Exhibitionist closes door after 26 years

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He walked from room to room at the Nevada State Museum talking of the little details that pull things together, pointing out this or that -- carefully saying goodbye.

His absence won't be permanent, but after 26 years of daily roamings Doug Southerland is leaving more than memories behind.

"It seems weird," he said Tuesday as he lounged in the theater. "None of us realize our age until something hits us. Twenty-six years seems like a long time, but it seems just like yesterday."

On Nov. 3, 1975, Southerland took up his hammer as exhibit director for the State Museum. He hung up his hammer for the state Friday.

And for the first time since he was 14, he woke up Monday without having to go to work.

"I dug up some weeds in the yard, slept in, played with the dog and gave my wife her first lesson in chess," he said. "It was a full day."

Southerland, 60, plans to volunteer at the museum this summer, putting the finishing touches on the three new history galleries chronicling Nevada history from the Comstock forward.

Elsewhere, the Earth Science exhibit designed by Southerland traces the location of Nevada throughout the geologic ages. The exhibit is color coded and tries to break down "billions of years ago" into something school children and other visitors can comprehend.

"This is a great teaching gallery," he said.

In his 26 years Southerland was part of 47 full gallery exhibitions. Scott Klette has been named interim exhibit director and will follow through with Southerland's designs for "Under One Sky," an exhibit on Native American Heritage set to open in June in the museum's annex.

Southerland said he will miss his friends at the museum the most.

"I'll still get to see them, but not every day," he said.

At home, he plans to do contract work for smaller state museums, helping them with exhibit design. He also has a shop where he plans to do antique conservation and restoration and finish work on some "top secret" patents.

"I am working on three patents. I need to concentrate on them," he said. "I can't tell you what they are."

An engineer and land surveyor who grew up hopping around the U.S., Southerland has used those skills along with his knowledge of Americana to develop the exhibits and help with the collection.

"It's hard to replace someone who's given so much," Museum Curator Bob Nylen said. "He's been a great colleague and friend. There might not be a building with his name on it, but his contributions have helped make this place a great place to visit. His commitment to the museum has been outstanding."

For Southerland, his time at the museum has been an honor.

In 1978, he opened the box hidden in the cornerstone of the Capitol 108 years earlier. With Gov. Mike O'Callahan keeping watch, and a host of Masonic leaders standing by, Southerland carefully opened the bronze box.

"The lid had been soldered shut," he said. "I had to break the soldered bead without damaging the box. I opened it up and I got to hand the contents over to the Masons. I was the first person to touch that stuff since 1870. There were bullion bars and pictures of the Central Pacific Railroad and the mint building."

If he could change anything, he said, he would like to see the state hire a person, even "half time," to promote the museums and services offered by the Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs in both Northern and Southern Nevada.

"Do you know the State Department of Cultural Affairs, that includes the State Library and Archives, the Historic Preservation Office, the Nevada Arts Council and the Division of Museums and History, shares less than one-half one percent of the state's general revenue?

"We are well aware we are not advertised as well as we should be."


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