, Port Arthur, Texas

November 27, 2013

New museum curator enjoys complexities of history

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Sarah Bellian is a geek — and an unabashed one at that.

“I'm not apologetic about anything I enjoy,” said Bellian, who took over as curator of the Museum of the Gulf Coast on Sept. 4.

And Bellian’s interests contain multitudes. She is rather deft with a rapier, which stems from using much of her spare time engaging in swordplay and archery with her fellow Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) members in Beaumont. She spends as much time as possible outdoors, where her beloved dog, a 10-year-old shepherd mix named Juneau, is never far from her side. And she dabbles in writing both fiction and history — though the latter is her true love.

“I like history because it's complex,” Bellian said. “Every time you think you've learned it all, somebody throws a monkey wrench in it and you learn something new.”

The same can be said of a conversation with Bellian, who has a life story as multifaceted as her hobbies. The 30-year-old Detroit native grew up in Ohio, attended high school in Arizona, and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history at Western State College of Colorado and the University of Idaho, respectively — with stints in England and Italy in between.

In 2010, Bellian took a curator position at the Scurry County Museum in Snyder, Texas — a town of approximately 11,000 located 80 miles northwest of Abilene — to be closer to her parents, who had moved to Friendswood two years earlier.

“I really didn't have any scope of how big Texas actually was,” Bellian said, with a laugh. “Turns out I got a job that was actually 11 hours away.”

While at the Scurry County Museum, Bellian built a replica of a World War I trench, which allowed visitors to step into the shoes of soldiers who made those trenches their home during combat.

“You could see the light go on in some people's heads when they knelt down in there and peeked over the barbed wire and said, 'Can you imagine living in this for months?'” Bellian said. “It's something that people don't understand until they can actually get their hands on it.”

It is this immersive experience that Bellian plans to introduce to Port Arthur, and she has already gotten to work on that. In January, “Step Right Up,” a traveling exhibit featuring photographs depicting life in the circus from the 19th century to the early 20th, will make a pit stop in Port Arthur — complete with a set of antique juggling clubs, among other items. Bellian aims to remind patrons of the jubilant atmosphere that permeated Port Arthur and Pleasure Island in the 1940s.

“Procter Street was a really exciting place to be circa 1940s, and it’s very, very different today,” Bellian said. “It’s an area that needs some help — we all know that — but it’s not without potential. We think reminding people of what it once looked like might encourage some folks to work on how it could be improved.”

Another objective of Bellian’s is to bridge the gap between the Vietnamese community and the rest of Port Arthur, which she will attempt to do with a traveling exhibit arriving March 30, 2014, that will display photographs of the Vietnam War.

“We're hoping to open a line of communication with the Vietnamese community here, because a lot of them came to this area as a result of the Vietnam War,” Bellian said. “We want them to be a part of it, because they are a part of our history here.”

That history should be a source of pride for Port Arthur natives, Bellian said. And although she never stays in one place long, she has no intention of leaving Port Arthur anytime soon.

“There’s so much here that needs to be done, and I’m very motivated by need,” she said. “I want to communicate to the children of Port Arthur that they can be proud to be from here.”


Twitter: @ErinnPA