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!

Upcoming Event: October 6, 2017

Negotiating Homelands and Sovereignty in Indiana Territory

Friday, October 6, 2017
4:00pm
Devault Gallery, Mathers Museum of World Cultures

Participants:
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!

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.

The Beauty of Shawnee Pottery — Press Release

September 16, 2016

The Glenn Black Laboratory of Archaeology is hosting the Second Chief of the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.  Second Chief Benjamin Barnes is scheduled to speak at the Mathers Museum, in conjunction with the opening of a new exhibit at the Laboratory.

“The Beauty of Shawnee Pottery” will be held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. September 23, at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures Classroom, and light refreshments will be served at a reception beforehand.  Second Chief Benjamin Barnes will speak about the ongoing project to restore traditional Shawnee pottery, and open an exhibit of the restored works to the public.

The project is a collaboration between members of all three Shawnee Tribes – the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, the Eastern Shawnee and the Absentee Shawnee Tribe – and scholars from University of Kentucky, University of Iowa and Indiana University, as well as from Ohio History Connection.

The project intends to rediscover ancient ceramic technologies that were disrupted by European colonization, Liam Murphy, public programs and exhibits coordinator for the Glenn Black Laboratory, said.

“This project is an attempt to reclaim ancestral ceramic arts of the Shawnee,” Murphy said.

The event is sponsored by the Glenn Black Laboratory and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Beauty Themester.