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TOPIC: Opinions on museum collections

Opinions on museum collections 4 years 1 week ago #320

This might be me just complaining but here goes........

I have always noticed that when one goes to a museum containing american indian artifacts there never seems to be much on display. I've been to a few museums that have a very small amount of artifacts on display which in turn prompts me to asking the museum employees/managers if there are any others that they possess. I've been told on a few occasions that yes, they do have more artifacts but they are boxed up in the basement or in storage.
that is all well and good but in each one of those cases, the displays that the artifacts are in are huge! They use one shelf to display 12 artifacts on expensive plastic stands when they could be using all that spce to add some shelves and load them puppies up with artifacts.

For example, a few years back I was in Medora, ND, and had gone to their western museum. They had a podium-like display case with roughly 20 artifacts in it. i asked the manager of the museum if they had any others and I was told, "Yes, we do have quite a few more artifacts but we keep them downstairs in storage." What?? I was told that the main wall when you enter the building, which is about 30 ft long by about 15 ft high used to have frames of artifacts covering it. What they put up to replace the artifact displays was approximately 30, very large, roughly 18"x24", pictures, each one of every one of the members on their board of directors. A little ridiculous use of that space? Well, you be the judge of that. But one must also ask themselves, "Do I want to go to a museum to view artifacts and history or do I want to see who exactly is in charge of this place.......in the form of unnessasarily large framed photographs?" I don't know.........

Another thing that jumped out at me was the fact that museums always seem to lose artifacts. Examples of this would be as follows: The Goshen type site Goshen point (missing), the largest Clovis point from the Dent Clovis site (missing), the largest, most complete, Hell Gap type site Hell Gap point (missing), the Allen type site Allen point, which defined the complex (missing), the Lovell type point from the Sorenson site (missing), the entire Mortlach site assemblage (which defined the Pelican Lake Cultural Complex) - (not missing, but was thrown in the dumpster to provide room for other items at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum).......and most recently, while reading an article on Lithic Casting Lab Dot com, I read that the mammoth bone billet/burnisher from the Blackwater Draw Clovis site had been missing for a number of years until it was discovered in the Smithsonian Museums collection, undoubtedly lying in a cardboard box in the basement covered by an inch of dust......and I'm sure the list goes on and on, these being the only that I am aware of at this time.
Is it just me or does that burn a hole right through you? I myself have a very large assemblage of Hell Gap points, fragments, scrapers, bifaces, and many other tools from a Hell Gap camp site I discovered 3 years ago that I at one point considered donating to the ND Heritage Center or the University of Wyoming so that they could be displayed for everyone to see, but my attitude towards that action has changed since.
It is the only Hell Gap site assemblage that I know of from North Dakota, (I also discovered a very similar Hell Gap site assemblage about 200 yards away from this one that is no doubt related) so I thought it would be awesome to show that off at one of the afformentioned institutes. I now feel that if I were to go that route, they would end up resting in a box in their basement as well.

Should it not be the museums' duty to display all items they possess or should they be allowed to pile everything up, which they feel to be inferior to other items, in their basements?
Is it the huge, amazingly large and mostly empty display cases we go to view or is it the items contained inside?

Let me know what your feelings are on this subject.

Just something I thought I'd throw out there and get off of my chest.

Thanks for reading all my rambling and I apologize for huge amount of reading required.
Last Edit: 4 years 1 week ago by mtwilber.
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Re: Opinions on museum collections 4 years 1 week ago #328

I gotta agree with you. I took my son to the museum here in Indianapolis last year. they had a curio type cabinet with about 20 artifacts displayed. The rest of the museum was dedicated to post contact displays. I guess the directors of the museum , in their infinate wisdom, feel that most visitors would relate to the post contact era. When I asked about other artifacts I got the same answer as you. "the artifacts were in storage downstairs". You should have seen the look on his face when I asked if my son and I could see the artifacts they had in storage. The answer I got was that they don't let the general public down to the storage area. Doesn't take a genius to figure out what happened to the "missing" artifacts.
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Re:Opinions on museum collections 4 years 1 week ago #331

Totally Agreed!!
Aren't most museums government funded, which would make sense why everything the museum does, doesnt' make sense!
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Re:Opinions on museum collections 4 years 1 week ago #361

Darn good point you got there.
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Re: Opinions on museum collections 4 years 1 week ago #362

That's pretty funny.......I had asked the administrator for the museum if I might be able to see some of the artifacts they had down stairs as well and I got pretty much the same exact answer as you did, "We don't allow the general public down there. We don't have anyone to supervise you while you're there." They're gonna quit calling them museums pretty soon and instead refer to them as "Storage" only accessible by authorized personnel.
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Re:Opinions on museum collections 4 years 1 week ago #403

Every single musiem is exactly the same. And alot of times they display cast of artifacts and have the authentic ones locked up. You wouldn't believe the amount of artifacts that are locked up and will never be seen again. The Smithsonian is the worst of them all, they have very large storge centers that are completely full of items that aren't even on rotation for the museums displays. There has been alot of artifact collectors donate their collection to a museum because they were lied to about their entire collection would be on display to everyone but in fact get thrown into storage in basements never to see the light again.

Also the items that turn up "missing" are actually stolen by employees and sold out the back door. Its a shame things like that happen.
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Re:Opinions on museum collections 4 years 1 week ago #408

  • RyanVa
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Totally agree with you on this. I went to the National Museum of American Indians last year in D.C. and was unimpressed. They've got this huge 4-5 story building sparsely covered with random artifacts with little to no theme. The best stuff was in a corner in a drawer type case that I'm sure alot of people missed. I like small local museums better than the big ones.
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Re:Opinions on museum collections 4 years 6 days ago #423

  • CliffJ
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NOT ALL museums are like those discussed. The Rankin Museum in Ellerbe NC is a private museum that displays the great majority of its artifacts, and the museum is slam full of ancient artifacts from all over the world, with a focus on the Southeast.
Many museums simply do not have the space to display everything that gets donated. In most collections there are only a few needed types. I work with the Granville County Historical Museum in Oxford NC, where the leaders wanted a representation of prehistory. That museum in its new building(the old jail) managed only to devote a 12' wall to prehistory, so what gets displayed is only the better representative pieces, in a timeline. Beside the timeline is a pottery display, and also a sandpit for kids to look for (pooters) arrowheads. We hold an Archaeology Day there every summer as a part of their Summer Ventures program, and many people bring in items to ID or to donate. It is our policy to only receive those items that can actually be displayed and used, so there will not be a store room full of boxes, which makes no sense at all.
My own private museum, the Hamme's Mill Museum in Warrenton NC, is a nature-based experience that features regional fossils, artifacts, the grist mill, and mounted animals. The artifact displays rotate from one year to the next, so that kids can see different themes when they come with their school groups. We cannot, and will not, accept donated or bought artifacts unless they will be displayed to the public at some point, but it is impossible to display them all at once.
However, on the whole, people that collect artifacts will be disappointed if they try to donate a lifetime collection to any museum. Most simply will not take them anymore. If there is a unique relic involved, then the museum may take the lot to get it, but most will still not be displayed. But then, NOT ALL need to be displayed.
In the museum world, ancient Indian artifacts hold little fascination. The BOD of most major museums would rather see old furniture, dresses, and tools. Our own NC Museum of History is almost as bad as the Smithsonian, with only a small display of ancient stuff. There are thousands of feet of historical displays, and only a few artifacts. What the problem needs is another "cowboy" revolution, with a load of Indian/cowboy movies and shows, then eventually the museums would catch up with the new popularity and actually display the relics we all love. Until a shift in thinking happens, the Smithsonian and some others will remain mostly an arts and crafts display.
The answer may lie with the internet. Museums are working towards getting their inventory put online, which is better than permanent storage.
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Re:Opinions on museum collections 4 years 6 days ago #434

I would have to agree with you there Cliff.....and great write by the way! It seems that it is the huge museums that don't show you much as far as prehistoric artifacts go, even though they are the ones that usually spend more on the displays for the artifacts than what the artifacts are actually worth. My daughter's Great grandfather ran the Paul Broste Rock Museum in Parshall, ND for a good 10 years until he passed away in 2007. He had all of his collection on display there and had to personally buy all of the display cases that he used there. Since his passing his widow has taken most of his really nice material out of there, I think because there are a few folks on their BOD that are a bit shady, but the musuem still displays a great quantity of his collection. I say "Good job!" to the smaller, local museums! Those big museums could learn a lot from their lead.
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