A new Martin Luther exhibit in the Harold B. Lee Library retells the well-known Protestant story with a cheeky pop-culture twist.
Located on the third floor near the main entrance of the library, the Martin Luther Media Star exhibit immediately draws attention with its neon-painted walls and larger-than-life pamphlets that are “nailed” to the library wall, acting as a tongue-in-cheek reference to Luther’s “95 Theses“ he supposedly nailed to a church door.
“There is a very traditional way to tell the story, and I didn’t want to do the traditional thing or what was expected,” Maggie Kopp, curator of the exhibit, said.
Kopp said that it was only natural to create an exhibit about Martin Luther’s life since last October was the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Kopp was inspired by a New York Times cartoon video to present Luther’s life in a nontraditional, humorous way.
Kopp said she wanted to present the Martin Luther exhibit this way to highlight an aspect of Luther often not recognized — that he had a brand and was the pop star of his day. Luther was able to take advantage of the printing press to promote his ideas in much the same way that current celebrities and authors use media channels to advance their messages.
“We don’t think about when did being a popular author start. And it all starts back with him,” Kopp said.
After reading an email from Kopp that expressed her desire to present the Martin Luther exhibit in an unconventional way, Exhibits Manager Eric Howard wrote down “Martin Luther and sunglasses,” and the idea of Martin Luther Media Star took off from there.
The exhibit is designed with a ’70s neon-color scheme, and the exhibit’s introduction displays an image of Martin Luther decked out in bright red sunglasses.
“It is still very much its own time-era but just with a little bit of a twist,” Exhibit designer Carlie Weyrauch-Brooks said.
That twist can be seen in multiple facets of the exhibit, including the modern, trendy words peppered throughout. For example, the introductory display explaining who Martin Luther was is titled “GOAT,” and the display that informs the reader of Luther’s power through the press is called “Come at Me, Bro.”
“Our target audience was the students. So using terms that they would relate to, we thought that makes perfect sense,” Howard said.
The whole exhibit is geared to that audience, including the music playing in the background, which is a collection of modern songs sung by artists of the Lutheran faith.
Visitors can answer two fun questions with fluorescent pens on glowing, LED panels that change color at the end of the exhibit. The first question is “What would Luther name his Twitter account?” and the second is “Who would you cast to star in ‘Martin Luther: The music video?'” They plan to change the questions periodically throughout the duration of the exhibit, which started in June and will continue through October.
“It’s been really entertaining to just go up every couple of days and read what people have written,” Weyrauch-Brooks said.
Luther’s use of the printing press can be seen in the exhibit thanks to the L. Tom Perry Special Collections, who provided multiple original books from Luther’s time period. The books range from an early edition of Luther’s translation of the New Testament into German to an edition of the Pope’s edict threatening Luther with excommunication.
One of the standout exhibit items is “Explanations of the Disputationon the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” an expanded version of Luther’s “95 Theses.” Luther added academic explanations and arguments that improved his original writing. Another is “On the Freedom of a Christian,” in which Luther lays out his belief in justification by faith.
“We do have a really great collection of things from the Reformation down here that I don’t think a whole lot of students know about. … There are a lot of really fascinating stories that we can tell with our collections, and this just happens to be one that is a little timely because of the anniversary, and hopefully we made it a little more relevant to students today and what happens in day-to-day culture,” Kopp said.