At Michiganology, using history to help preserve history
Back in the 1950s, business leaders gathered to consider how best to promote Michigan as a great place to live, work and do business.
From that idea sprang an event -- Michigan Week -- and an image to promote it: a little bird named “Chesty Robin.”
Well, he’s back – with a name change and a new mission: Raising money to preserve Michigan’s history.
The “Proud Robin” collection, in fact, is one of the featured offerings at Michiganology,a website run in a partnership between the Michigan History Foundation and the Archives of Michigan that offers a variety of goods with a historical bent.
This year, Michiganology decided to bring back a Michigan Week logo from 1958 that featured the robin sitting on top of the Mackinac Bridge with the words “It’s great to live in Michigan” on its chest.
According to Meagan Kelley, the designer and wholesale agent with Michiganology, ‘Proud Robin’ is now one of the most popular collections at the relatively new website.
“A donor of ours through the Michigan History Foundation requested a search for the ‘Proud Robin,’ which used to be called ‘Chesty Robin.’ But, we decided to rename him because it just didn’t sound right,” explained Kelley. “Once we found it, we all really fell in love with the image. They were using the Robin previously, but (for that year’s Michigan Week) they decided to put him atop the bridge.”
Michiganology will help the nonprofit History Foundation with its goal “to collect, preserve and interpret Michigan’s past for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations.” The website draws its materials from the Archives of Michigan.
Site offers plethora of historical goodies
Michiganology’s other popular collections are “Brewery Labels” and “Maps.” Kelley, for example, said many people request the 1839 map of Michigan (at right) in puzzle form because of its rich color and slanted mitten.
“They produced it before they finished doing the surveying of Michigan. So it wasn’t correct. And the color of it is pretty bright colored with all the different counties,” said Kelley.
“The brewery labels also are popular. After Prohibition ended, liquor companies and brewery companies had to register their labels and what they were selling with the (state) Liquor Control Commission between 1934 and 1946. The Liquor Control Commission kept a copy of the labels in a large book. (The labels) have great artwork and they are very visually appealing.”
History buffs or the people who need gift ideas for them can find Michiganology products off the website, too.
Schuler Books & Music, with locations in Lansing and Grand Rapids, has been selling Michiganology products since last year. Beth Boyink, gift buyer at Schuler Books, decided to sell these products because of their historical attributes.
“We try to sell anything Michigan, of course, and more importantly stuff that has historical significance. What drew me to them were the images,” said Boyink. “It’s Michigan history. It’s something different from your average type of Michigan products that you’ve seen in the past. It’s images that you don’t normally see.”
“Proud Robin” and “Brewery Labels” are among the collections of items found at Schuler’s.
Boyink noted that one popular item is a puzzle featuring Michigan’s lighthouses, including actual architectural drawings of the exterior and interior of Isle Royale Light and Big Sable point lighthouses. The images each date back to the 1870s.
Advocate: Selling Michigan history is selling Michigan
Lisa Diggs calls selling history “a tremendous idea.”
Diggs is the founder of The Catalyst Company, which launched the Buy Michigan Now campaign that promotes buying Michigan-made products. Diggs, who included Michiganology’s Brewery Label images in BMN's annual holiday catalog, said the brewery images were “a cool way to provide historic context to one of Michigan’s fastest-growing industries.
“Buying Michigan Now is propelling Michigan forward because we convince people of the economic impact we can collectively make by buying local, and then help them discover what to buy and from whom,” Diggs explained. “As we keep more money within our borders, Michigan’s economic rebound intensifies.”
One of Michigan’s top historical attractions, the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, just received its own shipment from Michiganology.
“Michigan is hugely popular with anyone who visits here, explained Sue Ashley, manager of the hotel’s 13 shops. “We had our 125th anniversary last year and anything with the hotel seems to sell for us. We also we wanted to support the state.
We need to make Michigan successful and we need to continue to support it,” Ashley added. “It’s an exceptionally beautiful state with great historical significance. We are a part of that and we need to make sure we support every aspect of it as we can. We are always looking for Michigan-made products.”
Diggs says she appreciates the work that Michiganology is doing:
“People in Michigan are incredibly proud of the products we make, and the state itself. Combining both concepts, and as a bonus having it benefit a great organization like the (Michigan Historical Center), is fantastic. We (at Buy Michigan Now) like to say that we are revitalizing Michigan one product, one purchase, one person at a time.”
Taylor Trammell is the 2012-13 Center for Michigan journalism student fellow. She is pursuing a journalism degree at Wayne State University.
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