National Pearl Button Museum entices, educates with display

Margaret Hurlbert
Margaret Hurlbert
Margaret Hurlbert works as the Editor of Discover Muscatine Newspaper.

Muscatine Living

MUSCATINE, Iowa–As the sun goes down, the window of the National Pearl Button Museum @ History and Industry Center transforms into a mesmerizing river scene. Bathed in a shimmering watery light, iridescent scaled fish and whimsical clams with cleaning supplies entice passers by to stop and take a closer look. Along with encouraging pedestrians to pause, museum staff hope the new display sparks interest in learning more about Muscatine’s pearl button history and the clean water initiative it inspired.

Hearkening back to the elaborate window displays that graced downtown Muscatine’s past, National Pearl Button Museum Executive Director Terry Eagle wanted to create a new scene for people walking by to enjoy. “We need a lot of pop from it,” he emphasized.

Eagle wanted the window to showcase the Mussels of Muscatine clean water initiative. The group brings the museum and other local partners together with a mission to repopulate the river with native mussels to improve water quality.

Vada Baker, a local artist who created the mural at the Discovery Center aquarium and an informational display by Discovery Pond and longtime employee of the museum, brought Eagle’s vision to life. “As an artist, I was inspired by the artisans who created not only the pearl button, but by the various other items of art, jewelry, mosaics, and carvings, using the beautiful shells of the clams and mussels,” she said.

Like Eagle, Baker hopes her creation will help others appreciate the importance of mussels and support the Mussels of Muscatine in their efforts to propagate them: “My goal with this display is to educate and entertain the public on the ecological value of the mussel. It is vital that we understand the need to protect the mussels so they will continue to maintain a healthy aquatic system for mankind by keeping our waterways clean. Their work will create economic and cultural value by providing a healthy aquatic system in our waterways.”

After Baker created the pieces for the installation, others at the museum helped her arrange them in the window and created a unique lighting array to highlight them. Eagle expressed great satisfaction with the final display. “We’re very proud of this and were very proud of the direction our clean water initiative is going.” Eagle thanked Bayer, Carver Pump, HNI, Kent Corporation, Muscatine Power and Water, Musco, and Stanley Consultants for their ongoing support of all the museum’s many projects.

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