Visitors take in history of technology at county museum

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Tyler Greene of Forest Grove watches as Rebekah McLean of Portland tests his design for a windmill fan.What do an arrowhead and a computer have in common? That’s what families were out to discover last Saturday at the Free Family Day exhibit “Technology: from Primitive to Present Day” at the Washington County Museum.

Innovative, creative minds throughout the county’s history have resulted in everything from arrowheads to computers — both examples of local technology. But what convinced kids and adults to spend a few hours indoors on a pretty day? The price — free — and the method, hands-on.

“History is here,” said Marcia Hale, the museum’s director of guest services and adult public programs. “But how do we make it relevant?” As if to answer Hales’ question, the April 12 program offered experiences that taught visitors better how things work than words would have.

Peter Bauer and John Spathas of Rewild Portland gave children the chance to roll raw wool between their hands until its fibers joined and transformed into felt, which could then become a blanket, a hat, a pair of shoes or mittens. Other participants twisted natural fibers to make cord and strung beads of hollowed wood.

Officials from Vernier, a Beaverton-based software and technology company, had 12-year-old Rebekah McLean, of Portland, helping youngsters fashion their own cardboard blades to fasten to a turbine. If they turned fast enough with the help of a fan, a small red light indicated the generation of wind power.

Lessons in aerodynamics were taught by members of The Society of Women Engineers as they showed youngsters how to fold paper to form tiny helicopters, which twirled authentically to the floor.

But hands-on aside, there also were displays and experts to engage every museum-goer.

Former state archaeologist Dr. Leland Gilsen brought his traveling museum of Oregon history, which featured an array of artifacts Gilsen is delighted to explain to interested viewers. From demonstrating how an ancient spear was launched with a gadget that greatly increased its distance and velocity to relating how our ancestors made use of every part of a slain animal — “all that was left was the stain on the ground where the animal had fallen,” Gilsen said.

Folks from the county sheriff’s department were on hand with information and two robots — a big one and a much more active small one that roamed the spacious museum, catching the attention of many.

And for those who prefer a purely visual experience, the museum offered that, too. “This Kalapuya Land” explores the lives of the Native Americans who were here 6,000 to 8,000 years ago and brought flintknapping and bead- and fire-making to the region.

Reflecting more modern times, a display called Silicon Forest Universe illustrated the formation and proliferation of high-tech firms in the Willamette Valley. “The museum now touches all bases, featuring exhibits of history, culture, art and technology,” explained Curator Beth Dehn.

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