Exciting Changes in the Museum!

by Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits

It is very rare for a museum to completely shut down and de-install their exhibits. One good reason is to make renovations and updates. We recently had our ceiling and rafters re-stained and re-painted and new carpet installed. Both of these items were original to the building’s opening in 1997. For the long-term maintenance of the museum, these were redone.

More visible changes were made to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki including opening up the museum shop by adding another doorway. And, replacing the visitor services desk – this new desk makes it easier for wheelchair bound visitors to purchase tickets and receive information from our visitor services staff and tour guides.

A New Opening

A new opening is made into the gift shop wall, adding accessibility and space.

The process for closing the museum required us to remove all of the objects, mannequins, and other items out of the galleries for safekeeping in our vaults. Not everything in our exhibits is moveable. Items, like our large canoe and trees, were covered In plastic so any paint drops wouldn’t ruin them.

Teamwork Ensures Safety

Working as a team ensures that large items, like this Noah Billie painting, are moved carefully.

Taking down and putting up exhibitions require a lot of help and careful coordination. We worked in teams and started with the most important items first: the historic objects on loan from other institutions such as the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, historic objects from the Museum’s own collection, and finally the mannequins. As many of you know, the mannequins are life-castings of tribal members. Because of this, we value them very highly and their take special care in moving and storing them.

Binding the Necklaces to keep them Safe

One step to keeping the mannequins safe is to wrap the women’s necklaces with plastic – this way they won’t break or get lost along the way.

Uncovering the Trees

Once the painters and carpet-layers are done we uncovered all the trees and other non-moveable backdrops.

As we gear up to re-open the museum on September 25th, we have begun to put the exhibitions back together. All of our permanent galleries will be exactly as they were prior to renovations. We will put back two temporary exhibitions: It’s Not a Costume – Modern Seminole Patchwork and Guy LaBree: Painted Stories of the Seminoles. We will also feature a new exhibition: Seminole Spirit, which highlights a couple of photographs by noted photographer Russell James, of Nomad Two Worlds.

The re-opening on the 25th coincides with National Indian Day and is part of the Tribe’s series of event occurring throughout the week and on various reservations. At the museum we will feature food tastings, guided tours, presentations, and a talk and film premiere with Russell James. The museum is open from 9-5 and events will run from 10-4. Come and join us!

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You Stay Classy San Diego: A Vlog from the Esri Conference

By Juan J. Cancel, Chief Data Analyst and Roberto Luque, Geospatial Analyst

Figuring out how geography can be applied everywhere was the theme for this year’s Esri User Conference. This is a conference with attendees from all over the world, that gather to help advance spatial understanding. We wanted to create a unique experience for our blog readers, so we decided to do a daily video blog to capture our trip. I hope everyone enjoys this and understands that our attendence represents more than just ourselves, it represents where we stand as an office and a Tribe amongst GIS professionals from around the world. We also want to thank Dennis Zielstra our videographer and Kate Macuen our video editor, we would not have been able to make this vlog without them. To view the vlog, please follow the YouTube link.

PS – Shout to all our peeps we forgot in the video: To Anne, Moe, Brad, Beck, all THPO Staff, all Museum Staff, Seminole Tribe and anyone else we forgot to mention! :)

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Honoring Alice Snow

By Megan Smith

Lake Tupke

Lake Tupke

Nestled between an exotic Caribbean garden and the colorful native Florida plant life at the Naples Botanical Garden is Lake Tupke, a charming man-made lake that has been named after the Seminole Medicine Carrier, Alice Snow. The lake, a year in the making, was a restoration of the native Florida Everglades environment which had become overgrown with invasive plant life.  The lake was officially opened last November 15 with a naming ceremony attended by Tribal members and other dignitaries. The chirping of native birds that have made their way back to the garden, the bubbling of fountains, and quiet cobblestone walkways filled with mosaics make this quaint garden the perfect place to honor such an inspiring Seminole tribal member.

Plants in the garden

Plants in the garden

Alice Snow was born in 1922, on the outskirts of Lake Okeechobee, where she grew up living in a village beneath the palmetto frond roof of a chickee. In her later years, she lived on the Brighton Reservation where she shared her knowledge as an herbalist by teaching her children and others about medicinal plants.

Alice Snow

Alice Snow

Spanning a generation of great social transition that included her move from her village to the reservation, Alice Snow witnessed many changes in Seminole life and tradition. She hoped that sharing her knowledge of healing plants would bring both traditional Seminole roots and the modern world together. She wrote and did research for a book entitled “Healing Plants: Medicine of the Florida Seminole Indians” alongside Susan Enns Stans that covers the uses and traditions of medicinal plants found in the Everglades. She also shared some of her knowledge with visitors, volunteers, and staff at the Naples Botanical Garden, inspiring the dedication in her honor.

Alice Snow with her twins

Alice Snow with her twins

The resilience of the Seminole people is shown clearly in Alice Snow’s work with medicinal plants as she shared her knowledge and gift with others. Much like Alice Snow, preserving and protecting Seminole culture and history is one of the primary efforts of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum where people from all around the world travel to learn about the livelihood and deep history of the tribe. Future garden-goers may stumble upon Lake Tupke, curious as to whom the Seminoles are, hopefully choosing to satisfy their curiosity and visit our museum to learn more. There is no better way to honor Alice Snow’s memory than to share both her work as a Medicine Carrier and the rich culture of the Seminoles with the Naples Botanical Garden and their visitors.

If you are in the Naples area and feel the need for a calming respite, come in and stroll the shores of Lake Tupke at the Naples Botanical Garden!

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Summer Lovin

by Joy Murphy, Education Coordinator

Summertime brings lots of new, exciting, and some not-so-exciting things to The Museum. First, we’re sad to say goodbye to our Tribal student interns and volunteers. All of our Tribal student interns and volunteers attend Ahfachkee School on the reservation and the Education Section oversees their experience at the museum. Some have graduated and will be attending college this fall and after a short break, some will return to work with us either this summer or in the next school year. We were happy to have them and appreciate all of their hard work.

Some of the things that summer brings, such as the rain and the bugs, induce moans and groans. Other things, like baby animals and blooming flowers, bring about smiles of happiness. For the Education Section, summer means kids, activities, and fun.

Yes, this is the busiest and best time of year for the Education Section! For the third year in a row, we will participate in the Big Cypress Boys and Girls Club summer camp. An average of twenty campers will come to The Museum weekly for an hour of activities that will include storytelling, animal shows, and crafts. The campers are not required to come to The Museum, but volunteer to come because they enjoy the fun experiences that we offer.

For the second year, we will work with the 21st Century Learning program at Ahfachkee School. The 21st Century Learning grant, through the Florida Department of Education and the United States Department of Education, funds the program. This program focuses on S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) subjects. This year, we will teach them about scale and ratio by replicating buildings with Legos. Needless to say, we are very excited about “playing” with Legos.

Finally, for the third year, we will participate in the Family Services annual teen and youth camps. These camps are held at Camp Kulaqua in High Springs, Florida. For two weeks, campers will learn about nutrition, exercise, history, and culture in a fun, safe environment. This is collaboration with several different Tribal departments across all reservations. It’s an opportunity to introduce The Museum to Seminole youth from reservations that we don’t have the opportunity to work with on a regular basis, as well as build relationships with other Tribal departments and employees. This has been a great experience for us.



Figure 1: Winning “Minion” from the boxcar derby at youth camp. Tribal youth and Museum staff helped worked together to create this masterpiece.

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Operation: Extraction

by Marlene Gray, Conservator

Pssst…well hello there! Want to hear about an extraction operation that recently happened at the Museum? The escapade involves the return of some very fragile objects to a land very far away. By far away, I mean Washington, D.C., but that is way up north! It was quite a production involving multiple agents and exotic locales, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Shall we start from the beginning and see what adventures the Collections Division has been up to for the past few months?

Background on the Case

Since the early days, the Museum has held a long-term loan agreement with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) to display many of their Seminole artifacts here in the permanent gallery space. Over the years, the Museum has released custody of said objects back to NMAI, save for a few that remain in cases. Five objects – a turban plume, a belt loom, a set of two beaded earrings and a necklace were chosen this time around to be couriered back to Headquarters (a.k.a. NMAI) and take a break from the limelight of exhibit display. You see friends, objects like these tell pieces of the Seminole story to Museum visitors. In order to keep them around for many years into the future, objects should rest in a secure storage environment with cushy supports, away from the harmful effects of continuous light exposure and the poking and prodding of the stiff Plexiglas and metal mounts that have held them in a static position.

A few months before the big de-installation mission, Agent Registrar and Agent Conservator gathered intelligence from NMAI’s conservator, Susan Heald (a.k.a. the Transporter). Discussions were had in regards to how the objects were to be handled, travel arrangements to and from D.C. and Big Cypress, and the hazardous travels around alligator-infested canals. We had to downplay that last part until all the necessary paperwork had been completed, but this is the Everglades after all! Due to meticulous recordkeeping, we also had the condition reports, mount notes, and loan paperwork on hand from the previous decades which all make up a sort of “medical record” for each object that conservators can reference over time.

Leading up to the Day of the Drop

The Transporter and the amazing Special Forces team (a.k.a. three NMAI Conservation Fellows) were scheduled to arrive mid-day one sunny and warm Florida Monday and set up a base for the night at the RV Campgrounds across the street from the Museum. The Exhibits squad staked out the area in the Museum where the mission was to take place and sequestered it the night before so no prying eyes would suspect what activities were about to commence.

As part of the loan agreement with the NMAI, their conservator traveled from Washington, D.C. to Big Cypress Reservation with three Conservation Fellows to oversee the de-installation of the objects, carefully package them, and take them back home. The Exhibits squad and the Maintenance Intelligence Agency handled the physical challenge of moving the exhibit cases so that the objects could be removed by the Transporter and Special Forces (SF) team.

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Figure 1: Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki’s Oscar Rivera, Nora Pinell-Hernandez, Siobhan Millar, and Fermin Carranza prepare to move case containing NMAI necklace and bracelets.


It was a delicate process removing the objects from their custom-made mounts which had protectively and faithfully prevented them from receiving any damage for years while on display. While the majority of the time conservators wear gloves to protect objects from the oils and dirt on our skin, sometimes it’s easier to handle delicate and small objects with clean hands so as to get a secure grip on them. Once off display, the objects were examined to compare previous intelligence – the older condition assessments – to the current state of the objects’ condition. The objects were then carefully concealed in discreet boxes for protection from various elements (extreme weather or an unwanted “brush pass” by a pesky bird for instance) and transported to the Safehouse, ahem, I mean Conservation Lab, situated in a separate building from the current location.


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Figure 2: NMAI’s Susan Heald, Caitlin Mahony, and Cathleen Zaret examine mounted objects.

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Figure 3: Susan Heald and Kate Blair examine objects for updating condition reports.


A Proper Sendoff to a Few Treasures

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Figure 4: Caitlin Mahony and Kate Blair secure twill tape ties to Ethafoam support.


Once the objects were safely moved to the Safehouse, the Transporter and SF team began the careful task of packing the delicate plume, loom, and accessory set for travel by plane back to the Washington HQ. pH neutral blue board supports, strands of securing twill tape, and soft Ethafoam sheets are materials often used in conservation that help protect fragile objects from the jostling of arduous travel and won’t cause any further damage to the objects by leaving a residue or impressions. With the objects safely secured and placed in a locked briefcase, this part of the mission was complete and the objects were ready to leave the Museum in a very official way!

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Figure 5: Kate Blair, Cathleen Zaret, and Caitlin Mahony display their detailed packing of the objects.

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Figure 6: The finished product: objects in their traveling briefcase!


Now that their identities can be revealed, a special thanks to Ms. Heald and the Fellows for the safe return of the objects to NMAI after many years at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki – they will surely be missed! For now though, Museum visitors can see silverwork accessories and an impressive silver worker’s kit, the remaining objects from a very special loan agreement between two institutions sharing in the preservation and interpretation of Seminole history. So the next time you see someone at the airport with an unsuspecting bag or briefcase, chances are they contain extremely boring documents and clean socks. However, you may be witnessing the completion of a successful museum extraction operation!

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By Oscar Carrasquillo Rivera, Maintenance Shift Supervisor


What is Geocaching?

Geocaching is a real-world treasure/scavenger hunt that’s happening right now, all around you, anywhere and anytime. It’s very similar to a 160-year-old game called letterboxing; compared to that geocaching has only been active for about 15 years, and has tons of great stories and videos, especially online. There are over 2 million active geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide. So of course we are planning on joining the fun. Here at Big Cypress AH-TAH-THI-KI Museum we like adventures, exploring and learning new things, whether it’s from the past, present or future. If you have never played Geocaching before, here is a new adventure that the whole family should definitely try out if you’re feeling adventurous.

Geocaching 101

There was a geocache close by before, but because of some unfortunate reasons it has been deactivated. Due to popular request the Museum is looking into activating one in the very near future for anyone to come and earn them bragging rights.

I myself have seen how competitive some of these families can get. At one time or another I used to see anywhere from 1-2 to sometimes 9-15 people exchanging stories as well as artifacts, notes with small stories, objects, figurines from as far as from the other side of the world. It’s unbelievable how creative and how small but meaningful it may be. In a way Geocaching helps different families and cultures of the world come together.

All you have to do is go to https://www.geocaching.com understand the rules, sign up, download the app on your smart phone and start scavenge hunting adventures with your GPS.

It could be hidden in something tiny, camouflage, or something big.


Will you find it….. come on, I’m sure you will.


Although our adventure is easier but still beautiful, here’s a link of an example(s) you may encounter on another adventure:

Epic Adventure, — Wet Surprise (GC1YV80) — Geocache of the Week Video Edition



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Art in the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Village


Greetings!  One of the great things about spending our days at the Museum is that we get to enjoy our wonderful boardwalk for lunchtime walks and peaceful escapes from the fast pace of the office.  If you have never visited the Museum, we hope you come and have this same experience.  While you’re here, it’s worth your while to make the journey to our village, which is at the mid-point of the circular trail.   It is the crown jewel of our boardwalk, nestled in the far southwest corner of the cypress dome. When a visitor starts the boardwalk journey, he or she is met with this sign.


It sits in front of a picturesque banana tree, and it points the way to a “Seminole Camp”. This is our village, but there is nothing on the sign to tell the visitor what experience awaits. As one continues along the mile-long boardwalk through the tranquil trees, this map appears at the halfway point to the village.


Again it beckons with little information, but hopefully provides incentive to the walker, by showing how far he or she has come. Finally, at the entire boardwalk’s halfway point, an arrow points toward the chickees of the village and nearby ceremonial grounds. If you’re lucky, you may witness a totem pole being carved here by a Seminole artist, or even a wild bird show by our resident falconry expert. But it is by carrying on past this point that you reach our village.


Until the boardwalk was recently re-designed, it was possible to fail to notice the winding entrance, shrouded by trees. The entrance beckoned some visitors, but others felt they were intruding and passed it by. For the latter category, many glimpsed the chickees and perhaps the fire, and thought they would invade private homes if they ventured any further. This is a funny conclusion for those of us who work at the Museum, but we have heard it’s true! Hopefully now this mistake cannot be made, as one must pass through the village in order to complete the boardwalk journey. Other feedback from visitors who took advantage of the village entrance, stepping off the boardwalk to admire the setting as well as the artwork they found there, has been equally surprising. Those visitors noticed and sometimes commented on the electric fans, refrigerators, radios, and other evidence of modern life, like the smart phones that some of the employees have there. But why should this be surprising? These items are found anywhere that people today work and spend their time. We think it is because some uninformed visitors expect to step into the past when they enter our village. They see a thatched roof, and perhaps people wearing patchwork, and mistakenly think that those individuals are portraying a historic time period, perhaps as long as 75 years ago, when tourist camps began to flourish in Florida.

The postcard below shows a woman and child in one of these historic villages. In such a village, Seminole men and women would demonstrate customs and crafts for visitors. The woman in the postcard is sewing patchwork using a type of antique hand-cranked sewing machine that was used by many Seminole women at the time. But sewing machines like this were not always available, and at one time, Seminole women sewed only by hand. I wonder if visitors to popular villages such as Musa Isle, in Miami, wondered why sewing machines were featured in that camp, the way they wonder the same thing about relatively modern equipment at our village today. The fact of the matter is that in both cases, the people in the village were contemporary artists using their preferred mediums and tools. Hand cranked sewing machines were common in Seminole camps 75 years ago. But today, electric sewing machines are more commonly used by Seminole textile artists. So why wouldn’t today’s artists use contemporary tools and conveniences?


Historic Postcard in the Museum’s Collection (ATTK Catalog No. 2003.15.233)

We at the Museum would like to revolutionize the way many people think of craftspeople in villages that are open to tourists today. If you enter one of these villages, you are privileged to enter the studios of modern Seminole artists, who constantly design new products in order to keep their art fresh and relevant. Never expect these people to be stuck in the past. It’s easy to imagine why such an artist would use modern tools to produce art quickly, and why they might want a refrigerator, radio, or phone while they work! A tourist camp in the 1940’s and the Museum’s village today have something in common. The craftspeople found therein were and are the modern artists of their time, none of them stuck in the past, portraying people from past decades.


Artist Lena Cypress makes a basket behind a colorful display of her artwork for sale in the village

In the Museum’s village, arrays of colorful beads and textiles are displayed in shady chickees that provide a welcome refuge from the heat for both the visitor and the artist. If you are lucky, you will be able to see and talk to an artist making a piece of jewelry, a doll, or a basket. Although these techniques have been passed down among artists for generations, innovations in style can be seen in many of the pieces. Woodworking is also a common occurrence. Our woodcarver Jeremiah is happy to show off the stages of making a hatchet, or to talk about the chickee he carved them in, because he also built that structure!


Whimsical items throughout the village serve as conversation pieces for visiting children and adults alike. A life-like alligator sits next to a very trusting bird, as often happens with the live versions of these creatures. And a stylish archer takes aim at them from a safe distance. A display of collectibles sits in front of a fire under a chickee. The fire is an essential feature for a village. In ours, it protects nearby people by driving mosquitos and more dangerous animals away!

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Now a large welcome sign hangs at the village entrance, and hopefully no visitor will wonder whether they are welcome in the village. On the back, it thanks the visitor in the Mikasuki language for their visit.


Museum Director Paul Backhouse enjoys viewing the new sign during his lunchtime walk

After you leave the village, a well-placed bench gives you an opportunity to rest and look back on the picturesque village, while a nearby sign lets you congratulate yourself by making it more than halfway around the boardwalk. The remaining walk back to the Museum leads you through what is often the swampiest and most wildlife-filled area of the dome.

When you visit the Museum, please take the boardwalk journey not only to experience our village, but also to learn from the signs along the way about animals, plants, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida clan system. Very soon there will be a few more signs that describe the village and ceremonial grounds, so come back often to see what’s new! As always, we welcome feedback from our visitors. So tell us what you think on our Facebook page ( https://tinyurl.com/mvtc583 ), or in person when you visit!

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