The Pioneer Family of Van Hoosen Farm

The Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm is home to a beautifully preserved and furnished estate of original pioneer homes and farm buildings. The museum’s exhibits used to tell the history of business development, textbook-style, that led to what is now a thriving suburb. But the current museum staff knew a very important part of the local story was by-and-large being overlooked: Van Hoosen Farm had been run for three generations by women —  truly remarkable, history-worthy pioneer women. 

Filmmaker Oliver Thornton’s PBS documentary, Pioneer Family: On Van Hoosen Farm, kicked off the endeavor to re-center the farm’s story on the women who lived and worked there. Flutter & Wow then joined the team, and helped the staff of the museum re-envision and recreate their exhibition hall. We used the stories of the pioneer women of Van Hoosen Farm to tell the story of the broader community, and to connect it to trends in U.S.. and world history.

The museum is in a renovated dairy barn on the farm where the Taylor-Van Hoosen family lived for several generations. Their family stories are about chasing dreams and making history. Flutter & Wow’s job was to make sure visitors of all ages and abilities could come away from the museum feeling like they too could do just that.

From the family-focused, pioneering matriarch Sarah; to her granddaughter — also named Sarah — who innovated and developed the farm into a thriving dairy business; the exhibits focus on the personalities, challenges and achievements of the Van Hoosen family. Bertha —  the most acclaimed of the Van Hoosens —  was a trailblazing female medical doctor who dedicated herself to serving the under-served, revolutionized birth medicine, and advocated for sterile surgical procedures before germs were accepted science. She started her career facing withering gender discrimination, and ended it — many decades later — a celebrated, sought-after, world renown surgeon.

We created accessible, multi-modal exhibits that have the capacity to appeal to a wide range of visitors. The gallery is full of high tech to low tech interactives, and smart and elegant graphics and illuminated panels.

The pioneering women of Van Hoosen Farm were avid photographers — so we created video-based, interactive social media-inspired feeds that illuminate each lady’s personality. Visitors can “like” their favorite photos. The ladies also traveled the world together — taking many photos along the way. Visitors browse this unique and significant photo collection as a slideshow in a diary barn-appropriate theater.

Bespoke electronic quiz boards test visitors on their local knowledge. Around the corner, at the community timeline exhibit, visitors align historic events on a magnetic timeline, drawing attention to the relationships of historical moments.

We created a fresh and clever wooden map puzzle that represents the county as it developed over time. Elsewhere in this gallery-in-a-dairy-barn, flip panels reveal the dairy lingo. 

Flutter & Wow helped make history interactive, fun, and inspiring.