Hi, I’m Joanna Roberts. Website building is a new skill, but learning new skills is what I’m all about. As a former Living History Interpreter and current Library Science grad student, I have made shoes by hand, woven cloth and sewn it into clothing, cooked over an open hearth, edited a cookbook, and even worked with hot iron (and more!). In my personal life, I’ve dyed those highly decorated Easter Eggs called pysanki, created seashell ornaments and door wreaths, designed ponds and landscaped native plant gardens, cut intricate paper designs called Scherenschnitte, and even made stained glass. I love to cook, read books, and throw myself into any new learning opportunity. If you want to see some of my work, check out the gallery. I also have some blog posts on how I learned to do some of these things, so you can take a look there if you’re interested. Hope you enjoy!
I live in the Piedmont Triad in North Carolina. Currently, I attend the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
My experience has been working at a Living History museum for over 20 years. I worked for a mid-sized museum, Old Salem Museums & Gardens, in a variety of positions. Over that time, I worked for most of the departments within the Education Division of the museum. I was a front-line interpreter working in costume, introducing the history of the people and town life of Salem, NC. I worked as a tradesperson, specializing in shoe making, weaving, and tailoring. I moved into management after 6 years, and began overseeing program development, first in charge of a group demonstrating home life activities, then taking over the occupations section (demonstrating professions such as apothecary/doctor, tavern keeper, and teacher), and finally managing the foodways group, who showed hearth cooking and gardening. At that point, I began to develop training manuals for new staff, researching and creating new activities for the costumed staff, and participating in planning groups for seasonal events and professional conferences. Over time, I became the Assistant Director for the Interpretive Department, which had a staff of approximately 20+ employees and 3 other managers, as well as volunteers. I helped design evening tours for the fall, helped write grant proposals both large and small, and hired or trained many of the Interpretive and Education staff at the museum.
President and Mrs. Carter visited Old Salem’s shoe shop soon after I started as a trades person. I was lucky enough to be able to meet them, and talk together for about 20 minutes. President Carter was doing research for a book he was writing that had a shoe maker, and he wanted to get information from historians who did the work. Both the President and his wife are wonderful people, and I will be forever grateful that I met them.
The advantage of a mid-sized living history museum is that it is large enough to allow for expansive and detailed programming and research, but small enough that the managing staff often have many hats. I was part of a group of managers who did all of the Education programming for the museum. This programming included smaller, one day events for holiday crowds, and large, long-running tour offerings for the fall and holiday seasons. Our group not only followed the programs from research and development through implementation and evaluation, we also had to plan and coordinate with advertising and media outreach. I became very familiar with the local news stations’ morning schedules! It was common to appear on TV for advertising and promotion for various events. I have become very comfortable with giving live feeds with various time limitations, though talk-backs (where there is only a cameraperson, and you talk to the anchors in the studio through an earbud connection) were my least favorite. I call it ‘talking to the voices in my head!’ (This video link is a spot I did for Our State about the history of the Moravian Ginger Cookie, being considered for the state cookie)
All through my days as a manager, I continued to dress in costume and interpret history to the public. I have washed laundry and ironed by hand (you really appreciate a washing machine after that), made my own shoes and clothing by hand, cooked full meals over the fire (and served Mount Vernon’s ‘George Washington’ at special events), baked using a wood-fired bake oven, woven cloth on a full sized floor loom (including warping, or stringing, the loom pictured above), made ice cream the really old-fashioned way, and even brewed beer. To do all these activities and more, I had to do extensive research into foodways, 18th century industry, gardening, and handcrafts. I even worked with staff members to translate two 18th-century German cookbooks, and edited the translations for publication by the museum – a book called The Raised Hearth.
This website is my way of continuing what I enjoyed most about working as a Living History professional. Sharing the learning that I have done and still do with others is also why I decided to pursue a new career in Library Science. There is nothing like having other people get excited about learning new things to make one feel good about their work!
If you would like to read any of the work I am posting from my Graduate Studies, feel free to visit my Graduate Work page.