,” Katy says. The goal is to also include a small event space at the back that can be rented out for church gatherings, weddings, or meetings.

Even though AHOY will take some time to complete, the Portland Museum is free, open Wednesdays through Saturdays, and continues to offer exhibits and historic items that families will find interesting. Kids always enjoy tinkering with the letter press machines, and the museum frequently offers workshops to teach them how to use the wooden type.

A new exhibit that began in March called For the Birds features the work of numerous artists, including Jon Cherry and Sabra Crockett, and honors the legacy of John J. Audubon while also examining controversies surrounding him.

In addition to these on-site attractions, Katy’s background as head of the Louisville Visual Art’s Mural Art Program means Portland Museum has been instrumental in commissioning art even beyond the museum campus. Artists Darius Dennis and Jared Diaz have worked to create a museum-quality mural of Henrietta Helm, a Portland resident who was the principal of the Portland Colored Night School, which is based on a photograph on loan from Philip Cherry. “We’re always trying to activate our archives in a more inclusive way,” Katy says. “There’s so much neat stuff here that people can leisurely discover.”

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