NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — With a master's in art history under her belt, Jasmine DeJackome was looking for a museum educational opportunity that was a bit more unorthodox.
Then she discovered Behold! New Lebanon.
"It's a completely different mindset from what I used at the other museums," said DeJackome, who was named last month as program coordinator for the museum.
"My past experience has been with some very long-standing museums with established educational structures," she said. "At Behold! there is constant opportunity to try something new and create interesting new educational opportunities."
DeJackome is ready to help launch a new season Saturday at one of the most innovative museums around. Last year, Behold! New Lebanon completed its first full season as the nation's only living museum of contemporary rural American life, selling some 400 tickets to a broad spectrum of programs.
The groundbreaking, award-winning concept turns local residents into rural guides who share their expertise and interests with visitors and fellow townspeople.
All aspects of country living are on the table as potential topics. Opening day alone includes sessions on growing hops for beer, working farm dogs, understanding Shaker water power systems, developing a rail trail and demystifying gemstone jewelry.
The organizational base of Behold! lays claim to some serious museum pedigree.
DeJackome cut her teeth at institutions like the Wadsworth Atheneum, Springfield Museums and the Trustees of Reservations, she coordinated programs at the Berkshire 'Cottage' Naumkeag before landing the post with Behold! New Lebanon.
"It opens itself to a lot more active play that I think adults and kids love to do," she said about the museum, "and that's something I'm very passionate about."
Behold! founder and President Ruth Abram also created the renowned Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan. As a staunch champion of the rural town she has lived in for nearly a decade, she has brought the enthusiasm and expertise needed to turn the idea of a contemporary museum without walls into a reality.
"I took my cue from the people who had in the 19th century been successful here in creating important tourist attractions," Abram said. "All of them used either the water or the evangelical spirit and built their companies on those things."
"So my question was simply, 'What is here today that would be very interesting to other people?' " she said.
The result was the creation of Behold! New Lebanon, now grown to include well over 100 programs this season, with from 5 to 7 different programs offered each Saturday by some 40 local rural guides in locations all over town, from forests, fields and barns to homes and places of work.
Around a table in the Behold! Station and Store, a bright Victorian building that serves as the museum's home base and departure point for the programs' shuttle bus, DeJackome and Abram shared details of the wide variety of programs that make up the coming season.
New to the lineup is a glass blowing demo in the studio of Nathan Hoogs and Elizabeth Crawford in neighboring Canaan. "They have invited us to come nearly every Saturday and watch their process," said DeJackome.
Two themed days are scheduled for this summer. The first on June 25 focuses on sustainable living and includes bread making, farm-to-table initiatives and a visit to Darrow School's "Living Machine" water filtration plant. The second on July 23 looks at natural wellness and includes programs on using herbs, interpreting dreams and wellness walks, all taking place at the Abode community in a former Shaker village.
Those who enjoy culinary arts can learn how to make bread, jam, cheese, pickles, sausage and fermented tea. Animal lovers can meet goats, cows and equines from miniature horses to mighty Belgian drafters, learn about dog training, watch border collies herd sheep and ducks, and maybe even meet an alligator!
There are opportunities to visit local homesteads and the private studio of late kinetic sculptor George Rickey, and learn about animal tracking, auctioneering, stage scenery design, speedway racing and jazz.
"Regardless of the subject matter, when you go out to one of the programs you're learning from someone who is already an expert on it," DeJackome said. "And whether it's hands on, or a workshop or a demonstration or just a lecture, you are in the perfect position to learn."
"Our rural guides have been very creative about how they've shown what they do," Abram said. "For instance, the town mechanic took apart a car engine and laid it out on a table for people to guess what the pieces were."
"Who knew when you come down Route 20 that there was all this stuff going on?" she said.
If you go ...
What: Behold! New Lebanon, a living museum of contemporary rural American life
Where: Behold! Station and Store, 438 state Route 20, New Lebanon, N.Y.
When: Saturdays, June 4 to Oct. 15
Cost: $18 per program, children 12 and under free with adult
Tickets/information: beholdnewlebanon.org or (518) 720-7265