The best way to interest a child in a museum: please touch the exhibits. And the tradition of hands-on learning at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History had a big proponent in Aalbert Heine, who was the museum’s director from 1957 to 1984.
“There’s only one thing I see as a junior museum’s goal – education,” he told the Caller-Times shortly after his family arrived at Corpus Christi in August 1957. “If it isn’t education, it will be.” like a library where people don’t check out or use the books. “
In a 1969 interview, he described his first visit to a museum when he was 10 years old. Heine was so in love with the exhibits that he went home and rearranged his bedroom and labeled everything as if it were an exhibit. Identification tags were even attached to the tables, chairs and the bed.
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Heine’s life made a detour before he could realize his museum work ambitions. Heine was born in The Hague, Netherlands, in 1920 and went to school to become a geological engineer. But Germany invaded 1940 and when Heine finished school in 1942, all men fit for work were shipped to Germany as workers. Heine was sent in 1943 and worked as a laboratory technician in a cement plant for six months before she was arrested and imprisoned on suspicion of providing plant information to Allied spies.
He was released in 1945 when General Patton’s forces crossed the Rhine. He eventually returned to Holland and married, then moved to the United States in 1951 and taught at the American Museum of Natural History before moving to Corpus Christi to take the position of director at the Corpus Christi Junior Museum.
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“The majority of junior museums across the country are fighting the tendency to turn them into babysitting outfits,” he said after becoming director. “This can be avoided if the museum is stimulating, pleasant, and scientifically correct.”
His desire to teach and reach the public was immense. For Heine, a museum was not a static building that “just stood there”, but a constantly growing experience. “Each exhibition should compete with the others for the public eye,” was his mantra.
Due to the museum’s origins as a junior museum, Heine was particularly interested in reaching children. She hosted a weekly “Corpus Christi Museum Open House” on KRIS-TV, created the “Treasure Hunt” program, which continues to this day, and offered summer programs in which age was not yet a decisive factor for participation: Everything she did were curious students.
Heine retired in 1984 and died in 2003. At the time of his death, longtime museum volunteer Ruth O’Brien recalled Heine saying he could “open a museum even if he had a rusty nail”.
“He could delve into the history of the Iron Age, rust, how to make iron, all that modern made stuff. He just had a knack for making education interesting and fun.”
A version of this article was originally published on March 3, 2016.
Allison Ehrlich writes about activities in South Texas and has a weekly Throwback Thursday column on local history. In this way, help support local coverage by checking out our subscription options and specials at Caller.com/subscribe