Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

History Lesson: New enhances the old at Landis House.

Screenshot 2014-03-30 11.09.36In a typical history class full of students, eager to be free of classrooms and boring lectures, one might expect to hear the usual inquiry, “Why does this matter to us?” or, “Who cares?”

But the students at Newport High School have found themselves immersed in the history of their town in an unexpected way. Inside Landis House, a collection of artifacts and memorabilia provided the students with an opportunity to look at history from a different perspective, one that was more personal than they may have encountered before.

The Landis family purchased the house in 1933 after living in Hamburg, Germany. Their home in Germany was furnished with many of the beautiful and elegant pieces that the students would later encounter in Newport: sparkling chandeliers, a Bechstein piano and large mirrors that remind one of a time period washed over with wealth and fantasy.

Unfortunately, the Landis’ time in Germany coincided with the rise of the Nazis. Hearing how the Nazis were stealing art throughout Europe, Mary Landis made the journey back to personally oversee the shipment of their belongings. The Landis family caused a stir upon bringing several boxcars full of large, ornate artifacts right into the heart of Newport.

In 2007, the Perry County Council of the Arts took possession of Landis House and began making needed renovations, turning it into an accessible place for people to gather and experience creative activities together. Even the renovations are a unifying act of generosity. Everything is done by local volunteers and made possible through donations.

It’s that sort of spirit that made way for the involvement of the students. When faced with the task of researching each item, PCCA Arts-in-Education Coordinator Amy Reed had an idea: work with local students and a visiting artist, Rand Whipple. The students of the Newport High School history class researched each artifact. The media communications class then took over, and, under Whipple’s guidance, created videos to accompany each artifact.

A conflation of new and old now greets visitors to Landis House. One sees the old antiques and then accesses the information about each piece by scanning a QR code on a smart phone to bring up the student-made videos, which also are available on YouTube.

The result of this collaboration is the current exhibit at Landis House, “Tangents: The Oral History Project,” which will be on display through April 11. The next exhibit at Landis House, “Director’s Choice,” featuring student artwork, opens on April 25 and runs through July 5.

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