Moving History

New series of museum videos comprised 700 hours of work

By: Margaret Butler

Michel Robertson (pictured below in the POW MIA room) spearheaded a video project that delves deeper into the stories behind the Veterans History Museum’s 100 years of collected artifacts, including a saddle from WWI, boots, and dog tags.

Welcoming more than 2,000 visitors in the last six months, the Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas has become an important destination, and a continued source of pride for its home base of Brevard. 

Part of the museum’s popularity, and a benchmark of its expanded programming, is its century-long reach.

“Most [veterans’] museums only cover a specific battle or war,” explains board member Michel Robertson, whose grandfather, father, and husband served respectively in WWI, WWII, and Vietnam. “It’s very rare to visit a museum that covers the past 100 years.”

The venue is organized in galleries detailing the major foreign conflicts spanning WWI through the Global War on Terror. Its robust collection of artifacts began with one curator and now embodies an impressive collection, including rare WWI trench art crafted out of artillery shells.

After having to close the venue’s doors during the early days of COVID, museum members dreamed of adding a digital-education component to support the galleries, and were eventually able to do so via grants, including support from North Carolina Humanities. “Through Their Eyes,” a series of short, seven-minute videos representing each major conflict, was directed by Robertson, who led a museum team including Carl Newman, Joni Pavlik, and Susan Toscani, and collaborated with Real Digital Productions of Brevard to bring the project to life. The team spent more than 700 hours in the past year writing, editing, and producing the videos.

Each one uses narration, photos, video footage, music, and museum artifacts to give a glimpse into the experiences of those who served. “It’s hard to condense 40 hours of Ken-Burns-type programming into seven minutes,” Robertson acknowledges. But she and the team see the immense educational value these short movies will bring to the galleries. 

The new videos, on permanent display at the museum, will help paint a more complete picture of the nation’s major conflicts. ”You’ll learn about WWI trenches and various elements such as armbands and trench art in the narrations, and then you get to see them in person with your own eyes,” explains Robertson. She adds, “We want to clarify that the videos don’t glorify war.”

Instead, Robertson says the museum teaches important lessons. “If you don’t learn from history, you repeat it,” she says. “We want to teach younger generations that our democracy did not come easily.” 

When children come to the museum, they’re allowed to try on uniforms similar to what their grandparents might have worn during service. “It really brings alive their family heritage,” Robertson adds. 

And what it means to the veterans themselves “makes me almost tear up,” says Robertson. “They share a camaraderie around the brutality of war … and the many sacrifices made.” 

Hundreds of pins on a displayed world map serve as important geographical touchpoints. 

“Whether a veteran was based in the center of the conflict, like Da Nang, Vietnam, or in the rural countryside of Cambodia, their service was still incredibly significant to the unfolding of our nation’s history,” says Robertson. 

The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas (21 East Main St., Brevard) is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11am-3pm. Visit theveteransmuseum.org or call 828-884-2141 for more information. 

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