Planning an Exhibit

November 27, 2018

Planning an exhibit takes a lot of time and energy on the part of all involved. During the process of putting up our new exhibit, “Animal~Spirit~Human,” we created a to-do list to make sure we checked all the boxes and put up an exhibit we were proud of.

Here’s a condensed version of that list:

1. Generate Theme

Our exhibit followed this semester’s Themester theme of animal-human relationships. “Animal~Spirit~Human” follows that theme by investigating the role of animals in sustaining and inspiring past and present Native people of the Eastern Woodlands. Once we had our theme in mind, we were able to create a uniform aesthetic to make sure all of the cases matched. This entailed picking fonts and a color scheme, and determining what size each of the different labels should be, to make sure all exhibit goers could easily read them.

2. Select Artifacts/Prepare Condition Reports

With that theme in mind, we were able to get an idea of what artifacts to include. Each case plays a different role in telling the story of animal-human relationships. The cases on the north wall of the gallery hall serve as an introduction to the exhibit. The east wall examines a worldview in terms of different spheres, such as air and water. The south wall compares pre- and post-European contact animal populations. And the west wall is dedicated to examining animal-human relations at Angel Mounds.

An example of an artifact photo, this one of an owl effigy pot (18-170-0).

This means each wall’s theme determines the contents of its cases, allowing us to get an idea of what artifacts would best explain and exemplify the theme. Once we selected the artifacts, we photographed them and wrote condition reports. These detail the current condition of the artifacts by noting breakage, cracks, and repairs. They allow us to keep track of where the artifact is and why it was removed from the collections. When we take the exhibit down, we’ll do another round of condition reports to see if anything changed.

3. Prepare Exhibit Cases

Repainting the exhibit cases took GBL staff several days of after-hours work.

Putting in a new exhibit required us to take out the old, Containing Knowledge: Ceramics at the GBL.” After doing the follow-up photos and condition reports, we returned the artifacts to our collections. Once we removed the old display blocks and the cases were empty, we spent several days cleaning and repainting them. This brightened the exhibit space and made the gallery look more inviting. Many artifacts are unable to stand on their own, so it was necessary to create mounts for them. We carved mounts out of foam and other materials on which to display them. The foam mounts were covered with a layer of fabric in between the material and the artifact, for both the safety of the artifact and to provide a contrasting background.

4. Research Collections and Write Text

Now it was time to write the text and select relevant images. Each case has four categories of labels: the Title (A), the Subheader (B), the Body Text (C), and the Artifact ID Labels (D). Defining the terminology of labels early on can prevent confusion later in the process, and make it easier to visualize the layout of the case before anything actually goes up. To write descriptions of the artifacts and their relevance to the theme, we utilize the collections and the resources in our library and archives.

5. Print Text/Images and Cut to Size

It took several hours to print each label, in addition to the time dedicated to trim and place them.

The next step was to print the text and images. This is a very time-consuming process, due to the size and amount of the various labels. We used the large printer over at our neighbor, the Mathers Museum, to print on Print-N-Stick paper, which has an adhesive backing that allows us to adjust the placement of the labels if necessary without damaging the paint in the cases.

6. Install Artifacts

During this step, timing is important since we can’t leave artifacts in unlocked cases. In most cases, the text was the first to go in. Then blocks or risers which elevated or raised the artifacts to needed heights were selected based on the artifact selection and case design. Artifacts and mounts, as well as barriers between artifacts and painted surfaces, were then added. Once the artifacts were in place, the case stays locked; so if text needed adjusting it was much easier to do that while the case was open and easily accessible.

7. Finishing Touches

Now it was time for last-minute touch-ups to labels and placement of any other artifacts. These included repairs to the overhead lights in the cases, and the erection of the folding wall in the middle of the hall, which displays shields from four tribes and descriptions of their histories, provided by the tribes themselves.

8. Sharing the Exhibit

Marketing the exhibit was an ongoing process throughout development and installation, but the main push came upon our opening in early October.

9. Events

An image from Cheryl Claassen’s talk.

Finally, to celebrate the opening of our exhibit, we threw events: on Thursday, Nov. 1, we had a talk by Dr. Cheryl Claassen, “On Deer, Shell Beads, and the Milky Way.” The following day, Friday, Nov. 2, we had a Themester panel, featuring Amanda Burtt, Dr. Claassen, Justin Downs, and Gary Morseau.

We learned a lot in the process of putting up this exhibit, and look forward to applying these new insights in the future. In the meantime, we hope you’ll come down to see the exhibit and celebrate Themester by attending some of the other great events on campus this semester!

The GBL Goes to MAC

October 9, 2018

by Hannah Rea, Social Media/Outreach

An archaeological conference is an interesting experience for a non-archaeologist. As a social media/outreach person who’s always wanted to attend an academic conference, I decided to tag along to this year’s Midwestern Archaeological Conference (MAC) to post about the experience, and satisfy my own curiosity.

Thursday night was a reception, great for running into colleagues you hadn’t seen in years, to catch up and learn about research done in Notre Dame’s Department of Anthropology, the setting of the gathering.

Friday was the first major day of symposiums and poster sessions. It was smaller than previous years, and therefore had an intimate atmosphere as one had more time to peruse the research and ask questions of the presenters. The presenters themselves came from universities and agencies from across the Midwest, and included our own Liz Watts Malouchos and Maclaren Guthrie, who presented on themes of the IU Bicentennial and Wylie House excavation.

Everyone was incredibly enthusiastic, and willing to answer any questions about their research. I attended my first symposium, a series of presentations along a central theme, in the morning; each presenter was similarly enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and educated the audience on their current research and future plans.

Saturday, Day 3, was packed with poster presentations and symposiums, and last-minute catching up with colleagues and friends as attendees began to leave town. It’s interesting, as a non-archaeologist, to learn about things I wouldn’t normally encounter. It helps to contextualize terminology I’ve heard in passing, and see how it’s applied in research and fieldwork of others in the region.

There was a recurring theme of conversation, and how necessary discussion was between those within and outside of the region. Outreach to communities and to other academics is necessary for interpretation of data, and meaningful utilization.

In sum, it was an interesting experience. I’m glad I, as an associate of archaeologists, had the experience to view the inner workings of the Midwestern archaeological community.

Negotiating Homelands and Sovereignty in Indiana Territory

October 9, 2017

by Hannah Rea, Social Media Intern

The DeVault Gallery of the Mathers Museum was packed full as students and community members gathered to hear a panel discussion on sovereignty and identity as part of Themester 2017.

“Negotiating Homelands and Sovereignty in Indiana Territory,” hosted by the Glenn Black Lab, featured a discussion moderated by Heather Williams, Program Assistant for the FNECC, and commentary by the panelists: George Ironstrack, Assistant Director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University; Stephen Warren, Professor of History at the University of Iowa; and Holly Cusack-McVeigh, Professor of Anthropology and Museum Studies at IUPUI.

Each panelist addressed a central question: How have Native Americans continued to be outsiders in their own land?

Cusack-McVeigh spoke first, using her experience with a water quality project in Alaska to examine how different backgrounds can affect our perspectives.  She focused on the theme of place: the western view of place is that of inanimate land, whereas the Yup’ik Eskimos, with whom she had worked, viewed the land as a “revered ancestor.”  She explained that issues facing indigenous peoples are more than just tangible losses, but of cultural and spiritual losses.

Ironstrack spoke next, drawing on his time with the Myaamia Center, a department hosted by the Miami of Oklahoma at Miami University of Ohio.  He focused on the theme of otherness; following the forced relocation of Myaamia from their homes in Indiana to Kansas and, after the Civil War, to Oklahoma, a division was created within the tribe.  Those who had stayed behind in Indiana were isolated and, still to this day, cannot on their own qualify as a federally recognized tribe.  He concluded that it’s more than just a spatial problem; the Myaamia in Indiana lack the basis for legal and political sovereignty, and with it the rights and connection to others with whom they identify as out-of-state kin.

The final speaker was Warren, who used his experience as a non-Native to address issues that face indigenous peoples today.  He spoke on the theme of appropriation, brought about especially in the Midwest by repeated attempts at ethnic cleansing of those native to the territory.  Appropriation is the adoption of American Indian culture by non-natives.  One of the most destructive trends in Ohio is the repeated desecration of graves by amateur archaeologists, taking advantage of laws allowing the excavation of cemeteries, and by private land owners who choose to destroy burial mounds on their land for fear of reduced property value.  He warned that this destruction and the trend of appropriation will continue until it is recognized as the serious threat that it is.

After a brief Q&A session, the crowd went to the GBL for the opening of the new exhibit, “Mapping Indiana Territory: Exploring Indigenous and Western Representations,” a display of maps from the Indiana territory through the years.  The exhibit is also accessible online.

Thanks to our panelists for a great discussion, and to the Mathers Museum for having us!

Did you miss the talk?  Watch it on our Facebook.

Upcoming Event: October 6, 2017

Negotiating Homelands and Sovereignty in Indiana Territory

Friday, October 6, 2017
Devault Gallery, Mathers Museum of World Cultures

George Ironstrack – Assistant Director of the Myaamia Center, Miami Tribe of Oklahoma
Stephen Warren – Professor of History, University of Iowa
Marcus Winchester – Director of Language and Culture, Pokagan Band of the Potawatomi
Holly Cusack-McVeigh – Professor of Anthropology & Museum Studies, IUPUI
Discussion Moderator:
Heather Williams – Program Assistant for IU First Nations Educational & Cultural Center

As part of the Indiana University 2017 Themester, “Diversity • Difference • Otherness,” the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology will host a public panel discussion exploring the intersections between difference, place, Indigenous identities, and tribal sovereignty in Indiana, past and present. “Negotiating Homelands and Sovereignty in Indiana Territory” will bring together tribal scholars, historians, and anthropologists to discuss different perspectives on how “otherness” and sovereign identities of tribes for whom Indiana Territory is considered homeland have been constructed, negotiated, and deconstructed in the wake of colonial expansion. Expert panelists will address the central question, “How have Native Americans continued to be considered “outsiders” in their ancestral tribal homelands?” Following panel presentations, there will be a moderated discussion, time for questions from the audience, and a reception with refreshments.

You won’t want to miss it!

#AskACurator Day

September 14, 2017

by Hannah Rea, Social Media Intern

On September 13, the GBL participated in #AskACurator Day, which is a chance for anyone to send question in to participating museums.  The GBL was one of some 1500 museums from more than 50 countries around the world that took part.  More information on the day can be found here .

One question the GBL received was related to the recent devastation caused by hurricanes in the Southern United States and the Caribbean:

Q: What role do curators play in developing disaster preparedness plans for artifacts and museum collections?  What are the priorities of curators when returning to post-disaster museums and collections which have incurred significant damage?

A: The first step upon return is assessing damage.  Then as necessary, re-bag and re-tag artifacts that can be saved, kill mold, deal with bacteria, move the artifacts to a stable environment, etc.  Most institutions already have a disaster plan in place to deal with such situations, which is made with the help of curators/administration, depending on the affiliations of the museum.

Here are answers from our staff to a few more questions that were asked with the hashtag throughout the day!

Q: What proportion of your collection do you have on display?

A: It’s hard to even give a ballpark estimate; we have millions of artifacts, the bulk of which isn’t able to be exhibited for various reasons (i.e. pottery sherds, time-sensitive artifacts).  It would probably be less than 1%. (Melody Pope, Curator of Collections)

Q: What social media methods are museums using to appeal to Millennials?

A: Lots of museums are doing more ‘Live’ events on Facebook and Twitter, and giving followers a look into what goes on behind the scenes at their favorite institutions.  There are also several campaigns that museums have had success with, including #DayofArchaeology, which the GBL took part in over the summer.  One-on-one interaction is really important to increasing awareness and interest in museums and their collections! (Hannah Rea, Social Media Intern)

Q: What was the most recent item that made you think, ‘I can’t believe I get to do this for a living’?

A: A month or so ago, Bailey and I needed to gather artifacts to take some requested images, and a mastodon tooth was on the list. I told Bailey I knew where one was without having to check the database, and it occurred to me that I’m so lucky to have a job where I get to say things like, “Follow me, I know where to find a mastodon molar in the back.” (Alex Elliott, Collections Assistant)

Q: What are some of the hardest objects to conserve in your collection?

A: Negatives are difficult because of the way they age and decompose. A good deal of our large format acetate negatives suffer from warping, bubbles, and channeling. (Bailey Foust, Collections Assistant)

Thanks to all who participated in this year’s #AskACurator Day!

Drums Along the Scioto

April 11, 2017

by Hannah Rea, Social Media Intern

The Mathers Museum of World Cultures Classroom was packed full of people for a lunchtime talk on Tuesday, April 11.

The discussion, entitled “Drums Along the Scioto: losing our marbles but gaining new insights on Hopewell material culture from contemporary Shawnee ceremonial practices,” was a joint presentation of a collaborative research project by Ben Barnes, Second Chief of the Shawnee Tribe, and Dr. Brad Lepper, Senior Curator of Archaeology for the Ohio History Connection.

In the talk, they discussed objects found at the larger Seip Mound in the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park in Ohio.  Specifically, five small stone orbs –Steatite Spheres.  Unearthed in excavations led by Henry Shetrone in the 1920s, they were previously thought to have been marbles used as children’s toys.

Second Chief Barnes and Dr. Lepper described that Shetrone likely arrived at this conclusion by using his current context, as marbles were a popular pastime of American children in the ‘20s; however, Second Chief Barnes pointed out, there is no evidence of such games existing in American Indian culture.

A possible identity can be found in the practice of using water drums, common throughout the centuries in various tribes across America: cylindrical bowls or dishes, sometimes made of wood, which are covered in various types of animal hides, are secured; around the edges, small round stones are pulled tightly and tied in place under the hide.  The stones seem to bear a striking resemblance to those found in the Seip Mound excavation.

Dr. Lepper explained that he hoped this possible identification would open a discussion on new interpretations of the objects, saying it was an “exciting opportunity” moving forward to increase conversation on Hopewell culture.

Video of the talk at the links below:

Part One

Part Two

The GBL at the Lotus World Bazaar

April 3, 2017

by Hannah Rea, Social Media Intern

On Friday and Saturday last week, staff from the Glenn Black Lab ran a table at the 22nd Lotus Blossoms World Bazaar.  One of many booths in the gym of Binford Elementary School, the GBL’s table featured ‘rock art,’ which asked students to imagine the paper was the wall of their family’s cave.  Staff then asked them what was important to them, such as a pet or family member, that they would want to have on their cave wall for archaeologists to discover thousands of years later.

The activity helped students understand how messages were conveyed before systems of written language existed.  It also described the difference between petroglyphs –which are etched into rock– and pictographs –which are painted.

There were many different pictures shared by the students; here are some of our favorites:

A face

Two dragons

A Celtic knot

A squid

And, of course, we joined in the fun:

Other booths included several typewriters from the Writers’ Guild, on which people could type their own haikus or construct them from fragments of other sources; seeds from the Bloomington Community Orchard that students could plant in cups of dirt; several gourd instruments, medieval calligraphy and many, many more.

The fair was open to the community on Saturday for Family Day.

The Beauty of Shawnee Pottery

September 23, 2016

by Hannah Rea, Social Media Intern

The screen at the front of the room filled with pictures of elaborately sculpted pots as Ben Barnes, Second Chief of the Shawnee Tribe, described traditional Shawnee pottery and efforts to recreate it.  Second Chief Barnes presented “Beauty of Shawnee Pottery” from 4-5:30, September 23, to a packed crowd at the Mathers Museum.

The talk, sponsored by IU’s Beauty Themester, detailed the restoration of Shawnee ceramic art, as well as the recovery of the methods used to make them.

“The way ceramics were made…signifies this region had a very specific cultural paradigm,” he said.  This paradigm would shift away from ceramic pots to metal kettles, acquired through trade with the Spanish.

“For Shawnee People, pottery was largely gone by the 1700s,” Second Chief Barnes said.  “Metal pots were superior because they traveled well.”

Second Chief Barnes compared the curiosity to a seed, planted by a question of one of the tribe’s elders: What did Shawnee pottery look like?

“As historians water that seed, Shawnees are coming into this information, sometimes for the first time,” he said.

The ongoing project is a collaboration between among the three federally recognized Shawnee tribes and scholars from University of Kentucky, University of Iowa and Indiana University, as well as from the Ohio History Connection.  Second Chief Barnes said the hope is to create a new record of Shawnee People pre-European contact.

In shaping the project, influence was taken from Eli Lilly’s method of triangulation: approaching a problem from different angles.  Lilly popularized the approach by hiring people from different disciplines in order to gain different perspectives and study a problem in an interdisciplinary way.

“We believe triangulation has largely been forgotten,” Second Chief Barnes said.  “Perhaps we can have these interdisciplinary teams, too.”

These teams have helped in their own way toward the ultimate goal of using pottery methods to learn about Shawnee history.  One area of particular interest in the language utilized in the creation of and daily use of the pots.

Second Chief Barnes explained the importance of verbs in the Shawnee language, and how, “The use of the thing usually describes the thing.”  He continued, “The verb becomes the center of the universe.  Verbs become nouns.”

Thanks to the different partners the project has, there is a variety of experience in this and other areas of interest.  The Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, the Eastern Shawnee and the Absentee Shawnee Tribe are all actively involved in the efforts, as well as artisans and potters who apply their modern experience to the ancient art.

“We would be nothing if we didn’t have master potters, master artists to guide us,” Second Chief Barnes said.

Working in tandem, the groups involved have been able to recreate to ballpark temporal and geological zones for the methods: areas of Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and northern Kentucky from 1400-1550 C.E.  This time and place aligns with the archaeological culture known as Late Fort Ancient.  Most of the pots that have been recovered and are used as models are cord-marked with thick handles and thin vessel walls.  Without tests to figure out the exact composition of the pots’ shell-based temper, trial and error taught the potters that the calcium carbonite they needed could not come from just any shell.

“Little did we know that all shells are not equal,” Second Chief Barnes laughed, explaining the difficulties in finding the correct ratio of shell to clay.  He continued that once they found an ideal shell – burned and crushed mussels – they faced difficulties in finding good sources of clay, and sources of the shells themselves, since mussels are endangered locally in Oklahoma.

After finding the clay and adding the temper, the mix is cured, sitting in a fine paste for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the potter.  Then it is formed, usually into a discoidal shape that gradually will become globular.  Cord markings are used to stretch the clay and help remove air bubbles, and handles, usually two or four, are added.

The piece then must dry until all moisture is removed, before it can begin firing.  Starting at a low temperature to acclimate it, the pot will eventually be put into the coals and brought to a glow.  Second Chief Barnes showed photos of what happens to pots upon over-firing: “I don’t think disintegration is too strong a word to use.  They just crumble.”

In the future, he said the project hopes to do several things.  Firstly, to create a database of Ohio Valley Late Fort Ancient ceramics.  Next, to source temper and clay to be able to pinpoint the natural sources used in creating the pot, to trace what village it came from.  Finally, to use the organic residue to determine the vessel’s function and, in the case of food remains, try to decipher some of the food culture that has been lost over the centuries.

“We might be able to see new things about our people and look backwards through time to see, ‘Okay, here’s when beans arrived,’” Second Chief Barnes said.  “It’s a unique thing to be able to write a page of your own history.”

Watch the talk here.