Oskaloosa Historical Montage Returns Saturday
“History reminds us where we came from and points the way forward.” unknown
On Saturday, the restored Oskaloosa Historical Montage will be returned to the community at a public unveiling, 9:30 am, June 14, at the west end of Penn Central Mall across from the Goodwill Store.
The Montage, built in 1985 by local artists Marv Smith and Tom Stone, is an artistic collection of photographs, building caps and artifacts that tell Oskaloosa’s story from the late 1800s through the mid 1980s.
The Montage concept came about while the Mall was still under construction. When the first wall was constructed, it became clear to Joe Crookham and Jeanie Bieri, who helped develop the Mall, that something was needed to add interest to the large expanse of bricks, according to Midwest Memories, a book about the Montage.
The idea for the Montage was to use the space to preserve pieces of Oskaloosa’s past and contribute to its future – a historical depiction of the community.
Marv Smith and Tom Stone were well-known for their creative abilities to develop signage and graphics for businesses. They became involved in a creative process that involved collecting photos and artifacts representing Oskaloosa’s past, as well as preserving items from the buildings in the area where the Mall now stands.
Emily Russell who, along with her late husband Chuck, donated many of the Montage pictures and artifacts said, “It became a running joke in our family that year to have Chuck say ‘Marv and Tom have been here again and took things out of our barn’.”
Smith and Stone decided to arrange items in a three-dimensional display based on major areas of interest such as business, lifestyle and transportation, as they had affected community development, according to Midwest Memories.
Smith and Stone built a model of the wall in their sign shop and began working to develop a model using miniatures. Community members began stopping by the shop and began contributing to the collection. “People were excited about the project and were generous with old photos and information about the community,” said Stone. “We had more photos than we could use.”
“Almost all of the artifacts in the Montage were donated,” said Stone. “If we paid anything, it was very little because people wanted to see the Montage happen.”
Stone was responsible for restoration of old building caps, and in some cases recreated parts that were missing. Smith added electrical elements and neon lighting.
The 80-foot Montage was first unveiled in April 1986 following the year-long construction process. The display stands 14 feet high and 6 feet wide and includes 356 photos and artifacts that tell a story of the city’s past. Among the items included are neon signs, street lamps that once stood in front of the Courthouse, a barber pole, a neon YWCA sign and a photo of the day President “Teddy” Roosevelt came to dedicate the building.
Photos record how William Penn University, Oskaloosa schools, hospitals, fire stations and businesses have served the community over the years, creating the strong foundations and traditions that continue today. “Our family is very pleased to have the Montage restored because of the time and donations that went into making it possible,” said Donna Smith, Marv’s wife. “We had no idea how big the project would be while they were building it,” she said.
The Montage was removed in 1998, at a time when the Penn Central Mall was not locally owned, to make room for a new merchant who wanted to use the space as a store display. Fortunately, the full Montage collection was preserved and archived.
When Musco purchased the Mall in 2010, restoration of the Montage was defined as a priority, so the community can continue to enjoy both its artistry and lessons in history.
“Chuck was really tickled to see his photos and artifacts used as part of the Montage,” said Emily Russell. “If he were here today he would be so pleased to see the Montage being restored for others to enjoy.”
The pictures and stories displayed in the Montage are a reminder that Oskaloosa’s leaders and leading businesses built the community with a vision for the next 100 years. The vision for the next 100 years belongs to us.
Following the unveiling Saturday morning, the Montage will be a permanent display during Mall hours.