Otterbein donates Shaker artifacts to history museum

When Senator Rob Portman was a 17-year-old senior at Lebanon High School, he ventured into the collections of the Warren County Historical Society to research his final paper for graduation. Portman had decided to study the history of the local Shaker community, which led to a lifetime passion for the nearly-extinct religious movement and even the authoring of a book on the group’s local history.

On Tuesday, Portman was back at the Warren County Historical Society Museum in Lebanon to oversee the transfer of ownership of the Shaker artifacts that had fascinated him as a teen and continue to cast a spell on him in adulthood.

For many years, the museum has been “home,” albeit on loan, for much of Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices’ collection of Shaker artifacts. On Tuesday, Otterbein formally transferred ownership of the collection to the Warren County Historical Society.

The Shaker’s, a strict religious sect known for their cultural contributions like music and furniture, founded a village in modern-day Turtlecreek Twp. in 1805. Otterbein’s Turtlecreek Twp. campus, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, sits on the site of the original Shaker village. Otterbein took possession of many Shaker artifacts — particularly furniture — when they acquired the land.

“The Shakers have a variety of qualities, including devotion to faith, entrepreneurial spirit, innovation and the creation of more than 100 inventions that characterize the greatness of America,” Portman said. He jokingly sat on a Shaker-made bench, which he noted was purposefully made to be uncomfortable to deter idling.

“This has been a collection that has been coming together for more than 70 years,” said museum curator Victoria Van Harlingen, who noted many of the items used to be stacked along the museum’s second story gallery before an expansion was constructed for a better display area.

“Behind all of our history and all of these artifacts are great people who have gotten us to this celebration,” said Otterbein President and CEO Jill Hreben.

Historical society volunteers said they want to upgrade display areas and preserve all of the items transferred to them for eternity, while continuing to share the story of the Warren County shakers with the world. In 2010, the museum opened the only exhibit on Shaker pottery in the world.

“I wasn’t the best student, but I wrote the best paper that year,” Portman recalled. “I’m so grateful to the Warren County Historical Society for what they did to me and now I’m pleased to think of what they can do for future high school students. Their ability to see and touch these artifacts will enhance their knowledge and understanding of the Shakers and what has come before them.”

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