By Cathy Shouse
For The Herald Bulletin
---- — FAIRMOUNT — If the new president of the Fairmount Historical Museum were a cartoon character, his feet would be drawn in constant motion like Garfield in his tennis shoes. That’s because months before his official start in January, Cole Reeves took steps to transform and modernize the museum. When the doors reopen for the season April 1, visitors will notice that much has changed.
It helped that Reeves was already familiar with the museum, which hosts the annual James Dean Festival, scheduled for September 26-28 this year. Reeves is a furniture restoration expert and has volunteered since 2004, starting with “handyman stuff.”
“We get so focused on the festival, and other stuff, we forget to look at the museum,” Reeves said.
Reeves has beefed up the Garfield exhibit room, by making a visit to Kim Beasley at Paws, Inc, in Albany, the business owned by Jim Davis, Garfield’s creator.
“It was before Thanksgiving,” Reeves said. “We went over to talk to them about increasing Garfield’s presence. When we got over there, she had already pulled most of this off the shelves and boxed it. Paws has been so good to us.”
Beasley said the items are on permanent loan, courtesy of Davis, a 1963 Fairmount High School graduate.
“Jim enjoyed growing up in the bucolic setting of the farm near Fairmount and many of his friends and family still live there. I chose the pieces that had some connection with the area. The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University has comic books and a few other items, but the Fairmount museum has the most items from our collection anywhere.”
There are about 50 figures of the famous cartoon cat, posed in all kinds of humorous situations. The approximately 8-inch-tall, meticulously detailed creations are manufacturers’ original prototypes of the products. Plus, there are two drawing boards from Davis, with a photo of him at work attached to one.
Cole would like for Davis to be as well-known as Garfield. “With a cartoon figure, it’s tough because people don’t know the person,” Reeves said.
The Garfield pieces appear bright and easy to view, thanks to another Reeves idea. He has purchased about a dozen new replacement display cases from a retail business that closed.
“The former cases were turn-of-the-last-century, and made of all oak and glass,” he said. “They took up a lot of space, weighed about 500 pounds and were back loaders. It was difficult to move them and to clean.”
Many items have been rearranged. James Dean objects are easier to see and 11 new, unpublished photos are in a display about Dean’s car racing obsession.
Reeves admits that all of the responsibility made him reluctant to take the presidency.
“I kept telling them no,” Reeves said. He finally agreed when fellow volunteers convinced him to take the reins from Gale Hikade, who wanted a break after more than 12 years as president.
For some of the changes, Reeves teamed up with Fairmount resident Marcus Winslow, James Dean’s cousin and the caretaker of the Winslow family’s Dean objects. Much of Winslow’s collection is displayed. Winslow agreed to help foot the $800 bill for professional signage--black cardboard tags with white lettering that name pieces and describes information. They bought several thousand dollars’ worth of mannequins and other items to improve the displays.
James Dean’s 6th grade basketball uniform now is on a child-sized form. Another mannequin wears Dean’s jeans and western clothing, bringing him to life in an authentic way that was lacking before.
Reeves said getting the clothes on the mannequins was no easy feat. They ended up altering the dummy and removed its feet to get the cowboy boots on.
“This guy was skinny,” Reeves said of Dean.
His wife Jo has worked alongside Reeevs for many days. “We’re guessing he had a 26- inch or 28-inch waist,” Jo said.
“And no butt,” Reeves said with a laugh.
Everywhere Reeves looks is something to be done.
“I’ve always been a history nut and the wife and I were in the antique business for years and that helps. I’m a re-incarnated Victorian,” Reeves said with a smile. “Everything you touch, you think, ‘I’m gonna fix this.’ Well, there’s five things that fall apart before you get to it.”
Some huge, captivating photos of Dean may appear new to long-time visitors. They went unnoticed before, crowded out on top of cases with too many other items. Reeves has spent hundreds of hours to explore the collection, sometimes stacked three deep with items.
“My wife and I are both kind of minimalists, in that fashion. You know, less is more,” he said. “We’re rotating stock.”
Something new is a windmill, approximately 2 feet tall, made from lumber from the movie “Giant.” It stands near the large rock and the wooden posts in a famous shot of Dean for the “Giant” movie.
“He’s even got the rocks,” Reeves said, marveling at all Winslow has saved of Dean’s legacy.
Reeves envisions a wall display of the many notable Fairmount natives, including the painter Olive Rush, retired CBS newsman Phil Jones, and Bob Sheets, retired meteorologist of the National Hurricane Center from 1987-1995.
Also on Reeves’ list is getting an appraisal for an Olive Rush piece, framed in Marion, Indiana.
“I think it’s the real deal,” he said. “Fairmount has produced a lot of famous people. We actually have some neat stuff, really, for what we are, a little bitty town with a museum. I try to hit other little museums when I''m on vacation."
“The upstairs (Fairmount history section) is a total redo because of the new cases,” Reeves said. “We’re going to try to do this in a progression of history.”
For his part, Winslow has invested untold hours recreating the Dean exhibits. He was inspired by techniques used in last year’s exhibit, ''Eternal James Dean'', at the Indiana State Museum. A few of his items that went to Indianapolis returned with their improved preservation methods. He’s now got many documents standing up in plastic holders so they can be read.
Winslow commended Reeves’ work.
“I think they’re positive changes—very nice,” Winslow said. “A lot of the stuff has been here but it wasn’t displayed so you could see it. I’ve thought it needed changing and he’s the person to do it.”
All agreed that the pay-off for their efforts will be an enhanced experience for visitors.
“We’ll put something in the (Dean) fan newsletter,” Winslow said. “We’ll try to let them know. That’s the reason I do it, for Fairmount, for the museum, and for the fans.
If You Go Fairmount Historical Museum Open for the season from April 1-November 1 Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday Other hours by appointment Free. Donations are appreciated 765-948-4555 James Dean Festival, September 26-28