As the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale morphs into a modern museum reflecting the work of the famed nature writer, Joy Braunstein hopes it will attract crowds from all over the world.
That especially includes Israel.
Why not? Braunstein, the new executive director of the of the Rachel Carson Homestead Association, which is set to close Carson’s childhood home soon for a year-long makeover, is heavily influenced by the time she spent in Israel researching water quality issues for her Ph.D project at the University of Pittsburgh.
“I keep in touch with my colleagues [there],” she said. “I think it would be absolutely amazing for a team of Israeli environmental scientists to come through here.”
For now, Braunstein, who began work March 9 at the Homestead after 2 1⁄2 years as president of the Carolina Raptor Center in Charlotte, N.C., and before that as senior manager of planning and fund distributions for the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, is busy working with her board to turn the homestead into a “world class museum” designed to promote Carson’s life and legacy and educate the public about it.
Her decision to return to Pittsburgh and to take the job, Braunstein said, was a no brainer.
“Any time you have the opportunity to have a major hand in the creation of a museum from the ground up,” she said, “ I think you’d be crazy not to take it.”
And the association is serious about turning the four-room farmhouse into a world-class museum, going so far as to hire the same interpretive planner, Shomer Zwelling, who worked on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.
The exhibits of the future museum are still in the planning stage, but they will focus on Carson’s life work rather preserving the farmhouse as it was while Carson grew up there. The exterior of the farmhouse, however, will be preserved as it was.
A new mission statement for the museum also is being completed.
Born and raised in Springdale, Carson is considered the mother of the modern environmental movement. A leading marine biologist and nature writer, Carson turned her attention in the 1950s to the long-term effects of chemical pesticides, which led to her landmark book, “Silent Spring” (1962). She died from breast cancer in 1964 after testifying before a congressional committee on the potential environmental hazards of pesticides and other poisons.
Carson’s legacy has been attacked in many circles, sometimes viciously. Some sources have even branded her as a murderer because her work influenced a ban on DDT, which controls the spread of malaria by killing mosquitos.
But Braunstein defended Carson, saying her work largely held up under a congressional investigation and noted that malaria continues to be a stubborn problem even in countries where DDT is not banned.
Away from the work place, Braunstein has resumed her volunteer work in the Jewish community joining the Federation’s environmental subcommittee.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at leec@the jewishchronicle.net.)