Friday, December 21, 2007

Last post of the year

Well, it's the last day here before I leave to visit family for the holidays. It's been a good year - I think we've made a lot of progress. And a lot of credit must go to the three dedicated student volunteers who contributed over 100 hours of their time this quarter. They were instrumental in updating the database with our old catalog cards, in making a HUGE dent into the unprocessed lithics which have been hanging around the museum for years, and in beginning to catalog the collections.

We've also done a lot of work toward creating and implementing policies for the collection and the structure of the museum.

Objects are being housed in archival materials, and in a way that will be safe for the move. Objects, like the one below, are having their picture taken for the database.

Carved bear, collected in Alaska. Similar to carvings dated to 100 to 300 AD in Allen Wardwell's "Ancient Eskimo Ivories of the Bering Strait."

A lot has been accomplished this year, but we're going to do a lot more next year. House and catalog pretty much all the objects. Ready the collection for a move. Finalize the policies and structure of our new museum. Involve more students, interns, and community members in the process. Yep, we've got a lot of work ahead of us, but I think it will be a good year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ears, Nose, Throat, and Museum?

I guess you could say that I'm part of the Google generation. I turn to Google products multiple times every day. I blog on Blogger, which is owned by Google. My primary email is through gmail, I use Google maps to find where I'm going, and I use google search to find the answers to my questions.

Today I was thinking about the furs and hides in our collection. We have a large sheep or goat hide with fur intact and more than one tanned or semi-tanned leather hide. As part of a class project in the Winter quarter we're planning on rolling many of our Navajo rugs and Mexican textiles. At some point it came up that we might roll the fur.

My collection manager instinct said that rolling a hide was not ideal, but I've been trying to find out if this is true. So I googled "fur museum storage" or something quite close, and I found this page on preserving fur and leather. But something seemed funny. Why was this information coming up on a website for Otolaryngology? That's the fancy word for ear, nose, and throat doctors. Apparently, like many professional associations, they have a museum. And their museum provides pages with rather general info on all kinds of collections. How about that?

The otolaryngology page does say that leather and furs are but stored flat, but I'm going to check out some more google results to corroborate this.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Dance Shield, 3-342

Last week I asked you what this might be a part of:

Guesses included a shield, a spirit board, and two guesses of a mask. Shield is the closest guess. (click on image for a larger version)

According to the accession information, corroborated with some google searching, this object is a dance shield or dance paddle from the Trobriand Islands. The ethnologist I referred to was Bronislaw Malinowski, whose name I enjoy pronouncing.

The shields (we actually have two such objects in the collection) are beautiful but fragile. The pigments, especially the white, are not secure. Just taking the photos I took for these posts resulted in white pigment left on the dark background, just under the weight of the object itself. Until such time as we can consider professional conservation treatment, all who might handle these objects must be extremely careful and consider the implications setting it down on a table may have for the pigment.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Are you ready for your close up?

I liked last week's version of Whatzit, so I'm going to keep that up until I hear objections. Here's a small part of a larger object for you to mull over this weekend:

What kind of clues can I give you? The base material is wood. And certain famous ethnologists (famous, I suppose, if you majored in anthropology (which I did)) did work in the area this object is from.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


In some ways, museum work is all about renovations. We're constantly developing better methods to preserve objects, better ways to communicate ideas to the public, and better ways to involve the public in the sometimes esoteric world of the museum (constantly proved esoteric by the movies - we won't go into the various inaccuracies in such films as Night at the Museum).

What I've been doing for the short time I've been at this museum is renovating, improving the museum methods in place. And at the same time, a construction company is renovating a building on campus where our new museum is going to be. It doesn't look like much now, but, from the plans and the drawings I've seen, it's gonna be pretty cool.

But for now, it's under construction. They're gutting the building, which is fun to watch, fun to see through the building. Click on any of the photos to see them at full size.

And this is the front of the building - facing the university commons.

Like the collections, the building is a work in progress. But we're both moving forward everyday and getting a little closer to the goal of having a modern museum with a dedicated exhibition space and a modern storage facility. And that's pretty exciting.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bentwood Box, 3-311

Ding ding ding! Larissa is on a roll with two in a row correct. This past week's Whatzit gave you this tiny image:

And asked you to guess what the larger object was. Larissa guessed that it was a bentwood box.

This box is from the Northwest Coast and the motif appears to be a beaver. There are small shells that decorate the corners of the lid. Although the paint appears to have been "touched up" at some point in the past (obscuring original materials and possibly original colors), the box is still a treasure.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Friday Whatzit

So I think we're going to try this whole Whatzit Friday thing as variations on a theme. By which I mean, sometimes I will post an image of an object for you to guess, which is what I have been doing, but sometimes I am going to do something different. And by something different, I mean I'm going to post a close-up, a detail shot, a portion of the object and you can try to extrapolate. My inspiration is the child's brain teaser where there's a super-close up of something kind of woody and yellow, and it slowly pans out to reveal a bunch of pencils.

Let's try it with this first image:

The style of this object should be fairly easy to get from the picture, but what the whole object is? That's a sight more difficult.

Okay, have at it! Look for a reveal on Tuesday (since I'm posting after business hours EST).

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sending out an SOS to the world

Okay, it's not really an SOS, but I've got that song by The Police in my head.

I do need your help. I've got a real whatzit situation on my hands. As in, what is this object? My documentation says "adze handle" (an identification made after it came into museum possession), but I remain skeptical. It appears to be made of bone with what appears to be baleen threaded through two of three holes at one end. One bundle of baleen is curved and twisted, the other is straight.

My guess is that it has to do with basket making or baleen processing, given the presence of baleen, but that's just a guess. Several google searches were no help in finding images of baleen processing tools, so I can't back up my guess. I suppose it could be an adze handle, but it's unusual for one, I think.

What do you think it might be? Why? Help me, blogosphere, you're my only hope.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Winter Answers

Well, it snowed and snowed and snowed this weekend. Then suddenly it warmed up and has been raining since, so the snow is much reduced as I type this.

And *ding ding ding* we have a winner! Larissa was right on to this past week's mystery object. It is a sled runner. My information tells me that it is whale bone and has been broken since at least 1998.

This sled runner is one of the many objects I've been rehousing to prepare for the move. This is how the runner is being stored.

The pieces are tied with cotton twill to a piece of cardboard lined with foam. The board has handled to facilitate lifting. This board fits into a large drawer. When it comes time to move, the empty space in the drawer with be filled with quilt batting (separated from the object by a layer of tyvek or tissue paper) and the drawers can be stacked. In this way, the objects won't shift and move around when they're loaded into a vehicle. And the materials used in the tray are such that the sled runner can stay on the tray for a long time without suffering negatively.