Matthew Blakeman wants to tell Laramie’s stories.
And, as the new executive director at the Laramie Plains Museum at the Historic Ivinson Mansion, he wants to make sure that there are plenty of people to hear them.
Blakeman took over as executive director on Aug. 27. He credited previous directors, Dan Nelson and Mary Mountain with building up the site, both in terms of restoration and community outreach.
He would like to continue to expand on both, he said. He is taking over projects that include an expansion of the carriage house, a building off of the main mansion that is now used as a gift shop and office space.
The carriage house project will increase the retail space, add offices and create exhibition space, he said. An addition to the carriage house in 2023 will also solve drainage problems that has created problems for visitors in the winter.
Blakeman said he is also looking for ways to make the mansion and its surrounding buildings and gardens more top-of-mind as a place for Laramie residents and visitors to visit.
The Ivinson Mansion, which houses the Laramie Plains Museum, is a three-story home dating from the 1890s, tucked behind trees and gardens in downtown Laramie.
After it was restored 50 years ago, the mansion and museum have become an iconic symbol in Laramie. While that history is something to celebrate, sometimes, “People have a tendency to not see things that have been here a long time,” Blakeman said.
Blakeman wants to make the site more visible with family friendly activities and events throughout the year.
“We are planning events that will raise the profile,” Blakeman said. “We want to be a living, breathing part of the community. We want people to think of this as a great place to have a function and to have a great time.”
Among the events coming to the Ivinson are trick-or-treating on Oct. 29. Volunteers will hand out candy from the mansion’s front porch, weather permitting.
“The house is definitely not haunted, but a 125-year-old house, it’s a fun thing to have at Halloween,” Blakeman said.
In addition to annual summer teas, Blakeman would like to see other seasonal events.
He also would like to include more of Laramie’s builders in the museum’s displays.
“The focus is, of course, on the Ivinsons who were so important to the community. But there were Hispanics who helped build the community, and Native Americans here from early on. We want to tell stories from all walks of life,” Blakeman said.
Blakeman’s arrival at the Ivinson mansion is a homecoming story of its own.
Blakeman grew up in Dubois and graduated from the University of Wyoming. He and his wife, Laramie native Tracy Ratliff Blakeman, lived in Casper and Jackson before making a home for many years along Oregon’s central coast.
While in Oregon, he had a 30-year career in retail management and served as gallery director for the Freed Gallery of Lincoln City. He has acted, directed, and produced plays and prepared set designs and construction as well as served on the board of directors of an Oregon coast community theater company.
In late 2021, the couple moved back to Wyoming to be near family.
Blakeman’s ties to the Ivinson Mansion include his wedding rehearsal dinner, held at the Alice Hardie Stevens Event Center on the mansion grounds. His mother lived for four years as a student at Ivinson Hall, the Episcopal cathedral’s Jane Ivinson School for Girls on the mansion grounds. He also has nieces who have served as junior docents at the museum.
He remembers “flashlight tours” at the mansion before it was restored, in days when it was a target for vandalism.
“We didn’t even own the building then,” he said. “I didn’t imagine they would ever restore it to this level.”
Though his own history may have helped bring him here, Blackman said he wants to spend some time learning from the staff and volunteers at the mansion.
“Right now, I see all the things from my own history. I am just learning the culture of the place,” Blakeman said.
“I am blown away by the culture of volunteerism in this community,” Blakeman said, noting the volunteer work on tasks that range from feather dusting the collections to maintaining the gardens.
“They’re doing it because they love it. It makes this a special place, a special kind of magic,” Blakeman said.