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New Lyman Museum chief takes on ambitious task

<p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>The Board of Trustees of Lyman Museum has appointed Barbara Moir as its new president and executive director.</p>


Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Lyman Museum and Mission House has a new executive director with a large task ahead of her.

Barbara Moir, former curator of collections at the CNMI Museum of History and Culture, and vice-president of Northern Marianas College in Saipan, will be overseeing the Lyman Museum’s ambitious $2 million capital campaign to redesign its primary exhibit area.

Moir arrived in Hilo in 2006 after spending 16 years in Saipan to become the curator of education and operations at the Lyman Museum. Last year, she was appointed deputy director, and was recently named director, succeeding Dolly Strazar, who retired in 2010. The museum’s board of directors announced Moir’s appointment on Feb. 2.

Moir holds a master’s degree and doctorate in anthropology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she focused on Pacific Island cultures and history, marine biology and ecology. She has conducted research throughout the Pacific.

“What’s nice is, as a kid, I always loved museums,” Moir said. Her father was a geologist and her mother was a history buff. Raised in Massachusetts, that’s a solid background for work in a museum with a historic missionary house and a great rock collection.

Moir’s goal is to make the Lyman Museum an educational, historical resource for the community.

“It’s a tough time for nonprofits,” she said, “especially museums. People tend to want to donate to human services,” while museums often are seen as luxuries. But things are getting better — at least a little. Tourism numbers are up, she noted, yet the “size of the pie for grants is still dwindling.”

The Lyman Museum was founded in 1931 by descendants of the missionaries David and Sarah Lyman, who arrived from New England in 1832 and built one of the first New England-style missionary homes in Hilo on what is now Haili Street. The Lyman’s first home in Hilo is now “beautifully restored” to reflect its decor and furnishings of the 1880s, Moir said.

“We’re all about teaching, learning, education,” Moir said. Next to the restored home at Haili and Kapiolani streets is the museum’s primary exhibit hall, built in 1971. One of its more curious and popular attractions is the world-class exhibit of gems and minerals — more than 33,000 specimens — collected by Orlando Lyman, the museum’s founder and grandson of David and Sarah. Schoolchildren by the bus loads pour into the museum each year to see the impressive collection, considered among the best in the nation. Orlando Lyman scoured the globe to sate his collector’s appetite for ever more specimens, Moir said, and the collection includes a rare specimen of orlymanite, named for Lyman.

Moir said the museum’s mission statement is the same as it was when Emma Lyman, granddaughter of David and Sarah, wrote to potential donors and board members in the early 1930s, explaining that it is “to tell the story of Hawaii, its islands, and its people.”

Moir said the capital fundraising campaign will be launched soon to build the new second-floor exhibit space, which will feature touch screen technology and hands-on interactive museum features designed to make learning easier in a technology-driven culture.

Already designed, the new exhibit space will tell how the islands were settled, how the culture evolved, and how so many other outside forces helped mold it. And in a uniquely different approach, the exhibits also will attempt to define and explore what it means to be local, Moir said.

Several annual fundraising events are planned. The museum is currently celebrating the 180th year since the Lymans arrived in Hawaii and a commemoration dinner is planned in July. Moir is also be developing a new “directed giving” program in which donors can dedicate their contributions to certain operational areas or to the enhancement of specific museum collections.

The museum gets about 12,000 visitors a year — many from cruise ships, schools and the community, and “we want to increase that, to raise our profile,” she said. “We want to be seen as a fun activity. Too often museums are seen as stuffy places, only worth a visit when it’s raining — and we get a lot of visitors on rainy days.”

More than 2,000 school kids visit the museum each year, many of them third-graders, whose curriculum includes study of geology. “We take that (education) role very seriously,” Moir said.

Shanna Arthur’s third-grade class from the Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences in Pahoa was there for just that reason on a recent afternoon. “We’re doing our geology unit now and this is a good introduction,”Arthur said. She agreed with many of her students. “The amethysts were so beautiful.”

The Lyman Museum is one of only four museums in Hawaii accredited by the Washington, D.C.-based American Alliance of Museums, and it’s the only one on a Neighbor Island. The other three accredited museums, all on Oahu, are the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu Academy of Arts, and Hawaii Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives.

“She’s going to have her hands full,” said Richard Henderson, chairman of the museum’s board of directors, and he should know. Henderson, 84, served as acting director while the position was vacant. “I’ve had enough already,” he chuckled.

But Henderson said Moir is “probably the most qualified person to run a museum in the state.”

“She’s going to do well.”

The Lyman Museum is open from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. For more information, visit

Email Hunter Bishop at hbishop@hawaiitribune-herald.


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