Home to nine musicians who have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Gainesville boasts a rich musical history that extends far beyond its borders. But what is it about the city that breeds legends?
The Matheson History Museum’s newest exhibition seeks to answer just that question. Titled “Tom Petty’s Gainesville: Where Dreams Began,” the collection honors the musician’s 40-year career by going back to his roots. Showcasing a wide range of memorabilia from his early days in Gainesville, all of which were borrowed from Petty’s local friends and family, the exhibit provides an intimate look at the well-loved icon and his far-reaching legacy.
The exhibition debuted Friday in the Mary Ann Cofrin Exhibit Hall with a members-only reception at 6 p.m. followed by a general public reception from 7 to 9 p.m. The occasion marked the museum’s first time offering members the opportunity to view its newest exhibits early. The exhibit will be open to the general public free of charge until Jan. 11, 2020.
“It was a way for us to sort of give another benefit to people who support us all year long,” executive director Dixie Neilson said. “It may be surprising to some, but the Matheson is supported solely by donations and grants that we write. We’re not connected with any state or city organizations.”
According to Neilson, the Matheson has been working on the exhibit for about four months. They originally wanted to debut the exhibit during last month’s Tom Petty Weekend, but many of the items they intended to display were being used for the festivities.
The Matheson typically starts working on an exhibit a year in advance of its debut.
“It was definitely challenging working on such an abbreviated schedule, and this exhibit was particularly challenging because there were so many different working pieces,” curator of collections Kaitlyn Hof-Mahoney said. “Trying to get everybody on the same page was definitely difficult, but it all worked out and it all came together.”
At the exhibit, visitors can find instruments and equipment used by his early band Mudcrutch, as well as a map of Gainesville highlighting places that comprised the backdrop of Petty’s formative years.
“The thing that I’m most proud of about the exhibit is the way that it is really from the community,” Hof-Mahoney said. “We had people come together and either loan or donate items to the museum for this exhibit who were Tom’s friends — his fans.”
Petty’s exhibit is expected to be the first in a series that delves into Gainesville’s rich musical history, marking a new direction for the museum.
Looking toward the future, Neilson suggested residents can expect anything from more exhibitions on Petty, perhaps revolving around the later years of his career or his relationship with Elvis Presley, or other home-grown musicians like Bo Diddley, whose family still resides in Gainesville.
“We’re really excited to start collecting things from musicians and musical groups and people who have achieved fame that are from Gainesville because there are so many of them,” Neilson said. “We’re trying to figure out how this all happened — how did they all happen to come from this area? That’s a question we look to explore in the future.”
Correction: We reported earlier that visitors could see a piece which is not on display. We have removed the line.