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Current Exhibits

There is a lot to see and learn when you visit The History Center in the historic Douglas Mansion. Our permanent gallery showcases a number of unique and interesting artifacts, photos, stories and information regarding the history of Linn County's culture, people, businesses, neighborhoods and more.


*Please note that all exhibits and galleries are self-guided.

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Bruce & Nola Bucknell:
Partners in Puppetry

Available for viewing through November 18, 2023


Bruce and Nola marketed their marionette performance as "a variety show on strings". They toured all over the United States and into Canada for audiences aged one to 100. The programs were beautifully costumed, colorful, and fast-moving to keep the attention of such a varied audience.  Their life-like marionettes performed to music with one or both puppeteers on stage. This was unique in the world of puppets, as performers usually operated the marionettes from behind a curtain. The Bucknells chose to show the control bar and complete manipulation of the puppets in view of the audience.


The Bucknells developed a reputation for fashioning their puppets with old-world quality craftsmanship and chic costumes. They had animated vitality, executed with professional zip. The Bucknells spent 300 hours over three months developing the unique personality, movement, and costume for each marionette. Bruce first molded each face in clay. Then, he made a negative cast  in plaster of paris, followed by a positive cast in plastic wood. This is always the first step because the personalities began to emerge with the face, and that informed the rest of the process.  After Bruce painted the body parts and jointed the marionettes, he passed the puppets to Nola. She spent up to 125 hours creating each elaborate outfit. Some of the South American costumes have as many as eighty-five yards of fabric gathered up to form the ruffles. Other costumes have a thousand sequins and beads sewn on by hand. Nola included buttons or zippers in each costume, allowing for removal and cleaning.  


While the Bucknells did not give up their little stage, they also performed on the little screen. Starting in the 1960s, the marionettes performed in television commercials. The best-known of the Bucknell puppets was Billy Boulder, who appeared in TV commercials with the voice of Dr. Max, a children's program host.  He was the star of WMT-TV's "Fun" Cartoon Show. Billy Boulder made regular appearances at Eagle Food Centers and the Lindale Plaza, sometimes alone and sometimes with the other Bucknell marionettes. The well-known Hy-Vee jingle "A helpful smile in every aisle" was first presented in a commercial starring two Bucknell marionettes affectionately referred to as the Pinhead Brothers. The jingle has evolved over the years, but the words as still the same as they were when used in that first television commercial in 1963.


The exhibition will include 13 of the original Bucknell marionettes, video footage of the performances, and a hands-on area where visitors can try their hand at controlling a marionette. 

This exhibit is made possible by a generous gift from the Aegon Transamerica Foundation.

Four Oaks: Helping Iowa’s Children and Families for 50 Years

Opening July 1, 2023

In 1973, Four Oaks’ founders looked into the faces of youth and families that were struggling and chose to see their potential for success. Fifty years later, that unwavering vision— Expect Success—remains constant. Explore the 50-year history of Four Oaks from a single location helping 10 children to a statewide organization serving nearly 26,000 children and families every year.


It all started in a red brick building in rural Bertram, Iowa in 1973. Ed Daley, the founder and original director of Boys Acres had an idea of how to respond to a community need. He wanted to provide a home-like setting for ten young boys between the ages of 10 and 15 who had no other place to go. He organized a board of local businessmen who raised funds for the "troubled" boys. The foster home sat on nine acres, and the boys earned an allowance by doing chores on the small farming enterprise.  They attended school in Cedar Rapids, took part in counseling and treatment, and participated in arts and crafts and sports.


Daley's vision got Boys Acres started, but the mission grew with the community need. Jim Ernst came on as the new Executive Director in 1979 with strong leadership and expanded the vision of the organization. He redesigned the program to offer residential treatment for pre-adolescents with the goal of transitioning the boys back to their homes or into foster homes.


Through the 1980s, the agency continued to improve its quality of service to meet the needs of children and families. While maintaining the residential treatment structure, the staff also expanded the types of programs and treatment options available, including specialized foster care. This service offered structured family environments for children when they could not live at home. In 1984, the agency changed its name to Four Oaks. The oak trees represented the family, the community and the agency standing together with the child to build a future strong as the mighty oak. Ensuring the inclusion of family in the treatment of the child served as the hallmark of the Four Oaks philosophy, which endures today.


In 2007, Four Oaks won the contract bid on behalf of Iowa KidsNet and began providing foster care and adoption services state-wide under contract with the Iowa Department of Human Services. Iowa children are placed in foster and adoptive homes by Health and Human Services, and HHS makes all final decisions regarding the licensure and approval of foster and adoptive families. By adopting from foster care, families not only make a difference for a child who may have experienced abuse or neglect but can impact a whole family. Children in foster care often thrive when they are able to maintain relationships with biological family members. At Four Oaks the mission is to recruit and retain stable, nurturing, and diverse foster and adoptive families to keep children safe from further trauma and assist them in their transition to permanency. Approximately 70% of children in foster care are reunited with birth parents or adopted by relatives. 


Also in 2007, the Affordable Housing Network, Inc. (AHNI), an affiliate agency of Four Oaks, was founded. The organization managed the successful Block by Block program in Cedar Rapids in the wake of the devastating floods of 2008. AHNI owns over 50 homes in Historic New Wellington and offers opportunities for affordable home rental and home-ownership opportunities. Properties range from efficiency to 4-bedroom single family homes. Many of these units have gone through extensive rehabilitation. Exteriors, kitchen and baths have been updated with energy star appliances while maintaining the original charm with restored hardwood features. 

This exhibit is sponsored by Four Oaks.

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