This summer, the Esse Purse Museum not only used its 10th birthday as a vessel to celebrate its unique establishment, but also to distinguish itself as a key proponent of community in the SoMa district.
The museum, owned by Anita Davis, debuted its feature exhibit “SoMany Changes” pairing a purse with a different historic building on South Main Street, with local favorites like Loblolly Creamery, Community Bakery and South Main Creative making an appearance.
Esse employee Annaleah Witsell explains that Davis wanted to do something big for the 10th anniversary of the museum, but in a way that “included other businesses here in SoMa.” This project required the Esse team to use local resources to research the history of the featured buildings, even relying on community members and personal collections for photos of the buildings in their original form. Not only does this exhibit honor the community, but in essence, it is the community’s project as well.
This celebratory exhibit is not limited to a tribute within the walls of the museum, but instead trickles out onto South Main Street in the form of a game. Inspired by the "Where’s Waldo?" scavenger hunt hosted by WordsWorth Books, Witsell had the idea to mimic the activity with a character named Wanda. Described as a “shapeshifter,” Wanda’s silhouette appears on colorful banners outside of SoMa buildings, her style reflecting the decade in which the building was built.
To play the game yourself, swing by Esse to pick up a booklet that will guide your hunt. Once you’ve done that, take a stroll down SoMa, and when you spot a Wanda banner, take a picture. Once you’ve collected all the photos, take them back to Esse museum to receive a prize.
“It’s a work in progress,” Davis and Witsell agree, but they are eagerly taking advantage of that as they explore different ways to keep the game exciting as it runs through the end of the year. As a project that only began in February, the collaborative process of creating Wanda and a new way to explore SoMa is at its best if it can evolve and adapt, just as Wanda does.