March 1991

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


Phyllis Martin

Director of the Benjamin Patterson Inn Museum


Bill Treichler

On almost any day you visit the Benjamin Patterson Inn Museum on Pulteney Street in Corning you will be greeted by its director, Phyllis Martin, wearing a homespun dress, with sometimes a cap, reminiscent of the time when the inn, The Painted Post Tavern, was an overnight stopping place along the Williamson Road as well as a community meeting place and social center.

The Patterson Inn Museum is a project of the Corning-Painted Post Historical Society. The members of the Society contribute a great amount of year 'round effort maintaining, operating, and always improving, the Museum. There is a great involvement of Society families and individuals in activities at the Museum. All of this support is astoundingly evident on the special day in September when the Museum holds its annual "Whingblinger" fund-raising celebration. On that day the grounds are bursting with people who have come to enjoy the entertainments provided by the Society members and their friends. And on that day you will see Phyllis Martin in her 1800s garb issuing the hospitality of the Inn, taking pictures of the performers and participants, and helping to orchestrate the show.

Mrs. Martin, with the steady support of her husband Jack, has been the visualizing and organizing force of the whole museum project. She has pursued the research that has at times made discoveries that required changes in the furnishings of the rooms, she has found the appropriate articles to go into the inn building, and she has provided all the little marks of authenticity like the cut-off sections of corncobs used for checker pieces. The Benjamin Patterson Inn has the lived-in feeling of daily use that makes it a unique historical museum. When you are in the building or on the grounds in the herb garden by the back porch you feel at home-that you are in a real place where people lived and where you could live. Mrs. Martin has achieved this atmosphere by her careful attention to all the details. Her own background in crafts, and her many visits to other museums in this country and abroad, has helped her to accomplish the real feeling of the historical time of the Patterson Inn. There is much evidence of her personal dedication to present an accurate and an inviting display of what everyday life was like along the Williamson road at the confluence of the Tioga and Conhocton Rivers.

For inspiration and ideas in developing this museum complex Mrs. Martin has visited nearly all of the Shaker museums and famous outdoor museums in this country. She has made 22 trips to Europe and 7 to Japan always using every opportunity to visit decorative art museums and to study the outdoor museums in the British Isles, Scandinavia, Germany, Holland, and Switzerland, and the folk museums in Takayama City, Nara, and Yokohama.

She has also been aided by her own personal background in crafts, particularly weaving. When she was a little girl growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, a large four-harness loom in the home of a childhood friend made a lasting impression upon her. Later, as a graduate student, she had rooms in the house of a woman weaver that she describes now as a virtual "loomatic." After she had married John Martin and they were living in Wilmington, Ohio, where Jack taught at a Quaker college, she learned to weave, even producing yardage in exchange for more lessons. Weaving led to learning about spinning and quilting.

Her interest in craft textile production, of course, fits with the demonstration, .through Patterson Museum exhibits, of the self-supporting local economies of the farms and villages. The Patterson Inn Museum exemplifies the way people lived in the area of Painted Post in the period from 1796 - 1860. Its collections exhibit the tools the people used in their daily lives, not only spinning wheels, and looms, and quilting frames, but also the kitchen utensils, household furniture, and farming equipment. It was a time when every family provided much of its own living, but when there were also craftspeople who worked the available wood, leather, and wool into furniture and wagons, boots and apparel. At special events, like the annual "Whingblinger," the Museum features such craftpersons as weavers, cordwainers, gunsmiths, blacksmiths, and tinsmiths.

These days Mrs. Martin and other members of the museum staff show visitors and groups of school children through the 1796 Inn, the 1784 DeMonstoy log cabin, the 1878 Browntown Schoolhouse, the reconstructed Starr Barn with its display of old farming tools, and a recreated blacksmith shop with a working forge.

Mrs. Martin has been the director of the Patterson Inn Museum since its beginning in 1975, and immediately before that was the director of the Storefront Museum on Market Street in Corning, the Historical Society's first museum project. She is a member of professional museum and historical associations, and, by confession, she is a magazine and newspaper clipping addict, and a book accumulator.

Phyllis Martin earned a BA and an MA degree from Ohio Wesleyan University, and was in a doctoral program at the University of Chicago when she met John Martin. They were married in 1953 and have three children: Jennifer, Scott, and Todd. Jack Martin has shared her interests and worked with Phyllis on the development of the Patterson Museum. Phyllis and Jack regard the Museum as a setting that reveals how the people of an earlier period lived.

Phyllis Martin likes to quote an old Russian proverb: "If you ignore the past, you lose an eye. If you forget the past, you lose two eyes."

© 1991, Bill Treichler
CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR