Moab Museum Exhibit 2020

Bronzed boots and Geiger counters belonging to “Uranium King” Charlie Steen – who discovered a large deposit of high-grade uranium ore near Moab in 1952 – are on display at the Moab Museum. 

[Photo courtesy of Linn DeNesti / Museum of Moab]

The Moab Museum is on the home stretch of an extensive remodel that began in September 2018, and it won’t officially reopen until the spring. But museum lovers and anyone curious about the museum’s new look can get a peek at the revamped interior during the museum’s free Community Exhibit Preview from 3 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 29. 

Mary Langworthy, who oversees membership and community outreach for the museum (located at 118 E. Center St.), said the community is invited to explore the new exhibits, learn more about the work the museum has done and share feedback with museum staff and trustees.

“This will be an exciting opportunity for our community to see what it will be like when we officially reopen our doors in April and a time for community members to share their valuable comments and suggestions with staff and trustees,” Langworthy said.

Moab’s local museum has been a fixture for more than 60 years, though it has been known by several names over time. It first opened in 1958 as the Moab Museum. After Dan O’Laurie donated money to Grand County for a new museum building, the name was changed to Dan O’Laurie Canyon Country Museum and then shortened to Dan O’Laurie Museum. Later, O’Laurie’s name was dropped and it became known as the Museum of Moab.

Recently it was renamed again, coinciding with the sweeping refresh of the museum’s building and exhibits. The “new” name is also the original: the Moab Museum.

Linn DeNesti, who handles communications and events at the museum, said that those who attend the Community Exhibit Preview will immediately notice the new layout of the museum, which is “very open and spacious, light and welcoming with a clear plan for navigating.”

“Objects can now be very clearly viewed without distractions, and stories of people help to paint a clear image of the far distant past to the present,” DeNesti said.

Interim Executive Director Forrest Rodgers said the museum used to be organized around categories like geology, paleontology and history, with many “objects and props” but without “a coherent theme that tied them all together.”

“Our new experience is organized around stories and uses objects to visually represent them,” Rodgers said. “For example, the Spirit & Grit stories focus on Moab’s early years and feature Moab’s first piano and a handmade cottonwood plow.”

He added that “to showcase the Museum’s extensive collection of historic photos and oral histories, many people profiles will be told on iPads” and that the Visitor Services staff will “engage with visitors and amplify the stories with additional information and resources.”

DeNesti said she is particularly excited about a new temporary museum display centered on the Howard Balsley collection.

Balsley, who arrived in Moab in the early 1900s, is often mentioned in history books as a uranium pioneer but he also was a “fastidious chronicler of Moab’s social, economic, and civic history,” Denesti said.

“Howard Balsley was Moab’s very first Citizen of the Year, a public servant of the highest order: U.S. Forest Service Ranger, Grand County Clerk and Recorder, and even Moab’s Mayor,” DeNesti said, adding that his business and political acumen helped make southeastern Utah the “Uranium Capital of America.”

DeNesti said the museum’s new design allows more flexibility in its displays, so stories and items can be changed up based on visitor feedback and opportunity.

She added that the museum has improved its collections storage so it meets standard facility and environmental control requirements, which means it now able to borrow items from other museums.

“This will help us to curate future temporary exhibits that will bring members and visitors back again and again,” she said.