Friday, March 21, 2008

Progress Report

This week is Spring Break for Central Washington University. That means that it is extremely quiet in the building, which normal bustles with undergraduates during daytime hours. The quiet has given me a chance to take stock of progress. But first, a progress shot of our future museum home:

Dean Hall construction 002

The Dean Hall renovation is progressing! The bottom floor walls have been moved out - I can see framing for them around - and the front of the building is being added on to. Dean Hall will house more than the museum; it will also be home to the Dean of the College of the Sciences, the Geography Department, the Anthropology Department, and several large classrooms. But it's exciting to see progress being made.

Progress is being made inside the museum as well. I had three hard working interns helping me this quarter. They worked on a variety of tasks including cataloging, rehousing, photographing, and updating the PastPerfect records for nearly 250 of our collections objects. Receiving special attention was our collection of West African material, including many pieces of jewelry, our collection of spears, arrows, and bows, and our collection of Southwest Pottery. I cannot thank these interns enough for their hard work, and am grateful that two will be returning for the Spring Quarter.
Updated housing

Updated housing

In addition, Anthropology 362: Curation and Collections Management researched our small collection of Navajo weavings and rehoused them. Previously, these textiles had been half-rolled, half-folded, but now they are rolled and hung on our impromptu textile storage rack.
Updated housing

So we've made some really excellent progress this quarter, and I think we're going to make some really excellent progress next quarter. We've come a long way, but there's a great deal more work to be done.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Rock on!

Okay, okay, I have this affinity for puns in the titles of post. This post is about agates. The collection here in the Anthro Department contains a collection of about 400 polished agates. I will be the first to admit that I know very little about agates, but these are very pretty objects. There are about 14 Riker cases of these agates, none of which have yet been entered into our PastPerfect database. (Side note, unrelated: I had hoped there would be a wikipedia article on Riker cases, but if there was, it was buried under articles relating to Riker, William T (from Star Trek: The Next Generation, if you missed its 7 year run and subsequent syndication), alas.)

The agates below are selections from the very first Riker case I examined.

20-9 - Ellensburg Blue Agate
An Ellensburg blue agate. Apparently, this kind of agate is found almost exclusively in the local area (Kittitas Valley).

20-13 - Sagenite Agate
A sagenite agate is a type which has particular kinds of inclusions. Personally, I really like this piece for no other reason than it's pretty. ;)

20-8 - Agate Carnelian (Thunderegg)
A carnelian (meaning it has reddish hues) thunderegg agate. Thundereggs form inside of rhyolitic lava flows. That's a drama filled birth, for sure.

I've only worked through the first Riker case of these agates, but a glance ahead shows more polished agates, some shaped into hearts and diamonds. It should be interesting to learn more.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Real and Fake

One thing that many museums deal with is the issue of reproductions in the collection.

For example: Yesterday I was going over an accession list for one of our collections (the list that was made of everything when it came into the museum). One of the items on the list was a bust by Desiderio da Settignano. I was skeptical. I doubted that we had a marble bust from an Italian Renaissance sculptor in the collection. But it's possible. Our collection, while small, is very diverse.

I hadn't encountered the object before, so I went to check on it. As I lifted it out of the back corner of the shelf it was on, I knew that it wasn't an original (it was far too light to be marble, and the inside was hollow); it was a plaster reproduction of A Little Boy.


Interestingly, none of the written documentation had indicated that this object was a reproduction. It was also mis-identified as a bust of the infant Christ. But a few minutes using google identified the original as residing in the National Gallery, and not being of an infant Christ, but an anonymous boy.

Now it's properly identified, and we have an issue in front of us: what do we do with this reproduction? It's not the real object, so it doesn't have the same intrinsic value (and I'm not referring to monetary value - the same would be true of a reproduction of a military uniform, or of a cereal box, for that matter) that the original would have. So do we keep it? If we don't keep it, what do we do with it?

I have my thoughts on this matter, but I'm going to keep them to myself. What do you think? How should museums handle reproductions (fakes) in their collections?