By Sarah Haselhorst
At the new State Historical Society’s Center for Missouri Studies, students will have access to thousands of collections, study spaces, an art gallery and a coffee shop within the bookstore.
The new building opened its doors Aug. 10, the same day that 198 years ago Missouri officially reached its statehood. Its headquarters had been located in Ellis Library, but the contemporary location will allow for almost 49,000 square feet of expansion.
“We’re very excited for students to come and visit, whether it’s part of a class or whether they come to explore the art gallery or to do research,” said Maggie Mayhan, the society’s assistant director for community engagement.
The south entrance of the three-story limestone building opens up to Elm Street, across from Peace Park on the MU campus. Identical glass double-doors on the north entrance lead to a parking lot and into the city.
A white oak staircase curves through the middle of the building that leads up to the second story. Mayhan said the architect, Gould Evans, planned the building with Missouri in mind.
“The white oak is from Poplar Bluff and the limestone from quarries in Ste. Genevieve,” Mayhan said. “We wanted to celebrate Missouri’s story and heritage throughout the building.”
The society wanted to capture the idea of movement, like Missouri rivers and the flowing lines of the American painter Thomas Hart-Benton.
Hart-Benton’s paintings adorn the first-floor art gallery walls, along with photos shot by Oliver Schuchard. The public will have free access to the gallery.
The first floor also accommodates a large auditorium and a bookstore with a built-in coffee shop. The society offers a number of evening events where it hosts lecture and in-conversation series.
Just up the white oak staircase, the second floor houses two classrooms, a research center filled with paper, visual and audio archives, and another stuffed to the brim with microfilm.
“The classrooms are very mobile and flexible,” Mayhan explained, listing workshops, classes and lectures as part of their use.
Across the hall is the research center with its paper archives, which include an audio cube where visitors can sit and access audio files. Another room holds rows of microfilm and makes available manual and digital viewing stations.
Mayhan said she wants students not to be intimidated by the thousands of materials in the archives. She encourages them to use the collections for class projects and research papers.
“In an archive, finding materials can be a bit different than a regular library,” Mayhan said. “We want students to be successful and find what they need for their course.”
The third floor is less directed toward the public and serves as a space for the society’s interns and a conservation lab that prepares and restores documents.
Students can look into internship opportunities with the society or they can volunteer.
The art gallery and research center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. On Saturdays, the center will close at 3 p.m.
For coffee-loving students, the coffee shop and bookstore will have Tuesday through Friday hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will close at 3 p.m. Saturdays.