It’s only fitting that the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Museum on the Move (MoM) is a vintage Airstream, because the trailers have such a rich history of their own. As Professor John Troutman, the history instructor that brought the museum concept to life says, “What vehicle to support a mobile museum is more historical, and timelessly attractive, than an Airstream?”
The university located the 26’ 1954 Cruiser on an Airstream forum, and Troutman and a colleague picked it up outside of Birmingham, AL in February of 2013. Students from the School of Architecture and Design came up with concepts to remake the trailer into a functional (and modifiable) museum space. They hired a local contractor—and Airstream enthusiast—to gut it, rebuild the frame and floor, and rewire it.
Troutman’s graduate students developed the museum’s initial exhibit, “Crossing the Line: Louisiana Women in a Century of Change” during the fall semester of 2013. Students and Troutman worked out the lighting, exhibit panel mountings and exhibit “flow,” as well as acquired the show’s artifacts and images, and wrote the explanatory text. In the spring and fall of 2014, they toured the exhibit all over southern Louisiana—to historical association meetings, local civic group meetings, farmer’s markets, music festivals, and schools.
“That is one of our greatest successes in terms of developing this program—the Airstream draws people in, long before they read the exhibit description outside the door,” says Troutman. “Everyone wants to talk about the Airstream, tells us their Airstream experiences, and asks where we found it. That gets them in the door, so that they can see the exhibits that our students will design and install each year. Buying an Airstream to serve as the exhibit vehicle is the best decision we could have ever made.”
Troutman’s students love the MoM because it gets them professional, hands-on experience in museum work and gets them out in the community—even out into Troutman’s driveway, which he describes as being “ground zero for installing our exhibits in the trailer.” The academic work for the museum’s next exhibit, covering the history of oil production in Louisiana’s oil-rich state, is now taking place in student seminars. In the fall, Troutman’s graduate student seminar will convert that scholarship into “Oil in Louisiana,” the next traveling exhibit.
Being a history professor, Dr. Troutman is eminently qualified to speak on the place of the Airstream in the historical record: “Airstreams are remarkable: Their popularity reflected the desire of Americans to learn about other parts of our country, and to expand the venues for their family time and their critical family experiences, beyond their homes, and onto the open road. The design aesthetic of these trailers is unmatched and a thing of wondrous beauty.”
Museum-quality beauty, it seems.
See the museum’s program and more at museumonthemove.com
– By Tom Bentley