Menomonie has a new museum space. A substantial gift from the late Fulton Holtby, an inventor and teacher, helped the Dunn County Historical Society develop what is a new kind of museum in this area — a museum that combines area history, technology, and a hands-on makerspace in the same gallery.
“Fulton’s Workshop” sits next door to the Rassbach Heritage Museum in Wakanda Park on Menomonie’s north side. Admission to the new wing will be included with a regular admission to the Rassbach Heritage Museum.
The 5,300-square-foot exhibit hall will celebrate with an open house on Saturday, May 12 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free all day, and kids of all ages can learn, marvel and make their own inventions.
Fulton Holtby, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota for 41 years, pursued precision model making both as a hobby and as an expert forensic engineer. An educator first and foremost, Holtby was highly sought for his ability to teach complex technical concepts to judges and jurors as an expert witness.
Among his many other accomplishments, Holtby designed and fabricated heart valve replacements and special suture clamps for Dr. Christiaan Barnard’s pioneering heart surgery. Approaching the age of 90 years, Holtby continued to be an innovator, perfecting a metal casting process that resulted in significant reduction in cost, weight and waste material.
Holtby was actively involved with UW-Stout’s College of Technology, Engineering and Management for more than two decades. A vocal supporter of the university’s technical programs, Holtby endowed a fund that provides scholarships for engineering students at UW-Stout beginning in 1995. He received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the university in 2001.
Home shop, makerspace
The museum features a re-creation of Holtby’s home shop from his original tools, as well as several models Holtby fabricated or assembled.
Holtby constructed one of them for a courtroom exhibit. In 1979, the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz oil foundered and split off the coast of France. This was the largest oil spill in history to that point, and resulted in a $2 billion lawsuit for its impact on fisheries and tourism.
Holtby investigated the cause of the accident, built a model of the pump room to show a prospective jury, and demonstrated his testimony to the parties involved. After hearing what his testimony would be, and seeing him demonstrate the spill through his model, Amoco settled out of court for $120 million.
One of the best features of the exhibit is a makerspace for visitors.
“We want to inspire people with the question, ‘What can you make?’” said director Frank Smoot. “Throughout the gallery, we have examples of area inventions, and we have space for people to create their own inventions. We hope people will understand that people of all ages, walks of life, and abilities have made, and can make, amazing things.”
What’s next for Fulton’s Workshop?
“As we’ve been developing the exhibit and the operation, and running pell-mell toward this spring, I’ve been careful to remind everyone that May 12 isn’t the finish line; we’re just assembling at the starting line,” said Smoot.
“We’ve created a very agile and flexible museum space, so we can make changes going forward and let Fulton’s Workshop grow and develop as we see how people use it, and as we ask them what they want from it.”
Already, the historical society is considering ways to open both a working woodshop and metal shop as part of the new wing so that visitors can see precision machining done by masters. The society also hopes to have a working small foundry.
Scouting groups and home-school classes have already helped test out the gallery’s spaces and activities.
“I think it’s a great space now,” said Smoot. “So I hope everyone will come check it out. But I also hope they’ll tell us their hopes and dreams for it.”