Blown away: Berman Museum opens its vaults to show off impressive weapons collection
by Brett Buckner
Mar 02, 2012 | 4590 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Indian claw daggers were unusual fighting knives. In addition to the dagger blade, they had from three to five curved blades protruding from the handle. Photo: Special to The Star
Indian claw daggers were unusual fighting knives. In addition to the dagger blade, they had from three to five curved blades protruding from the handle. Photo: Special to The Star
Every museum has its secrets.

Locked, darkened rooms filled with mysterious antiquities and unopened crates whose securely sealed contents would surely seize the imagination of visitors, but for untold reasons remain hidden.

The Berman Museum of World History has such a vault, the content of which has rarely, if ever, been seen by the public … until now.

Beginning Saturday, the Berman Museum premiers “Out of the Vault: Selections from The Illustrated History of Weaponry” in the Changing Exhibits Gallery. These artifacts, running the gamut from primitive flint weapons to modern guns, come from the museum’s own collection.

“It just made sense to show what we’ve already got,” explained Kevin Jenné, who’s curating the weapons exhibit. “Weaponry can be a touchy subject for some people, but it’s also rich in history. People are going to be blown away by what they see here.”

The goal, using weapons featured in Chuck Willis’ book The Illustrated History of Weaponry, is to demonstrate the steady evolution of weapons from those primitive tools of survival through the more personalized — and in their own right, beautiful — weapons carried for protection by both men and women.

“The exhibit travels through various points in time when weapons were just like your cell phone or car keys are now,” Jenné said. “It was something you had on you at all times. It became a personalized item and in some ways, it also became a true work of art.”

Of the numerous weapons that will be on display, Jenné is particularly impressed by the Nock Volley Gun, which had seven barrels that fired simultaneously and was used by the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.

“You’re talking about recoil that’s probably five times that of a .12-gauge shotgun,” Jenné said. “That could dislocate or even break someone’s shoulder. It took a real manly man to fire that one.”

But men aren’t the sole target audience for this exhibit. Women carried weapons, too. As part of the “Out of the Vault” showing, the Berman will be hosting, “Girls Night Out: Girl Power” Thursday, March 22, 6-8 p.m., where women — 21 years old and older — will be taught self-defense from Anniston City Police officers, and view various women-friendly defense and sporting weapons — all before testing their aim with paintball guns on the museum lawn. Participants will also view historic weapons made specifically for women.

“We wanted to hit a different population from what the Berman normally sees,” said program director Gina Morey. “And letting them know that when it comes to the history of weapons and how they were used, women were just as important as men.”

As part of the exhibit, the Berman entered into a partnership with Shotgun Sports Supply Company, which will be displaying a Gun of the Month at its Anniston store. This month’s gun is the Howdah pistol, which was used to ward off large predators, such as tigers, as British officials and officers traveled through India during their reign of the country during late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“There are a lot of people that are into the gun culture who might think the museum is more of an elite thing,” Jenné said. “It’s a fabulous museum, but it’s not a stiff, tie-wearing atmosphere, so maybe this will bring in a new crowd that wouldn’t normally go to a museum.”

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