Wax Ecstatic

Lois Conley's Black World History Wax Museum brings the African-American past vividly alive in the present

Still, expansion is taking place. In May, the museum will unveil a new figure of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., paid for through the "Fund-a-Figure" program. Conley would like to purchase more figures of important African-Americans with regional connections, such as Miles Davis. Unfortunately, wax figures aren't cheap: New ones can cost around $7,000 to commission, a colossal sum for a museum of this size.

But Conley is building her funding base. In addition to a small group of contributing members, the museum counts among its supporters the city's Community Development Agency, the Missouri Arts Council's Minority Arts Program and even PepsiCo. Conley is especially excited about support from the Missouri Humanities Council, which will help fund a new exhibit on the Underground Railroad.

And although most of the museum's regular visitors are school and church groups that come to see the wax exhibits, it is fast becoming a prime center for speakers and traveling exhibitions on African-American culture. Currently the special-exhibits gallery features Let Us March On! Selected Civil Rights Photographs of Ernest C. Withers 1955-1968 (on display through April 24). In connection with this exhibit, Norman Seay will speak at the museum on "The Civil Rights Movement in St. Louis" on April 11.

The Black World History Wax Museum is a goldmine of cultural history for St. Louis, a bright spot on the city's dwindling cultural landscape. If you find yourself ready to give up on this city, depressed at watching its history be reduced to rubble (like the Arena) or stand perpetually empty (like Kiel Opera House) -- or even if you just have a thing for wax museums -- pay it a visit. Either way, you won't be disappointed.

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