[Square & Compasses]

National Heritage Museum: Masonic Exhibit Opens June 1 2002

33 Marrett Road
Lexington, MA 02421

Linda Patch 781/862-6541

To Build and Sustain: Freemasons in American Community
Opens at the National Heritage Museum, June 1, 2002

New Long-Term Exhibition to Shed Light on Freemasonry

The National Heritage Museum looks to broaden public awareness of the principles of Freemasonry and its history with the opening of a new long-term exhibition, "To Build and Sustain: Freemasons in American Community." The exhibition is designed to explain what Freemasonry is and why men have continued to join the fraternity throughout American history. "To Build and Sustain" will open June 1, 2002.

Freemasonry's long history in America will be presented in an accessible and imaginative way. A series of display areas within the gallery will be designed to represent various American buildings create a town-like quality. Visitors will travel through the town's "streets" and "buildings" learning American history, meeting historic Freemasons, and discovering their work in America's communities.

"The buildings in the exhibition physically demonstrate the stonemason's craft and symbolically represent the concept of Freemasons working together to build community by making individual men better." said Mark Tabbert, Curator of Masonic and Fraternal Collections at the Museum and curator of the exhibition. "Visitors will be surprised to discover that behind our ever-changing history and community lies a permanent Masonic landscape continually echoing the fraternity's symbols, tools, and principles. Visitors will come to understand the craft of Freemasonry is a system of morality constructed by symbols and taught through allegory and rituals."

The initial section of "To Build and Sustain" is divided into three parts that explain the origins of Freemasonry, its role in the American Revolution and the early Republic. The first part will show three sources that help create Freemasonry in the early 1700s, Judeo-Christian religion, medieval stonemason guilds, and the English Enlightenment. The second part will explain Freemasonry's development in the American colonies and its attraction to men like Benjamin Franklin. The third part will explain how Masonic and Enlightenment principles were used to establish the United States, with Brother George Washington's role in laying the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol.

After the Anti-Masonic Period of the 1820s and 30s, the exhibition's second section provides reasons why men join the fraternity to the present day. Divided into seven different display cases or "buildings," each provides a historical and individual reason for membership. Self-improvement, social, family and community service activities among others have all attracted men. The Masonic principles that supported these activities also encouraged Masons to build and support new Masonic organizations such as the Shriners, Order of the Eastern Star and DeMolay for Boys. Other Americans used the fraternity as a model to build Masonic-like organizations such as the Moose, Elks, or Knights of Columbus. The objects displayed in each "building" also illustrate the consistency of Masonic principles through time, from an 1870s Masonic charity account book to the disbursement of $3 million collected by Freemasons for the September 11, New York Relief Fund.

"Freemasonry is the common ancestor of most American voluntary associations. Showing a progression from Masonic to present-day organizations allows visitors to see this lineage and move forward or backward in time," explained Tabbert. "So if a visitor understands Masonic networks in 1800, they might understand why business and professional associations developed in the 1870s, which, in turn, developed into such clubs as Rotary International in the 1900s. Conversely, visitors who are familiar with today's Rotary may see how local businessmen began organizing clubs in the 1870s, and how Freemasonry's has provided such opportunities means since the 1700s."

The exhibition's concluding section provides information on how the today's Freemasons sustain modern American communities. Divided into three display areas they echo Freemasonry's tenets of brotherly love, relief, and truth as they show Freemasons supporting religious and racial toleration, providing health care and disaster relief, while funding colleges and scholarships and building libraries and museums such as the National Heritage Museum. Through this work the visitor may understand that Freemasonry's purpose is to make "good men better," who, in turn, create, build and sustain good communities.

Throughout the exhibition will be various interactive and "touchable" ways for visitors to understand Masonic principles, symbols, and history. At the exhibition's conclusion will be a computer interactive that encourages visitors to explore detailed information on Masonic activities and information.

The museum has gathered important Masonic artifacts from more than 35 states, Canada and Europe, that range from 1584 to 2001. Among the 175 artifacts and images to be displayed are: the trowel used by George Washington to lay the cornerstone of the US Capitol, a 1830 broadside from Nauvoo Illinois announcing a play at the Masonic Hall in support of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church and President Kennedy's Knights of Columbus membership card.

An important decorative arts piece will be loaned from Colonial Williamsburg. The Bucktrout Masonic Chair, made by Benjamin Bucktrout, between 1769-1775, was probably used by Peyton Randolph when he served as Provincial Grand Master of Masons in Virginia in 1774. Randolph was also the president on of the Continental Congress in 1775. The chair has never before been exhibited in New England, and has only been on loan in New York City, Minneapolis and Los Angles. The bulk of the exhibit, however, will concentrate on artifacts from lesser-known Brothers who did unheralded but good work within their communities.

Exhibition Details

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