The Virtual Museum

Upon his return from Norway in 1960, Warren canvassed the southern Indiana landscape in search of representative buildings for the outdoor museum. His extensive architectural survey brought him into intimate contact with over 700 log buildings, many of which he measured, sketched, and photographed. Several structures were sold or donated to the museum and then dismantled and relocated to a field east of the Indiana University campus. They were to be rebuilt as exhibits. The promotional brochure for the prospective museum emphasized the importance of placing of these artifacts in proper cultural context: “In and around the buildings and elsewhere on the site activities appropriate to the time and place—maple sugar making, sheep shearing, and quilting, for example—will be carried out from time to time in order to give deeper insights into the ways in which people lived, worked, and played.”


“We cannot hope to understand artifacts unless we can understand their cultural context. An artifact separated from its cultural context and stuck in a glass case is like a fish out of water. We can measure and weigh the fish and count its scales. But we can never understand what fish are really like unless we see them swimming in their element. So it is with artifacts. We must do our best to understand how they were made and how they were used, to understand, in short, the people and the society in which they flourished. This is a tough assignment, I realize, but it should be the goal of students of traditional material culture.”

“Folklife and Traditional Material Culture: A Credo,” in Viewpoints, 19.