Permanent Exhibitions

People of the Waters

This new state-of-the-art exhibition will open in September 2017.

An exciting new full gallery exhibition is beginning to take shape in the main floor gallery! For the last two years, the Museum has been researching and developing a new long-term exhibition called People of the Waters that will explore the region’s richness of prehistoric and early life that spans 13,000 years. The story will be presented in a compelling, state-of-the-art format.

For over 90 years the Oshkosh Public Museum has been a community resource where people come together to celebrate a common heritage, to connect and remember our past, and to create new memories. The Museum remains committed to sharing the astonishing real stories from the past and ensuring the vast array of artifacts, images and historical documents in our collections are preserved for future generations to discover the richness of life in Oshkosh and the Lake Winnebago region.

Presenting this heritage in compelling ways is one of the goals for the creation of the new People of the Waters permanent exhibition. The key storyline and interpretive elements of this cutting edge experience were selected based on public input and feedback from a focus group of teachers to link directly to the educational goals of Wisconsin Act 31 that focuses on major curriculum points on the study of the Ice Age, Native American cultures, and the impact of the Fur Trade.

The waterways of this region were like highways, connecting people near and far, and canoes would have been a common sight throughout the Lake Winnebago region during the early historic period. To best represent this history, Museum staff wanted the new People of the Waters exhibit to include both a birch-bark and dugout canoe.

Using centuries-old skills, master canoe builder Ferdy Goode of Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin, built a craft that is identical to the nimble vessels that once slipped through the rivers and marshes of the Winnebago region. The canoe was funded by a bequest from Florence Sarres, a long-standing member who strongly endorsed our mission. It will be featured along with a dugout canoe crafted by Dr. Jeff Behm and UW-Oshkosh students that participated in a field experience class during the spring 2016 interim.

Other exhibit highlights include a dynamic 40-foot long artifact display wall representing the cultural history from about 13,000 years ago up to the 1850s, an interactive longhouse dwelling allowing visitors to experience daily life in Native villages, a walk-over archaeological excavation site uncovering the past, an interpretive multi-touch geological map showing how huge sheets of receding ice transformed the landscape from prehistoric times, a travel and trade exploration station interpreting the history of tribal trade with an optional trading game feature that visitors can continue to play at home or school, and the work of contemporary Native American artists.

People of the Waters will have a major impact on the Museum, the community, and our role in serving students and teachers. It combines science, math, environmental history, heritage and the arts in a captivating interactive format. This exhibition will be the only one in its class in eastern Wisconsin, making the Museum a primary resource for enriching field trip opportunities that align and enhance classroom instruction.  

Creating this immersive full gallery exhibition is a demanding, complicated and expensive undertaking involving researchers, volunteers, City departments, local contractors, and the experience of Museum staff and the award-winning Split Rock Studios, and some of the best, most highly acclaimed content experts in the state. The Museum also extends a huge thank you to the Clans Committee of the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin, the Ho-Chunk Nation, and archaeologists Dr. Jeffrey Behm from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and Dr. Ray Reser from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point for their expert guidance and dedication of their time and talents.

Like any mammoth project, the implementation and success of People of the Waters is dependent on funding. The total cost of this project is $750,000. The City of Oshkosh is helping to fund a significant part of the cost, but the balance of expenses associated with this exhibit must be borne by the generosity of foundations, businesses, individuals and Museum trusts. Sponsors and private support will play a vital role in bringing all the innovative components of People of the Waters to life!

A prominent feature wall incorporated into the design will recognize the foundations, organizations, businesses, and many individuals who help make this amazing project possible. If you are interested in becoming a major sponsor or making a charitable gift toward this state-of-the-art exhibition, please contact Director Brad Larson (920-236-5769 or email) or Karla Szekeres (920-236-5763 or email). Donations are also accepted online.

People of the Waters is expected to open in September 2017. This project would not be possible without private support. Thank you for your commitment to making this innovative exhibition a reality.

Thank you to our Major Sponsors:
Associated Bank, Alberta S. Kimball-Mary L. Anhaltzer Foundation, John E. Kuenzl Foundation

Help Make People of the Waters a Reality!

Sponsors and private support will play a vital role in bringing all the innovative componets of People of the Waters to life! Thank you for your commitment to making this new generation, long-term exhibit a reality.

For more information on this important project or if you are interested in becoming a major sponsor, please call 920.236.5799 or email Brad Larson or Karla Szekeres. Donations are accepted online, or download a copy of the brochure.

Conceptual overhead view of proposed People of the Waters exhibit, courtesy of Split Rock Studios.