Monday, December 28, 2009

Clearing out the Gallery

Our first exhibit closed on December 19th. Over the past week, I've been engaged in taking it down, or deinstalling it. With 140ish silk fish and 60+ photos, that's a lot of material to taken down. This is what the gallery looked like on the last day of the exhibit. Very full, very vibrant.

When taking down the exhibit, the first thing I did was to re-attach the tags to each of the hanging fish. Then I went around, cutting down the thread we'd used to hang the fish with. After recording any changes to the condition of the fish, I returned them to their original boxes and will be repacking those boxes inside their crates when all the fish are down.

The second step has been to take down the framed photos. I noted any condition changes and repacked the images. Thankfully, this didn't involve going up and down a ladder countless times, like preparing the fish did. All in all, the process has gone really smoothly, and I expect to finish deinstalling tomorrow. Here's what the partially deinstalled gallery looks like right now (click on the image to get to a larger version).
RoM deinstall

Note all the hanging threads we used for the fish, and the stick-um on the gallery walls from the labels. We'll deal with gallery clean up last.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Photo Friday: Petrified Wood Projectile Point

I've spent a lot of time with archaeological lithics in my life. As an undergraduate, I spent 3.5 years working with and studying lithic debitage. In the collection here, we have about 6000 pieces of chipped stone tools - projectile points and scrapers, mostly. This week I've been photographing some projectile points and processing photos that our intern, Leila, took earlier this month.

I was really struck by the beauty of these tools. They're made from a variety of materials. Around here, you sometimes see projectile points worked from petrified wood. There's quite a bit of petrified wood in the area. There's even a petrified forest nearby (which has a pretty neat museum/interpretive center down the road from it). I think it's just wild how a tree becomes fossilized and then becomes a tool when worked by a skilled craftsperson.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Photo Friday: New Acquisition

Since the Museum of Culture and Environment began running workshops last spring, we've had higher visibility. Over the summer we received three new donations. This piece is one of them. After some delay, we've attached a label to it and it is now fully integrated into the collection.

At the moment, we don't have a great deal of information about piece, except that the owner before the donor may have been a librarian in Peru. Intriguing!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Photo Friday: Outside the Museum

I stepped outside on Tuesday afternoon to get some air and see daylight (occupational hazard of working with collections? Basement or windowless office.). The daylight was exceptionally beautiful - sun from the west, clouds in the east. So I ran back to my office, grabbed the camera and snapped a few photos before the light disappeared.
November 17th

November 17th

Friday, November 13, 2009

Photo Friday: Polar Bear Pendant

I skipped ahead out of the lithics this week and took pictures of some of our smaller Arctic type objects. This piece, a carved polar bear head pendant, was probably carved for sale. It's grouped with three other carved for sale type pieces including a napkin ring, a letter opener, and a small seal. I love the heads flanking it on the right and left. Seals, maybe? And also the tongue detail - very red and interesting!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Photo Friday: Mortar/Bowl

The major collections projects at the moment are somewhat less photogenic than the process of packing and moving were.

We're doing an inventory. Moving and unpacking was a group effort which involved many people, and sometimes lines of communication get crossed. Right now we're working to make sure that everything is where it ought to be and that our database reflects that.

At the same time, we're using our new Nikon camera to take high quality photos of the collection. We're starting with our mortars and pestles and moving on to the natural history collection. Here's a photo of a bowl or mortar made of volcanic rock:

This piece was collected in Idaho. According to its catalog record, the donor "worked on it" suggesting that he modified it in some way from how he found it. But what precisely was done is hard to tell. It may have been a chunk of volcanic rock, completely unformed, or it may have had the suggestion of a bowl. Another mystery to speculate on.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

We've arrived

College of the Sciences Dean Kirk Johnson and CWU Trustee Patricia Notter cut the ribbon.

The Museum of Culture and Environment at Central Washington University is officially open. When I began this blog more than two years ago, the museum didn't even have an official name. It didn't have a gallery. It didn't have a webpage. What it had was the dedication of some volunteers and an academic department, 35 years of history, and one new full time employee.

We've come a long way in these two years.

Guests view the exhibit for the first time.

We opened on September 25th, 2009 with a crowd of nearly 200 people touring the gallery (Link to Facebook photo album.). The opening exhibit, River of Memory: The Everlasting Columbia, on loan from the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, has been really an excellent first exhibit for us. It truly combines the themes of culture and the environment by exploring the history of a river that people have impacted for thousands of years. The Museum even added a small component to the exhibit, showing some of our net weights and talking about fishing on the Columbia.

Net sinkers and anchor weights on display.

We've come so far in just a couple of years, but we have farther to go yet.

In the meantime, I hope to get back to talking about collections work on a regular basis soon here. And I hope you can come visit us! River of Memory runs through December 17th. We're open Wednesday through Friday 2 to 6 pm and Saturday 10 am to 3 pm. Parking is free on campus after 4:30 pm on weekdays and all day Saturday.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Too busy, can't blog

The opening is tomorrow at 4 pm! (Read the official press release.) We have been busy here the past few days (busy is an understatement, it's been a madhouse! But in a good way.).

I've got to get back to work, but here's a neat photo of one of the spawning salmon.
Salmon, Spawning Male

Monday, September 14, 2009

Swimming with the fishes

The crates for our first exhibit - River of Memory: The Everlasting Columbia - arrived on September 1st.
Crates arrive

7 of them! Four and a half crates holding 68 images and panels to go up on the walls, one holding the opening panel, and one holding 144 silk fish. I just updated the MCE facebook page to say how excited I am about the fish and I got a request for photos. Well, I can certainly oblige. But a little about how exhibits travel.

This exhibit originated at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center and has toured the Northwest. You've already seen how you move an exhibit: in custom built crates.

When the crates arrived, the first thing we did was... nothing. We moved the crates into our space and then let them sit. They sat for 48 hours so that they could acclimate to the climate at the museum (okay, they sat longer than 48 hours - I had a bit of a fight with some of the screws holding the crates on, and there was a holiday weekend). Once opened, the next step is to unpack and prepare a condition report for each individual piece.

A condition report is an individual examination of each object to provide a baseline. So we know that when the MCE received X object, it had a chip at the bottom right corner and a scratch in the upper right, 2 inches from the corner, for example. That way the lending institution knows what happens where. Condition reporting can be time consuming, especially with over 200 pieces to process. This is what it looked like when I was working on the images:
Condition Reporting

I would keep the report with the image until the image was moved into the gallery. When I completed the images, I moved on to the silk fish. The fish are beautiful, and the condition reports are pretty easy, since they're almost all in excellent condition. The fish are made from silk, painted by artists, and are meant to be hung from the ceiling. They're going to be amazing and dramatic. They range from quite small (just a few inches) up to 4 feet, and one that's 14 feet long - those are the real sizes the fish would be in the Columbia! Here's a glimpse of four of the 144 fish.
Condition Reporting

Spawning Salmon:
Condition Reporting

They're gorgeous on the table - I can't wait to see them all hung up with the historical photographs in the gallery.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


In my mind, September has always been the end of the summer. I think it has to do with spending so many years in school, and now working for a university. But the grass in the arboretum is still green and various individuals are out there enjoying it. Like this guy:
African tortoise zoomed

He's an African tortoise from the Biology department and lives in the Science Building, next door to our building. He was out today, getting some air and nomming some apples.

But I spend most of my time inside. Yesterday we were playing with the gallery furniture, testing out various arrangements in preparation for our opening exhibit. The mobile walls are really versatile! It was amazing to see the different ways in which our (more or less) rectangular gallery can be set up with the walls. Here's one view:

It's really astounding to think of how far we've come since we started this blog nearly two years ago (wow! has it been that long already?). I'm really looking forward to seeing the exhibit up in the space. I think it's going to be really great.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Object History

Unfortunately, we don't have extensive records on many of our objects. Sometimes we don't know if an object was donated to us in a broken state, or if it broke in our care (over the nearly 40 years a museum in some form has existed). So it was really exciting for me to find a contact print documenting the repair of a broken object.
Object History

I presume this occurred in the 1970s, when there was a great deal of activity in the collections. You can see that the ceramic figure was in (at least) two pieces, broken right down the middle.
Object History

Presumably, an adhesive was applied to the broken edges, and then it was held together. By what look like rubber bands. And then it is all one piece again!
Object History

And the repair has held through all the years. You can still see the crack running down the center of the figure.
Object History

I've got a large box full of negatives to go through. I wonder what other object stories we'll uncover as we work through those.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New Dean Hall Neighbors

I learned this week that Dean Hall has some residents without offices. Whooo whooo can it be?
Owls on Dean Hall

Do you see them? It's a couple of Great Horned Owls (I think). They've decided that those, um, architectural features over the windows are just about the best place to be. What's really neat is that, from the third floor stairwell landing, you're pretty much at eye level with them.

Owls on Dean Hall

It's kind of appropriate that these great birds would choose to spend their days on the building that houses the Museum of Culture and Environment - this intersection of human modification of the landscape with the needs of wildlife is right up our alley.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tyvek Shelf Cover project

Our compactor storage is awesome. In addition to the compactor storage, we have a couple shelves of storage for oversize materials.
Tyvek shelf cover project

The shelves do their job well, but the objects on them are exposed to light and dust... especially light. A number of the shields have quite fragile pigments. So I wanted to devise some way to construct covers for the shelves. I considered many options, but eventually decided to use the Tyvek, which is a great material for museum use because it's light, waterproof, and pretty archival. Plus, I happened to have a roll of it 60" wide.
Tyvek shelf cover project

Except the shelves are 76.5" wide. Which meant that I had to bring in the big guns. Or, rather, the Mini Ultra Sewing Machine.
Tyvek shelf cover project

Now, I hadn't used a sewing machine in about four years, but I was pleased to find that I was still able to fill a bobbin and thread the machine. And, after some experimentation on scraps, I was also please to find that the Tyvek sews pretty nicely and doesn't rip easily.
Tyvek shelf cover project

The covers for the front of the shelf are quite large. In addition to being over 6 feet long, the shelves are 8 feet tall. In order to make such a large amount of material sewable, I did what any resourceful person would. I used paper clips to keep everything lined up.
Tyvek shelf cover project

The paper clips worked remarkably well. And so did the little sewing machine.
Tyvek shelf cover project

By the end of all that I had several large pieces of Tyvek and then had to work out how to attach the Tyvek to the shelves. I've seen velcro used with great success, but decided against the velcro because it would make adjusting the shelves difficult in the future and would probably leave a sticky residue on the metal if it was ever removed. Ultimately I decided to use simple magnets. The magnets hold up the Tyvek effectively, but are also easy to adjust, rearrange, and remove. It's almost too simple!

The end product of the the project is shelves which are protected from light and dust. I'm pleased with the result.
Tyvek shelf cover project

Tyvek shelf cover project

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Moving the Field Museum

I just got back from some vacation time and spent most of yesterday catching up on a ton of emails and museum-y news. As I was skimming my museum blogs, I found this link to a collection of photos from The Field Museum. (I think it was on a blog, may have been in an email... I had a lot to catch up on.)

A set up for moving exhibit cases.

The image collection is made up of 78 scans of glass plate negatives from 1920. They document the move of the Field Museum to its current location by train, auto, and horse drawn cart. It's fascinating to me to see all of the cases, with objects still inside them!, being loaded onto trains. Certainly appears to be a different method than we used earlier this year.

It's also worth peeking at the rest of the Field Museum Library's flickr stream. There are some pretty cool photos of two toed sloths, and a prehensile tailed porcupine on their front page right now. Very cool stuff. There are actually a ton of museums on Flickr, and a lot of fabulous image collections from history institutions in The Commons to explore. Check it out!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Walls and cases!

Yesterday was very exciting around here. Our mobile walls and exhibit cases were delivered!

The good folks at Museum Resources designed walls and cases to meet our needs. They drove over from Seattle yesterday in a big yellow truck filled with all kinds of exciting things.
Truck sighted!
Cases and walls

In just a few hours, the truck was empty and the gallery was filled with, well, take a look.
Walls and table tops laid out
Wall with side on

That's four mobile walls (you can only see one and a half in this photo), four display pedestals, and four table cases. The case toppers are in a different corner of the gallery. The walls had to be brought in in pieces and finished in the gallery. They went from planks of wood to walls before our very eyes. It'll be a couple of weeks until we put everything together, because this is just the first delivery! The second delivery will be all the small things to make these lovely big things useful.

It's great, because now the empty gallery space is really beginning to fill up. And those walls will be great for hanging the photography exhibit we're hosting in the fall. Check out our flickr account for more photos of the delivery.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Coming together

As the (fiscal) year comes to a close, we're seeing a flurry of activity around the museum. The big news today? We have a sign and a docent station.

The sign went up yesterday afternoon. The sign guys have been putting up all kinds of signs around the building, but this is one of the bigger ones. They laid it all out on the gallery first to make a template.
MCE Sign

It really helps to identify the museum. No more confusion about that big gallery in Dean Hall!
MCE Sign

And just this morning we walked into the gallery and discovered that our docent/greeter station had been delivered. Modeled on a version in a catalog and constructed by the fine folks at CWU facilities, it looks great, and is versatile.
MCE Docent Station

That's Angie behind the desk. Angie's here for the summer, and hopefully beyond, working on programming for this fall and the next school year or two. She and I had great fun playing with the new docent station. It's in two parts, so there are some options. Angie and I like this set up better; it certainly gives the person behind the desk more room to move around.
MCE Docent Station

Everything is coming together now. We'll really be ready for our first exhibit this fall.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Organizing History

This museum has been around, in one form or another, for 40 years. And we have the files to prove it. Unfortunately, those files have been in various offices and organized in various ways for 40 years, too. So, pretty much, it's a big mess.

Organizing History

I've undertaken to (re)organize the files, using the office floor and a spread sheet style organizational system. It goes by decade across the top and topic along the side. The files out represent just a fraction of the total files.

I have recycled So Much Paper so far. Lots of old, irrelevant articles. Lots of multiple copies of memos or forms long out of use. Lots of paper taking up space which doesn't need to be here. So out it goes, keeping only what's relevant. Once this all gets organized by decade and topic, I have a stack of brand spankin' new file folders to put it in and put it away in an organized manner. ... and the stacks of files on the office floor will be gone!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Finals week!

It's finals week here at CWU and a lot of things are getting wrapped up around the museum.

The gallery lights have been replaced!

The security is being installed!

The collections are all unpacked!

The docent station (for the lobby) is almost finished!

There's a couch in the museum office (for visitors!)!

Walls and cases are being built!

We've signed the contract on our opening exhibit!

The corner display case has been built out so we can display things in it!

It's been a pretty productive week or two, I'd say. But with all of these awesome developments come some other final things. Four of the interns who've worked with me all year are graduating and moving on to bigger and better things. Thank you, Kim, Launi, Rachel, and Shena, for all of your excellent work with the collection this year. Best of luck in all of your future endeavors.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Day in the Life

I've always said that one of the things I love about my job is the variety of things I get to do. Today was no exception.
Note the enormous crate, we'll get to it later.

I got into work today and things started out pretty much in the usual way.
- I check my email and catch up on things from the weekend.
- I speak with the museum director about some grants that we've received and what sort of projects I have planned for the summer.
- My first intern comes in; I ask her to work on an inventory of the chipped stone (no small task).
- I begin to work on a short write up of collections work for the first annual report of the MCE.
- My first intern leaves, my afternoon interns arrive.
- I put them to work on rearranging the shelves and moving all of the shields and swords into the shelves(which take up a lot of space - this task condenses them significantly).
- A work study student arrives; she resumes a project researching the memoirs of our first donor for clues about the collections object.
- A biological anthropologist, for whom we've been holding a crate, comes down to say he's going to open the crate and take its contents up to his lab.
- The contents? A DNA sequencer. My nerdy delight is stifled somewhat when it doesn't look like an old school Star Trek computer with blinking lights and lots of knobs and buttons. It's actually a fairly nondescript tan metal cube.
- I help unload the sequencer and take the debris from the crate out to the dumpster.
- I continue working on and finish the draft of the collections work write up. I email this to the director.
- I work on intern evaluations.
- The afternoon interns finish up for the day and report on where they left off.
- Work study student wraps up for the day and heads home.
- I assemble the Shop Vac which arrived a couple of weeks ago and
- I clean up the small bits of wood and styrofoam left behind from the crate and packing materials.
- I decide that today passed so quickly that I should go blog about it.
- And I do all this while dressed nicely enough to go to a reception at the President's house half an hour from now.

And somewhere in there I found time to go get my espresso drink of choice (double 20 oz iced white chocolate americano with cream (and to think that only two years ago I had never had coffee! This is what moving to Seattle does to a midwesterner.)) and to eat lunch.

So! All in all, a pretty eventful day!

PS: Why is it that my post titles always make me think of songs?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Getting ready

We'll be hosting our very first exhibit this September, and work is underway to make the gallery ready for it.

The gallery doors are being rehung and made more secure.
2009.05.07 018

An unneeded door is being removed - this means more wall space inside the gallery!
Remodeling the gallery
Remodeling the gallery

The lights are being changed out for more object friendly lights (the ones hanging there are the old kind).
Remodeling the gallery

And the boxes are all unpacked and ready to be hauled away!
Boxes ready to go!

All of these projects are still underway and should be completed before the end of June. It's very exciting!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fantasy and Reality

There's this movie franchise that maybe you've heard of - Night at the Museum. And maybe you've also heard that there's a sequel - Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. I was at the movies this weekend (geeking out at Star Trek), when they played the trailer.

Now, when I watched the trailer, about 45 seconds in, the first thing I thought was "Not packing peanuts!" Apparently, in this film, some objects are shipped. This movie would have you believe that museums ship objects in enormous piles of packing peanuts. This is not the case. As in many areas, the way a museum ships objects is much more complex. There are often wooden crates involved, but almost never will there be an object just floating in a sea of peanuts.

Many professional shippers will take an approach called cavity packing (link to .pdf). From the NPS Conserv O Gram:
Cavity packing involves placing an object in successive layers of material (e.g., polyethylene foam) into which an opening is cut. The packing material insulates the object and will absorb vibrations created during shipping. Cavity packing supports the object and cushions it from movement. It also creates a microenvironment for the objects.

So it's a little more complicated. This website has some photos of more typical crating methods. Also, packing peanuts are a pain to clean up and the biodegradable kind make great food for all kinds of creepy crawly pests that you don't want around the collection.

And, for the record, I don't encourage touching ancient sculpture either.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Unpacking nears completion

We're just boxes away from being completely, totally, utterly unpacked from the move. How to best prove this claim? How about some photos of used up packing material?
2009.05.07 013
Bags of used up packing foam

2009.05.07 016
Unpacked and reflattened boxes.

The foam is being sorted and we're saving much of it for reuse in future (non-permanent) packing. The boxes are going back to the University which will reuse them or recycle them as needed. Which is good. Right now the cardboard has overrun at least two of our work tables!