WESTERLY — Mary B. Cool stood in the center of the Hoxie Gallery on Friday afternoon and surveyed the scene.
Cool, by profession a senior design consultant for California Closets, has been meeting for months with a committee full of other volunteers to prepare "Our Story: 350 Years," an exhibit set to open at the gallery Wednesday evening. It will be the second signature event in a yearlong series marking Westerly's 350th anniversary. The first was the Unity Bell Ringing on New Year's Day.
On Friday, the volunteers — members of the Westerly Historical Society and the Babcock-Smith House Museum — were busy unpacking boxes, labeling photographs and hanging items on the display racks spread throughout the gallery ahead of the opening.
Since summer, they have have spent untold hours researching, organizing and categorizing artifacts, costumes, articles of clothing, high school yearbooks, and all sorts of memorabilia from the collections of the two organizations. Last week the committee members began the task of transporting the objects — in subfreezing temperatures — to the library.
There was a collection of vintage hats in one corner, next to some uniform and dress-wearing mannequins, and on the walls, displays of maps and photos.
"Mary is the expert," said Jan Tunney, the former archivist for the historical society, who worked with Cool on signage and "envisioning the exhibit."
Cool cheerfully said, "I'm a space person. I'm spacey."
Cool and Tunney were asked to make sure that the exhibit will be pleasing to the eye.
"We culled and culled and culled and culled through thousands of things trying to find things that people will find interesting," Cool said. "Everyone of us was involved. We wanted to find ways for people to really enjoy this."
Ellen Madison, who chairs the exhibit committee, said the "fabulous volunteers with varying talents" had chosen items that should appeal to a good cross-section of people.
History buffs will enjoy hearing the story about the 5,000 amateur astronomers who descended upon Westerly aboard six special trains one cold January day in 1925, for instance. Others will appreciate the memorabilia from the Westerly High School class of 1963.
"Of course, we'll have a granite exhibit too," said Madison. "Brenda Linton and Sue Brocato have been working on that, and Jackie Brennan is heading up the textile section."
The textile section will include sample pieces of Bradford Dyeing Association fabric from uniforms soldiers wore in Iraq, BDA badges from World War II, and a selection of antique dresses.
"We even have a pregnant mannequin wearing a maternity dress," she said, "and the table upon which the official paper separating Hopkinton from Westerly was signed."
"We've divided the exhibit into sections," Madison added — "we've got one section on disasters, and another on everyday life."
"There really is something for everyone," said Madison, the longtime library board president who co-chaired the library's popular "Treasures through Time" exhibit in 2017.
Tunney said, "It plays on the strengths of both collections. It's a nice blend of both collections. It tells the story of Westerly and how we lived our lives."
Zachary Garceau of Westerly, the historical society's current archivist, who is also on the exhibit committee, said the exhibit will include photos that have never been exhibited before, and some "pre-1700 documents."
"We've really done a lot of research," said Garceau, who credited the late historian Dwight Brown — a longtime member of both organizations — for his contributions.
"Dwight did a lot of work," he said. "A lot of work and we're very grateful."
Madison said, "You're going to learn so much, and we'll have a table full of giveaways."
Madison said there will be 200 copies of a timeline of Westerly's history available for those who attend the exhibit.
The exhibit will run through March 28.