OUTREACH IS GROWING!

By Van Samuels, Outreach Specialist

Yes, Outreach is “growing” in more ways than one can imagine.  We’re growing in personnel, as we welcome Seminole Tribal member, Jake Osceola, to the Outreach team.  Outreach is literally growing, as well.  No, not in body mass index or age! (Although some would agree with that last sentence)  Outreach is growing a garden—a Seminole garden to be exact.

SEMINOLE GARDEN CONSTRUCTION UNDERWAY

Enhancing the visitor experience has been one of the many on-going endeavors of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  This continued goal is evident within the interactive areas of the museum galleries and with the exciting exhibits that are forthcoming.  The Outreach staff has also been instrumental in working towards the mission of enhancing the visitor experience with the renovation and improvements at the museum amphitheater to ultimately provide cultural, educational, and informational Storytelling/Wildlife presentations (which are already underway).

The latest of the Outreach projects is currently under construction—the establishment of a Seminole garden.  Historically speaking, gardens were an essential element to survival in the Seminole camps throughout the Everglades, providing the sustenance of life, vegetables and fruits.

The proposed location of the garden is the area next to the replica ceremonial grounds, right before you arrive at the Living Village alongside the boardwalk.  Let’s take a look……

Approaching the Living Village, visitors will see the hint of some sort of development in the brush… what could it possibly be?

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The following are images of the ongoing construction currently underway

Jake and Rei discussing log placement and garden structure….

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Van “appearing” to supervise..……..from a safe elevated boardwalk distance

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GREAT JOB GUYS!

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This project is still in the developmental stages and will be completed in the near future. However, further information and images of the garden will be forthcoming as the garden begins to take shape and vegetables eventually grow, so stay tuned OR simply make plans to visit the Big Cypress Seminole reservation and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to behold our progress. SHONABISH!

 

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176 Years of Experience

By Mary Beth Rosebrough, Research Coordinator

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum collects, preserves, protects and interprets Seminole culture and history – inspiring an appreciation and understanding of the Seminole people.” This is the Museum’s mission statement. It reflects our desire to reach every one of our visitors, researchers and guests. We strive to do this with a multi-generational approach to educating and learning. With that goal in mind, we would like to introduce you to our multi-generational Collections Library staff.

We found, after a little research of our own, that this year the ages of our four Library staff members fell into four successive decades. We thought it would be fun to take a photo and reveal to our readers how different generations complement and support each other here at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

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First, from left to right, we have Tennile Jackson, 29, fittingly the newest staff member in the Library. Tennile likes to say she has been working in museums her entire life (well, since high school). After starting out as a biology major at FGCU (one of our favorite universities), she fell in love with art history after taking the course required of all students. A degree in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Art History followed. Tennile acquired a second Bachelor’s degree in Art History while working at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami and her career path was set! A Master’s degree in Museum Studies with a Certificate in Cultural Heritage Preservation from Syracuse University, and a stint in Americorps, landed her in Ohio, working in the Collections Department of the state’s Historical Society. While there she wrote a definitive book on Collection Care, which we use at our museum today. As the Collections Assistant, Tennile catalogs and creates housing for literally thousands of archival materials – bringing a fresh approach to dusty papers and musty tomes!

Second from left is our Collections Manager, Tara Backhouse, 39. Tara has over 15 years of experience in museums, moving with ease into positions of ever-increasing responsibility. A graduate degree in Anthropology, working at a museum in New Mexico, and a job as a (archaeological site) photographer in west Texas gave her the experience necessary to start a career in collections management. Tara came to the museum with her husband, Dr. Paul Backhouse, and began as a Research Assistant. She continued her career’s forward trajectory by getting a certificate in Museum Collections Management and Care from George Washington University, and receiving a Master’s degree in Library Information Studies from FSU. Much of the studying for these two academic achievements was done on the hour and half long drive to and from work at the museum – an achievement in itself! Thanks to Dr. Backhouse for doing the driving – we appreciate your support! Tara provides the leadership required to handle the varied duties of a manager here as well as the energy to accomplish the Museum’s mission.

Third from left, we have James Powell, 49. James brings 30 years of experience and knowledge to the position of Registrar, resulting from a varied, yet focused career in the Collections field. In the late 80s James earned a degree in Political Science from UF and worked at the University Gallery. Then on to the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photos Division, Tulane’s Manuscripts and Rare Books department, and the Historic New Orleans Collection as Curatorial Cataloguer. And if that isn’t enough, James earned a second Bachelor’s Degree, this time in Art History! From there, back to D.C. and the Library of Congress, in the Conservation Division, and a Master of Library Science degree from Catholic University. With degree in hand, James went to National Public Radio to help catalogue and archive the broadcast content of programs such as All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Talk of the Nation. James returned to his home state of Florida and happily came to work at the museum, first as Associate Registrar, moving to Registrar within the year. When we have a question about anything related to archives, artifacts or books, you know who we call – James!

To the far right is me, Mary Beth Rosebrough, 59, Research Coordinator. I am the poster child for “Never Give Up on Your Dreams!” because I landed my dream job at age 58. It all began with an internship at the Museum in the fall of 2009, while earning a second Bachelor’s degree, this time in Anthropology with a focus in Archaeology. While interning, I learned there was little piece of heaven on earth right in the Museum – a position called “Research Coordinator” in the Collections Division, researching and writing on Seminole culture while running the Library. What could be better? After my internship ended, I stayed on at the Museum for three and a half more years as a volunteer, continuing to associate with the interesting people who had the fascinating jobs I’ve described here (where else could you have a serious conversation about the best way to house a newspaper article from the 1930s?) while experiencing the beauty of the Museum and its surroundings. Luckily for me, the job as Research Coordinator opened up in June of 2013 and it has been a cloud nine experience ever since. My job depends on my public relations and years of volunteer experience to work with those who visit the Library. Want to come and do some research? Please call me!

Our multi-generational approach to Museum Collections has been a rewarding experience for us all. We represent the computer generation and the service generation, the newly minted and the weathered coin, working together in an effort to foster cohesiveness and accomplishment. We hope our multi-generational group complements and comprehends our fellow staff members and museum visitors, as we merge our strengths and serve the community of Big Cypress!

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Behind, Under and Over – Views of a Keeper

by Nora Pinell-Hernandez, Exhibits Preparator

Hi Friends,

If you ever visit the museum towards the end of the month, early or late enough in the day, you may spot a wild haired little lady wearing something that looks like a proton pack from the movie Ghost Busters. When the vacuum cleaner strapped around her waist is turned off her presence in the dioramas is almost unnoticeable. If you follow the bright yellow extension cord into the lively scenes in the permanent galleries you will see her crouching, crawling, tip-toeing or turning in the speed of a moving snail as not to disturb any props or mannequins surrounding her. Another clue of her presence is a plank of wood set carefully aside a tiny opening the size of a personal cooler. From that tiny opening she will awkwardly crawl out, dusty and a bit disheveled.

This wild haired little lady is me – keeper of the mannequins, light fixtures, and digital devices. Along with my other duties as painter, carpenter and art handler I vacuum clean the mannequins every month and assure that the light fixtures in the galleries are properly illuminating our displays. Visitors typically say in a startled tone, “I didn’t even know you were in there.” The less surprised visitors usually say, “I bet you see things no one else does.” It is true – even most of our other museum employees do not see the exhibits as I do. Behind alcoves, under acrylic sheets, on silk plants and over the shoulder of a mannequin I get to experience the exhibit in a unique way.

Below are pictures of the marvelous scenes I encounter during my treks inside the dioramas. I challenge you to identify from what vantage view these pictures were taken from in your next trip to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. And please, don’t be startled if you see me crawl out from under a chickee.

 

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Where Does Customer Service Begin?

by Gene Davis, Museum Facilities Manager

The Facilities Section of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum believes that customer service really begins long before patrons enter our buildings. As a matter of fact, most of our guests whether individual families or tour groups plan their museum visit well in advance. It is unusual for people to be unexpected visitors at our remote location who just stopped in for a couple of hours while on their way down town.

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Our work group believes that customer service initially begins on the day when people leave their home with the intent of paying us a visit. We are relatively easy to find because the road to our front door from the Interstate only goes in one direction. Seventeen miles up Josie Billie Highway brings you to our parking lot. We believe that sufficient and accurate signage along the roadway directing you to our facility is an essential feature of customer service.

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Once in our parking lot the first impression of our facility begins. How often have you pulled into a business parking lot noticing trash scattered about, weeds growing through cracks in the pavement or broken parking space stops making you feel that it was not a well-run establishment? Our parking lot welcomes visitors with its clean pavement, appropriate handicap parking spaces, multiple trash containers and adequate signage directing visitors from their cars guiding them onto the paver brick walkway leading to the museum.

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Walking past purposely-positioned native plants and shrubs on their way to the front of the museum; people casually meander along the pathway or stop at the Everglades Trail kiosk for site information. Then they cross the street passing through our perimeter wall entry gate on the pedestrian sidewalk before crossing over the front pond via the elevated wooden walkway. Momentarily stopping to look around from the walkway visitors can spot fish, birds and reptiles as the campfire aroma draws them onward to the comfortable fire pavilion directly in front of the main museum building.

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Some people choose to relax here at the fire pavilion by sitting on a log bench and looking into the campfire that is maintained during business hours. Here again they notice the plant arrangements, the palm trees surrounding the circular driveway, and the centrally located life size statue of Abiaki that is a popular picture taking scene.

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This relaxing atmosphere is the exact first impression we desire to display. Is your walk from the car to our museum entry doors part of customer service? We believe that it is because customers and visitors receive their first opinion of our facility by visually inspecting it and making judgments on its cleanliness and appearance. Our intention is to impress visitors with our facilities. Accomplishing that task all the way from the parking lot through our entire complex will likely impact overall customer satisfaction as well as their eagerness to return or tell someone else about us.

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Strengthening External Relationships: The Army Corps of Engineers Cultural Immersion Workshop

By Carrie Dilley, Joy Murphy, and Annette Snapp

During the first week of March, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum hosted the Army Corps of Engineers Cultural Immersion Workshop. The first on-campus Army Corps Workshop happened in 2008, but in 2014 we wanted to shake things up and make it a truly immersive experience.  The Museum set out to educate the Army Corps about Seminole culture, and to help them understand their connection to the land from the Tribe’s perspective.  We also wanted to foster a better understanding of the different ideologies of the two groups in order to build a more harmonious working relationship.   A combination of eager Museum and THPO staff, the Big Cypress Community, Seminole Tribal members, and excited Army Corps participants willing to take in Seminole culture made the workshop a huge success.

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The workshop kicked off with an orientation inside the Museum’s theater. Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits, opened with a discussion of the Dimock Collection photographs.  Dr. Backhouse and Councilman Tiger welcomed participants to Big Cypress and Willie Johns gave a talk about Seminole history. Following the presentations, there was a tour of the Museum.

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Day one ended at Billie Swamp Safari with storytelling by Everett Osceola and Ollie Wareham, followed by a Twilight Swamp Expedition. Workshop participants spent the evening in the chickee dorms at Billie Swamp Safari.

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Day two started with various section of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) giving presentations. The THPO frequently works with the Army Corps on various projects and the audience was full of questions. Colonel Dodd (Army Corps) and Mr. Tommie (Seminole Tribe) both reflected on the importance of relationship building between the Tribes and the Army Corps.  Following lunch, a tour of the boardwalk given by Rey Beccera exposed the participants to important flora and fauna within Big Cypress.

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The three generations of Seminoles discussion engaged the audience by offering insights on the past, present, and future of the Tribe from three different Tribal member perspectives—Quenton Cypress (high school student), Everett Osceola (30-something adult), and Willie Johns (senior).

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The traditional dinner served in the Museum’s Living Village reflected many traditional foods enjoyed by Seminoles including lapoli (pan bread), gator tail, frog legs, garfish, sofkee, and swamp cabbage. Participants came from all over the country and most of them had never sampled these foods before.

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A trip to Egmont Key (outside of Tampa Bay) on day three helped show a critical part of Seminole history—a time when Seminoles were removed from their homes and sent to Indian Territory. Egmont Key had been a holding area for Seminoles en route to Oklahoma.  It is simultaneously a source of pride and a source of sorrow for Tribal members.  It represents the tenacity of a people who refused to give up their lands by signing a peace treaty with the United States Government and at the same time reminds them of the hardships and loss they had to endure at the hands of the United States Government. The Army Corps of Engineers itself faces challenges at Egmont Key due to heavy erosion.  Without steps taken on the part of the Army Corps, the natural process will result in the loss of the entire island in time.  By visiting, they learned about the cultural significance of the island and the potential impact on people.

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On the way back from Egmont Key we stopped at the Brighton reservation to give participants a glimpse of life on a different reservation and to show them key historic and modern buildings.

Day four consisted of the workshop wrap-up. Here the participants had the opportunity to provide feedback about their experience; they expressed their enjoyment and gratitude for such a great event.  We successfully shared the Seminole story and the Army Corps participants listened!

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Facing the Digital Future: Bringing Oral History into the 21st Century

By Stephen Bridenstine, Oral History Coordinator

Deep within the archives at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum there exists a special collection that is neither printed page nor Indian craft. It does not take up endless shelves of space but rather sits neatly in one small corner. And its value lies not in the physical objects themselves but rather in the precious information held within. It is the Oral History Collection.

As the new Oral History Coordinator, I inherited the responsibility to care for this collection, one of the most unique resources here at the Museum. Over eighty years, Seminole Tribal citizens, outside researchers, and Museum employees created an archive that reaches back to the earliest days of Seminole history. It is a collection that tells many stories, in many languages, in many different ways. And every month that goes by, it grows just a little bit more.

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Rows of CD and DVD boxes are the most common sight within the collection

While the Oral History Collection is indeed a rich cultural treasure, as an archive it presents some unique and daunting challenges. Take for example the diversity of its physical forms. At least five different recording formats including micro cassettes, U-matic tapes, and MiniDVs exist in the collection, each the go-to format from decades past. What they all have in common, however, is their shared reliance on magnetic tape, a thin plastic strip coated with a magnetized layer built for practicality but not for longevity. Even under perfect archival conditions, these items slowly degrade putting the cultural heritage of the Seminole Tribe at risk. This prompted the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to invest in the costly and time consuming process of digitization, completed in 2012. But with one problem solved, another soon arose.

In our increasingly digital world, nearly everyone has experienced the frustration of a scratched DVD, a failing hard drive, or a broken iPod. But the cost to replace a Hollywood film or musical hit is nothing compared to the literally irreplaceable treasures in the Oral History Collection. How do we then ensure the survival of a now completely digital collection still subject to hardware failures and technological obsolescence? And just as importantly, how do we make this collection open and accessible to the Seminole community without compromising its integrity?

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The source material for a new all-digital collection

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is currently working with Seminole IT and several outside vendors to find the best solution to both these problems. While most data storage is moving onto the internet these days, questions of security and sovereignty unique to this collection and the Seminole Tribe prevent a similar transition. The recordings are simply too precious to send off into the information super highway. Likewise, maintaining a digital collection within the Tribe facilitates the second goal.

Imagine any Tribal citizen being able to walk into a Reservation library, sitting down at a computer, and having the entire Oral History Collection just a click away. A tribal YouTube, if you will, exclusively about and for citizens of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. It is a lofty goal but one that would pay dividends for decades to come.

This is the future for audiovisual collections everywhere. Taking the jumbled mass of media from 200 years of creative endeavors and transforming it into a streamlined, accessible, digital archive. While the Oral History Collection here at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum has restricted access, the methods and models we have employed can be applied to archives anywhere.

To learn more about our project or for general inquiries, please contact Oral History Coordinator Stephen Bridenstine at 863-902-1113 ext. 12213 or stephenbridenstine@semtribe.com

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Opening the Vault: Artifact of the Month Program

By Kate Macuen, Collections Manager

Did you know that museums and collecting institutions are only able to display a small percentage of their collections at a time?  Space, resources, and the fact that many artifacts cannot stay on exhibit for long periods of time due to preservation constraints are a few of the reasons behind this sometimes frustrating visitor experience.  Many museums have made creative efforts to increase a visitor’s access and to share their vast collections through open storage solutions, collection tours, and online exhibitions.

The Tribal Historic Preservation Office has been working hard on trying to increase access into the Tribe’s archaeological collections.  Currently, we do not have permanent exhibit space on campus, and although we are working on the development of future exhibitions, we realized there is a need to open our vault doors. 

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 Starting in January, the THPO Collections staff launched a new online program called Artifact of the Month.  It’s a way for us to highlight unique and interesting artifacts in the collections that visitors would not normally get to see.  At the beginning of each month, a new artifact is chosen and displayed on the THPO’s website and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s Facebook page.  The object’s photograph is accompanied by a description and history. In addition, our online visitors will also be able to browse through previous months’ artifacts.  The selection process is simple.  Artifacts that help tell the in-depth story of Seminole culture and history will be presented and of course staff favorites will be highlighted now and again!

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Check Out February’s Artifact of the Month!

 By this summer we hope to expand this program by installing an exhibit case in our Archaeological and Conservation Laboratory to display each month’s featured artifact.  Our Laboratory can be viewed by visitors through the Observation hallway, which is part of the mile long boardwalk at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  

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For more information and to check out this month’s featured artifact please visit us at

http://www.stofthpo.com/Artifact-of-the-Month.html

or

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s Facebook page

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