By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — If you can’t get to the Smithsonian Institution for a tour, don’t worry.
It’s coming to you — at least part of it.
The Buttonwoods Museum/Haverhill Historical Society will explore the professions and workers who sustain American society when it hosts “The Way We Worked,” a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit. The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., is the world’s largest research and museum complex.
“The Way We Worked” is a collection of dozens of images from the National Archives spanning the years 1857 to 1987. It celebrates the history of work in America and tells the stories of hard-working people of every ethnic group, class, gender and age.
The exhibit will visit only two Massachusetts communities — Haverhill and Lynn.
The exhibit will be shown at the Buttonwoods Museum starting Saturday and running through Oct. 6. The museum will also present “The Way Haverhill Worked,” a collection of local images focusing on city businesses such as Fantini Bakery.
“It’s significant that the Smithsonian chose the Buttonwoods Museum as one of only two sites in Massachusetts for this traveling exhibition,” said Haverhill historian Jay Cleary, president of the Buttonwoods Museum.
For most people, shoe manufacturing comes to mind when they think of how Haverhill people worked over the years. But the local exhibit will explore many other Haverhill industries past and present, including Mason & Hamlin, which moved to Haverhill in 1989. Of the hundreds of American piano companies that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Mason & Hamlin is one of only a few that survive today.
Fantini Bakery in the Mount Washington neighborhood has been in Haverhill since 1905. Other businesses that will be featured include Chaucer Leather, which is still in operation, as well as Barrett’s Menswear and the original Macy’s store, neither of which are still operating.
“There’s definitely a historical perspective to the Haverhill part of the exhibit,” said Jan Williams, curator of the Buttonwoods Museum.
Joe Fantini, a fourth-generation Fantini family member, runs the city’s biggest bread-making business, along with his brother Robert Fantini.
Joe Fantini said his family started its bakery business in Lawrence in 1902 and moved it to Haverhill around 1905. He said his bakery has been at the current location in Mount Washington since 1972 and employs about 130 people, 50 of whom have worked at Fantini for more than 15 years.
“Jobs are probably the most important thing we bring to the community,” Joe Fantini said. “We have tremendous people here and they’re the reason for our success.
“We’re happy to be part of Haverhill and it’s important for us to stay here, as most of our employees are from Haverhill,” he said.
Joe Fantini said photos of Fantini family members and workers from the past and which were displayed on the walls of the business will be on display at the museum as part of the exhibit.
“Hopefully people will enjoy it,” he said.
The Haverhill Historical Society/Buttonwoods Museum were chosen to host “The Way We Worked” as part of the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street project — a national/state/local partnership that brings educational exhibits to regional cultural organizations.
“As we approach Labor Day, it’s valuable for people to see photos of the way Americans worked in the past and produced goods and services,” Cleary said. “The local exhibition not only shows that shoes and leather were a significant portion of the Haverhill economy, but that other goods and services were and are still produced in Haverhill, such as bread, clothing and pianos.”
A 30-minute video of three residents talking about working in the leather and shoe industries is part of the exhibit, Cleary said. Those residents — Shirley Campbell, Colin Kennedy and Attorney Robert Harb — participated in filming at Haverhill Community Television.
There will be a special one-night showing of the 1975 documentary, “If it Fits,” which tells the story of how Fire Chief Lewis Burton ran for mayor against George Katsaros that year and beat him, as the city debated how to rebound from the dying shoe industry that cost many jobs.
Cleary said the date and time of the showing will be announced.
“The Way We Worked,” adapted from an original exhibit developed by the National Archives and Records Administration, explores how work has become a central element in American culture. It traces the many changes that have affected the workforce and work environments over the past 150 years, including the growth of manufacturing and increasing use of technology.
The exhibit draws from National Archives collections, including historical photographs, archival accounts of workers, film, audio and interactives, to tell the story of workers’ lives and the historical and cultural fabric of communities.
“We are very pleased to be able to bring ‘The Way We Worked’ to our area,” Williams said. “It allows us the opportunity to explore this fascinating aspect of our own region’s history, and we hope that it will inspire many to become even more involved in the cultural life of our community.”
To learn more about “The Way We Worked” and other Museum on Main Street exhibitions, visit www.museumonmainstreet.org. Support for Museum on Main Street has been provided by the United States Congress and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
IF YOU GO
What: “The Way We Worked,” a traveling Smithsonian exhibit, and “The Way Haverhill Worked,” a collection of images from Haverhill businesses past and present
Where: Haverhill Historical Society/Buttonwoods Museum, 240 Water St.
When: Aug. 24 to Oct. 6, Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
More information: Call 978-374-4626, online at www.haverhillhistory.org