The mission of BEHOLD! is to offer the public unprecedented access to contemporary rural American life — its people, their skills, ingenuity and heritage. Pioneering a new concept in community/economic development, it models an expanded role for museums in American culture.
Inspired by 250 years of innovative rural life in New Lebanon, New York, the citizens here are again pioneering a new idea: the nation’s first living museum of contemporary rural American life. BEHOLD! shares with visitors the heritage, skills, techniques and know-how of generations past, building a bridge between a rich history and a sustainable future. You may have visited historic museums where costumed docents play characters from yesteryear and demonstrate skills of times long since past, but at BEHOLD!, you visit real people and learn how they live, work and play at their farms, barns, artisan studios, workshops, businesses and wooded trails.
We are farmers, florists, beekeepers, auto mechanics, car racers, gardeners, homesteaders, cattle breeders, foragers, toy makers, herbalists, naturalists, singers, volunteer fire fighters, hunters, writers, quilters, bakers — and much more.
- Have you wondered how volunteers fight fires? Come meet our firefighters in the firehouse.
- Have you ever heard of a heritage breed of cattle? We’ll introduce you.
- Have you ever wondered if you could survive by eating what you find in the forest? We’ll show you how.
- Want to make our New Lebanon Slab Pie? No problem — we will introduce you to the chef.
- Wish you could understand what the birds are saying? You can!
- Curious about what goes on behind the scenes of a car racing track? We’ll take you there and introduce you to the drivers.
- Do you wonder who lives in small towns and how we spend our time? We’ll tell you.
- And along the way, we’ll invite you to sing with us, dance with us, eat with us, learn with us, read with us, and chat with us.
For well over 250 years, people from all over the world have come to New Lebanon. They have sought cures in our waters and relief through our medicinal plants. They have found uplift in our various spiritual communities and intellectual stimulation in our schools, associations and library. They have organized help for those in need. They have been sustained by the bounty of our magnificent farm and grazing lands, waterways and forests. They have been invigorated by our fresh air. Now, as the public seeks new approaches to living in better harmony with the natural world, New Lebanon’s own history and culture and that of adjacent towns provide a solid foundation for building solutions not only for our local communities, but, as was historically true, for the wider world.
We invite you to learn, ask questions and appreciate our way of life, our skills, our experiences and our community spirit. We invite you to fully engage with rural living.
We invite you to BEHOLD! — and now, not only in New Lebanon but also in nearby towns.
A New Museum Concept
Behold! takes its cue from the origins of the Latin (museum) and Greek (mouseion) meaning: a place devoted to the muses, a place for the study of special arts and sciences. Like the muses of ancient Greek, our muses live and work all around the area. As is the ambition of all good museums, Behold! seeks to educate, illuminate and delight.
HOW BEHOLD! DIFFERS FROM TRADITIONAL MUSEUMS
Location – Traditional museums are located in one place or – in the case of historic villages – spread over several structures within a confined area. These spaces have been specifically designed or altered for use as museums.
Behold! workshops, demonstrations and events take place throughout the area, in forests and fields, along hiking trails, at farms and homes and places of work.
Docents – Traditional museums usually hire college graduates and train them in one or more aspects of the museum’s focus areas – history, science, art, etc. Behold! guides are residents of small rural towns who come with the expertise they’ve agreed to share with visitors.
Docents at traditional museums are discouraged from telling their own stories. They are instructed to focus only on the information they’ve been trained to impart. By contrast, Behold! guides are encouraged to share their personal histories with visitors – the better to understand who lives in the countryside and why.
History – Traditional history museums feature historic scenes, characters, furnishings, etc and sometimes help visitors connect those historic features to their present lives. Behold! exists in the present. As visitors learn how country people live in the rural environment today, they will be treated to information about how the modern traditions evolved.
Mission – Traditional museums preserve, exhibit and interpret artifacts, documents, art, costumes, and other historic items. Behold! has no formal collection. The tools used by the Behold! guides are kept, cared for and interpreted by them. Behold! is also a collection of country people who have honed skills they are willing to share. Behold! strives to make manifest the hidden pleasures and advantages of country living both for individuals and society and offering access to this way of life to others.
Financial Sustainability– Traditional museums have relied on donations and grants to meet their expenses. Entrance fees and ticket prices supply only a small portion of their revenue. Behold! is exploring a variety of means to become financially self sustaining over time.
Impact on Community – Traditional museums exist within but are rarely integral to the geographical community in which they find themselves. While it is widely acknowledged that, if successful, a museum may bring visitors and revenue to surrounding businesses, this is not viewed as one of the museum’s primary responsibility. Behold! sets out to serve as an economic engine for small rural towns.. Proprietors of many businesses and staff at local non-profits serve as Rural Guides.
From is inception, Behold! understood that its success was rooted in its acceptance by diverse members of its community. Its organizers moved out to engage those members. The effort was reciprocated as community people stepped forward to contribute everything from their time and knowledge to their homes, farms and businesses.
Founding Board of Trustees (*continuing service)
Ruth J. Abram*, President, founded the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City, the International Coalition of Historic Sites of Conscience, the Women’s History Institute, the National Women’s Agenda Coalition, and Vertical Village, a better way of urban living. She has lived in New Lebanon since 2007.
Monte Wasch*, Treasurer, is a marketing strategy and sales management professional, with many years of experience in internet, magazine and directory publishing, and data processing industries. Previously, he served in New York City government as Deputy Director of Economic Development. A graduate of City College of New York, with an MBA from Pace University, he has lived in New Lebanon since 1997, and served a four-year term as a member of our Town Board. In his other life, he is a jazz pianist.
Heather Naventi*, a resident of New Lebanon, opened Masterpiece Jewelry Studio in New Lebanon, New York in 1999. A member of the Jewelers of America, she is rated # 1 by the Jewelers Board of Trade. The sole proprietor of Masterpiece, she is a bench jeweler who does repairs for jewelers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. She is known for her own jewelry design and custom work. Naventi is also an award winning equestrian.
Erminia Rasmussen, (2014-2017) Vice President, has 30 years experience in business administration in both the profit and non profit sectors. Her life across the continental US and many years in Europe has afforded her a significant appreciation of diverse cultures. A resident of New Lebanon since 2010, she manages her own small real estate business in Massachusetts.
Dolores D. Meissner (2014-2017) started her career in the auction business in 1980 at The White Lily Lodge auction house in Cropseyville, N.Y., with her husband and brother. After eight years of working and training, she and her husband left to found Meissner’s Auction House in New Lebanon. The Meissners’ hard work, dedication to customer service, reliability and code of ethics has made them a leader in the auction field, where they are noted for giving excellent value.
John Luckacovic and Eleanor Oldham have spent their careers working in practically all areas of the performing arts for more than 30 years. After moving full time to the Hudson Valley, they started their own management and production company, 2Luck Concepts. They specialize in producing the North American tours of celebrated music, dance and theatrical attractions from around the world. John and Eleanor have lived in Canaan since 2010.
Advisory Council (in Formation)
Honorary Chair Senator Chuck Schumer
Chris Gibson, Congressional Representative
Steve F. Mclaughlin, New York State Assemblyman
Kathleen Marchionne, New York State Senator
Colleen Teal, New Lebanon Town Supervisor
Howard Commander, President, Mt. Lebanon Speedway
Jeff Daly, Chair, Shaker Museum/Mt. Lebanon
Betsy Gitter, Chair Board, New Lebanon Library
Max Gitter, Chair, New Lebanon Economic Development Council
Peggy Hawkins, Town Leader*
Mat Klafehn, Principal, New Lebanon Jr. High/High School
Sunny Kamar – Speedway Mini Mart
Fiona Lalli, President Grow the Valley (business association)
Sharon Moon, Co-Manager, Lebanon Valley Heritage Center
Peter Paden, Director, Columbia Land Conservancy
Mark Schaming, the Director of the State Museum, and the Associate Commissioner of Education for Museums_
Robert Webber, Country Squire Hardware*
David J. Weiser, Co-Director, Explore New Lebanon