Museum News: New Ketchum, Idaho, Museum Opens

Wood River Museum of History and Culture

The Wood River Museum of History and Culture is looking for some action.

Anyone who has lived in a ski town has repeatedly fielded the chairlift question: “How did you end up here?” That inquiry rings especially true on chairlifts in the hard-to-reach Ketchum-Sun Valley area.

Tribal Room
Tribal Room features traditional Shoshone fishing baskets by a local artist. WRMHC photo.

The new Wood River Museum of History and Culture tackles that question head on with its interactive “How in the World Did You Get to Sun Valley?” exhibit. Guests can explore how a wide range of residents—famous and otherwise—arrived at this mountain valley from all over the world. The exhibit includes luggage tags and cards at the end for kids to tell their origin stories.

This is all part of the pro-active strategy of the recently relocated and renovated museum, which opened in July 2023. Starting from scratch in its new expanded space, everything was open to debate and discussion, according to Mary Tyson, the museum’s director for regional history. “We wanted to challenge the way we tell history,” Tyson said. That challenge extended to the name of the museum itself, which strategically includes the words “history and culture.”

“This fills a much-needed niche,” Tyson said. “We want to establish an ongoing relationship with the community. We want to start conversations and make people think that the museum is more than just about ‘history.’”

Cabinet of Wonders
Cabinet of Wonders.

Another innovation at the museum is its popular Cabinet of Wonders interactive exhibit. The huge cabinet’s Rube Goldberg–like design invites visitors to open hidden doors, drawers and sliders to reveal local artifacts. Persistent cabinet explorers will find the unexpected treasure of the gold and silver 1948 St. Moritz Olympic medals of local hero Gretchen Fraser, the first American to medal in an Olympic Alpine event.

Hemingway exhibit
Hemingway exhibit.

No Ketchum museum would be complete without exploring the town’s celebrated relationship with Ernest Hemingway. The exhibit “A Writer in New Country: Hemingway in 1939” examines who the writer was when he first arrived in the valley. In Hemingway’s own words, the exhibit also reveals his solution to writer’s block. “You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know,” Hemingway admonishes himself. The exhibit includes a stool and a desk with a Hemingway-era typewriter and requests that visitors “Write one true sentence” and then post it on the adjacent bulletin board.

Other exhibits include “Portrait of a Mountain,” which looks at how the area has been affected by Bald Mountain for more than 150 years. (For inspiration, a visitor can step outside the museum and view the mountain itself.) The Tribal Room, at the museum’s entrance, honors the history and present-day culture of the region’s Shoshone and Bannock tribes, the first residents of the valley.

Museum director Mary Tyson hopes the rotating exhibits and interactive nature of the museum’s new design will help change people’s view of history as being, well, only in the past. “History is all around us,” Tyson says. “You just have to notice.”

The museum is located in downtown Ketchum. Admission is free. 

Annie Bommer Named Executive Director of the
Alf Engen Ski Museum Foundation

Annie Bommer
Annie Bommer

The Alf Engen Ski Museum Foundation has named Annie Bommer as its new executive director following the retirement of Connie Nelson, who led the foundation for more than two decades.

An avid skier and native of Ogden, Utah, Bommer has worked throughout her career as an architectural historian, archaeologist, museum collections manager, museum education assistant, museum curator and museum director. Most recently, she’s served as
director of the Heritage Museum of Layton, gallery
coordinator for the Davis County Arts Council and curator of the Syracuse City Museum, all Utah based.

Her academic credentials include a master of liberal arts degree by way of extension studies from Harvard University, completed in the field of museum studies. She also has a bachelor of arts and archaeology degree from Weber State University in Ogden. Bommer is a resident of Draper, Utah, where she is a board member of the Draper City Historic Preservation Commission.

In announcing the appointment, Ron Steele, president of the foundation board of trustees, said: “Her depth of knowledge of museum operations, fundraising, youth programs and museum visitor engagement will build on the solid foundation established by her predecessor and keep our museums on their world-class trajectory.”

The Alf Engen Ski Museum Foundation oversees the Alf Engen Ski Museum and the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles 2002 Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games Museum. Both are housed in the S. J. (Joe) Quinney Winter Sports Center, located at Utah Olympic Park, four miles north of Park City. The two museums attract almost 500,000 visitors annually and do not charge admission.