A Royal Visit

My typical day as director of Archives and Special Collections (ASC) is interesting and varied: a discussion with a potential donor, a meeting to plan an exhibit, creating catalog entries to facilitate discovery of our collections… Last Friday was interesting in an entirely different way.

Merv Aubespin and Ken Clay at entrance to exhibit

Merv Aubespin and Ken Clay at entrance to exhibit

ASC has a long-standing partnership with Ken Clay and Merv Aubespin (also known as Legacies Unlimited), who, with Blaine Hudson, authored Two Centuries of Black Louisville. Many of the historical photographs in this book came from the University of Louisville Photographic Archives, and we mounted an exhibit when the book came off the press in 2011. We’ve recreated this exhibit as part of the “Celebrating the Legacy of Black Louisville” events at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage for the last two years.

We were told a couple of weeks ago that the Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall would be visiting the Center, and that our exhibit would be a featured attraction. It was a huge honor, and required that we (and when I say we, I really mean Marcy Werner) had to reprint all of the images so they could be framed and reinstalled.

A portion of the Two Centuries exhibit

A portion of the Two Centuries exhibit

 

 

It also meant that we were invited to be at the exhibit when the royal couple came through. I am not normally all that interested in royalty – I was old enough to be very much aware of the Prince’s wedding to Diana, and I didn’t even try to watch it on television. But even I couldn’t pass up the chance to see what a royal visit is like. We were given some ground rules on the morning of the visit: don’t reach out to them, but you can shake their hand if they reach out to you; call them both “your Royal Highness”; and something about cell phones. I think we weren’t supposed to be taking pictures, but… everyone was taking pictures.

Crowd of people at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage

Crowd of people at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage

When I agreed to attend the event, I knew there were a large number (30-40) of other exhibitors, and I expected them to be promoting the Commonwealth’s industries and agriculture. Instead, the event focused on health, innovation, sustainability, and — in our case — history. There were students and teachers from local schools demonstrating projects and organizations that promote sustainable agriculture, as well as University of Louisville’s FirstBuild. There were choirs, bands, and the Louisville Orchestra. It was very impressive, and something that the University should be proud to have been a part of.

As it turned out, Camilla (but not Charles) toured the Two Centuries exhibit, guided by Ken Clay and Merv Aubespin. I was not permitted into the gallery when she was viewing the exhibit, so I can’t gauge her level of engagement, but she stayed longer than I expected. Our collections helped a member of Britain’s royalty understand something about Louisville’s history – this is a departure from our usual daily activities, to say the least. While it was fun to be part of the hoopla, and I am proud we were asked to participate, it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the day-to-day work that we do: things like working with academics from all over who want to study the Stryker papers; neighbors who want to stroll down memory lane via old photos of department stores that are no more; and students who have to write a paper on a UofL building.



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