The Return of the Sash

By Robin Croskery Howard, Conservator

Back in autumn 2018, the Museum was fortunate enough to receive as a donation a sash that purportedly belonged to Osceola. It is believed to be one of the many articles of clothing that was taken from him during his imprisonment. Our Collections Manager, Tara Backhouse, has written several posts and articles that include the background of this object and how it made its way into our collection. For more background, check out the blog post “An Incredible Piece of History Comes Home” by Tara Backhouse from December 2018.

As the Museum’s conservator, I am tasked with taking care of all of the objects in a tangible way: through storage, monitoring and managing the environment, and also treatments which may be as simple as adding extra support in a box or as intricate and delicate as some surgeries. This sash came to the museum after having been stored in a brown paper bag for almost 100 years.

Paper, unless it undergoes a special process, is inherently acidic; the wool that is the primary fabric is also inherently acidic. Together, this overly acidic environment caused extreme brittleness of the actual fibers of the textile. It was so brittle, that when I started to carefully remove it from the bag, some of the long tassels were already broken off from the body of the sash. Therefore, it was really important that this sash undergo a special set of baths to try and neutralize the acidity and thus allow the fibers to relax back into place.

Anytime textiles are stored for a long period of time, the way in which it is folded (or in this case, crumpled) will create a memory in the fabric. It will continue to want to stay in that position, even after you have unfolded it; this is why clothes end up with lines on them if they stay folded for too long. So, to try and help get some of the folds out, I straightened out the piece as best I could, placed it under a large piece of acrylic, and put weights on top of it. The sash stayed like this until we could find a specialist to help treat this object.

After talking to other conservators, we were able to work with Howard Sutcliffe – a textile specialist – to treat this very delicate object earlier this year. It takes years of training to be able to become a conservator, and even longer to specialize in a single area of conservation. The treatment was straightforward, but not easy. Howard was able to bathe the textile, clean the beads, mend some of the tears, and stabilize the object overall to a point where it can be stored or displayed with relative ease.

Even though the Museum is closed to the public, the Collections staff worked with Howard to ensure the safe return of the sash late this spring. When it arrived back at the Museum, we were all thrilled with the amazing work Howard completed, and our ability to now safely store and exhibit this unique object. Please enjoy some of these in progress photos. I hope that once the Museum is able to re-open, that this object will get the fanfare it so richly deserves.

The Importance of “Where”

By Lacee Cofer, THPO Chief Data Analyst

Whether it’s researching a Seminole event that happened 100 years ago, or consulting with a federal agency on a project set to happen this year, we always ask the question, “Where?” The importance of place is integral to the work of the Seminole Tribe of Florida Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO). This is where the THPO Archaeometry team comes into play, to create maps to show exactly “where” things are happening.  The team is taking a unique approach to mapping in one of our biggest projects yet –an Ethnographic Study of the Seminole Tribe of Florida in the South Florida region.

Figure 1. Map depicting approximate project study area

An Ethnographic Study, or Ethnography, is a description of a group of people and their customs. THPO is taking a new approach to the concept of an ethnography to describe the Seminole Tribe of Florida, their customs, and how those customs relate to the utilization of land and water in the Everglades. Considering this, the team is seeking to protect the important cultural and environmental resources from future impacts due to Everglades restoration projects initiated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Multiple USACE projects fall within the identified study area, however the study area goes beyond current project boundaries, aiding in its relevancy for future use. The goal is to utilize information compiled during the study to aid the Tribe in federal consultation projects that affect the future of the Everglades.

Figure 2. Work being done to drain the Everglades in 1906

So what does an Ethnographic Study have to do with mapping? A whole lot, actually! While the final document will contain maps that show areas of interest and concern for the Tribe, we first have to collect locational information from the Tribal Community that is shareable and does not contain any sensitive data that the community would like to keep private. This method of mapping, or collecting spatial data from community members, is called participatory mapping.

The THPO has had a strong participatory mapping program for several years. This includes using paper maps and having Tribal Members draw locations of significant events, camps, or other cultural resources onto the maps. Once a Tribal Member provides us this information, we digitize and secure the data to keep it safe and private and archive the paper maps for safe keeping. These maps are only accessible to a limited number of staff, but are available for Tribal member use.

Figure 3. Quenton Cypress works the participatory mapping booth at the 2015 Big Cypress Cattle Drive

We are hoping to have strong participation from members of the community to provide spatial data in relation to the Ethnographic Study. Our goal is for this project to bridge the communication gap between the Tribe and outside agencies whose projects impact the land. We want to reduce the confusion caused by unfamiliar terminology by using place names known to the Tribal community. The Tribe’s voice will be strengthened, and the connection the Tribe has to the land and water will be understood and respected by outside agencies during their consultations.

To help explain the project to the community, provide an opportunity for feedback, and request participation, the Ethnographic Study team is in the process of creating a Story Map to do just that. The Story Map will describe the Ethnographic Study, current federal projects the Tribe is consulting on, staff working on the project, and how to get involved! Keep an eye out for the upcoming Story Map, and you may have the opportunity to help us answer the question, “Where?” If you have any questions about participatory mapping at the THPO, please contact Chief Data Analyst, Lacee Cofer, at laceecofer@semtribe.com.

Dear Sally, What’s It Like Being an Alligator During the Coronavirus?

By Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager

While the domesticated animals in our lives (particularly our dogs, maybe less so our cats) have enjoyed seeing us all day during these recent times, have you wondered how our free roaming friends have been faring?  Our Alligator Pen Pal program, launched on April 13th, brings Sally, our resident alligator, into the homes and hearts of people everywhere. Sally has brought smiles to the faces of Museum staff and visitors for years, and now people who may not be able to see Sally in person can interact with her through handwritten or email correspondence.  People can chose to either write Sally a letter and send it to the Museum, or send an email to us at: museum@semtribe.com.  Everyone who writes to Sally receives a personalized letter or email in return.

We have been trying to come up with fun ways to reach our community during the closure and engage in new and interesting ways.  The Alligator Pen Pal program is just one of a number of new activities that we have launched in the past few months.  Our education coordinator created numerous games and puzzles, along with a guided painting activity, which have been distributed on our social media channels.  These activities bring our exhibits and collection into people’s homes.  Although the Alligator Pen Pal program is intended to keep youth and adults alike occupied during the closure, we don’t plan to stop the program once we resume normal business operations.

So far the program has been very well received.  Most of the senders have asked her specific questions including: what she looks like, how she likes being an alligator, what kind of toys she likes, does she like bacon, and does she like cars?  The letters are signed with love and many include drawings.  It has been great to see the support and appreciation of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, especially during this challenging time.

We are currently promoting the program on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Reach out to Sally today—she’s sure to write you back!

Working from home in the age of Coronavirus

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and Tribal Historic Preservation Office are currently shut down so that we can do our part to #flattenthecurve through #socialdistancing. Those staff members who are able to, are currently working from home #WFH. So, what are they working on and how is it going?

Read below to find out!

Dave Scheidecker, THPO Research Coordinator

What are you working on at home?  I’m conducting historical research for the Ethnography project, meaning I’m doing a deep dive into research on pretty much all of Seminole history. I’m primarily concentrating on the pre-colonial and Spanish colonial periods at the moment, because that’s where we have the least material in our archives.

What are you enjoying about working from home?  Almost everything. Being in a t-shirt and shorts, no commute, being able to blast music while I work, and being able to freely cook for lunch.

What do you miss from the office?  Having people to talk to about work and research in person. I much prefer in person talk over online or phone.

What challenges are you facing?  Self-discipline. I’m working in my room, so every distraction I could want is freely available. Research can get very boring, and the urge to pick up a game controller “just for 5 minutes” is so very strong.

Blog 1
Dave, when he found he would be working from home.

Victoria Menchaca, Compliance Review Specialist

What are you working on at home?  Fortunately, most of my work involves reviewing project reports and responding via email. So, I am pretty much doing the same things I would normally do just minus any in person meetings.

What are you enjoying about working from home?  Not having to wake up so early, not having to drive so much or so far, being able to cook my meals fresh at home, being able to exercise on my lunch break, being able to let my dogs out whenever they want, being able to dress however I want…lots of things!

What do you miss from the office?  I am more of an introvert, but I do miss some of the social interaction. I also miss my very nice stand up desk and my large monitors! Oh and I miss the boardwalk too!

What challenges are you facing?  Trying to keep my 6 month old cat off my keyboard! And, it is a little lonely =(

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Victoria’s furry friend “helping” her at work

Alyssa Boge, Education Coordinator

 What are you working on at home?  I’m focusing on social media and trying to deliver new opportunities highlighting our resources. I’m also working on projects I haven’t had time to get to.

What are you enjoying about working from home?  No shoes! Sleeping in later. Taking kitty breaks.

What do you miss from the office?  Dave making coffee in the morning… Taking walks on the boardwalk. Chatting with coworkers.

What challenges are you facing?  I’m used to managing groups and having a lot of things that need immediate action. Without the same type of urgency, focusing is a little harder.

Blog 3
Alyssa’s co-worker asleep on the job

Ellen, Head of Security

What are you working on?  I am fortunate that I am on Campus 4 days a week so I feel somewhat “normal” then.

What are you enjoying about working from home?  I enjoy my time at home because I can get a lot of uninterrupted work done that I usually don’t have the opportunity to sit long enough to do.

What do you miss from the office?  I miss the comradery. I like bouncing ideas off my coworkers and appreciate their input.

What challenges are you facing?  I am able to still keep an eye on the campus through my cameras however it is not the same as being hands on.

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Ellen’s industrious co-worker

Internship with the Museum and THPO

By Kara DiComo, Intern

While studying anthropology in college I learned a lot about museums. From their overall history, their triumphs and failures, and how they grow and change with time. It was at this time that I first learned about the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum and how it served as a place for the Seminole Tribe to tell their history their way. During this time, I also learned about the Seminole Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) and how they actively work to preserve, document, and promote Seminole history.

I found the Museum and the THPO to be inspirational as I continued on with my studies, and when I finished my undergraduate degree I decided to reach out about an internship. I started interning with the Seminole THPO in late November 2019. At first I mainly worked with the Tribal Archaeology Section (TAS) where I assisted a team of archaeology field technicians on a survey project on the Brighton reservation. This consisted of hours out in the field trekking through hammocks of various densities and sizes digging thousands of test pits. It was exhausting work, and I often returned home drained and sore; but all of the work felt more than worth it whenever we pulled fragmented remains of artifacts out of the earth that could lead to something bigger down the line. In December, I ended up moving from fieldwork to lab work, mainly due to a sprained ankle, and began interning with both Museum and THPO Collections. Most of my days spent with Museum Collections consisted of working with historic newspapers and photographs that concern the Seminole Tribe.

Kara DiComo
Kara working with photographs from the Museum’s collection

There truly is nothing like handling old and often fragile pieces of paper that serve as bits and pieces of a whole story, knowing that these papers that were never intended to last for long will continue to be preserved and will thus be accessible to the community for essentially forever. With THPO Collections, I spent a lot of time washing the dirt and grime off of objects that had recently arrived from the field, however I also got to spend some time learning about the housing process for objects such as glass bottles. I even got to put my carving and hot glue skills to the test while creating some custom housing for glass bottles that I had washed the previous week. In addition to Collections, in January I interned with the THPO Archaeometry section and got to learn more about how they use GIS technology to prepare for and assist with field research. This was particularly interesting since my baccalaureate thesis centered in the use of 3D photogrammetry in anthropology.

Overall the experiences I have had interning with the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s THPO and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum have been invaluable and hopefully the skills that I have learned will be put to good use in my future endeavors.