Fashion, Beauty, and the Challenge of Identification: A Seminole Tribune Story

 

By Tara Backhouse, Collections Manager

 

Here at the Museum we’ve partnered with the Seminole Tribune, the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s own newspaper, to care for thousands of photographs that their hardworking reporters took for the Tribe for over 30 years.  From STOF events and community milestones, to personal vacations and news from Indian Country, these reporters really went to the ends of the earth in order to document decades of happenings.  You can imagine that is a lot of photos.  We estimate there are around 30,000!  Since they were transferred to the Museum in 2015 we’ve been working hard to get them cataloged and into our database, so that we can keep track of them and preserve them for the future.  I’m happy to report that we are almost halfway there, with over 15,000 cataloged into our database!  This is impressive if you consider that these are not the only objects we’re cataloging.  Seminole history doesn’t stop, and neither do we!  Come see us if you want to learn how and why we take care of the things we take care of.  It is definitely an eye-opener for most people.

 

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A screenshot from our collections management database: this is what a well identified photograph looks like in our system

These days, photographs are digital, and the newspaper has no need for our services with their current work. However, we are happy to help care for the pictures they took in the past, because they are a treasure trove of information about recent Tribal life and activities.  It’s our mission to help preserve those things, and it’s also our mission to bring this history back to anyone in the community who wants it.  One of the ways we do this is by providing copies of photographs in our collection to community members who want pictures of themselves or families.  In order to do this, we need to gather identifications, because not all of the photos come with any identifying information.  Getting photographs identified is harder than it sounds, and that’s because of the number of photographs we’re working with, and the fact that we have to preserve them once they are cataloged, and they can’t be traveled around and handled by lots of people.

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By storing photographs and documents in acid-free containers, out of direct light, and in conditions of stable temperature and humidity, we can ensure these objects last for generations

 

We can overcome the latter problem by showing people copies or digital versions of the photographs at a community event, for example, but it’s still an issue of scale. We can’t spread out 30,000 photographs on a table, so we have to choose a selection to take with us.

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This is just some of the 30,000 photographs we took custody of in 2015 and we had quite an organizational job ahead of us before cataloging could take place

And choosing the best selection of photographs is difficult. The people we run into may not know anything about the selection we have chosen to share at that time, but they might be very familiar with a selection of photographs that is waiting back at the Museum.  That is why the online collections section of our website comes in handy.  Here, people can search for names, places and events in order to find photographs they are interested in:

http://semtribe.pastperfectonline.com/

OnlineCollections

 

Other ways we can share smaller subsets of pictures are through the Seminole Tribune itself, and through the Museum’s blog! (Hint: that’s what I’m doing now)

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Recently I came across just one such subset. Last month I cataloged a bunch of similar portrait-style close-up photographs of well-dressed people.

 

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People are often wearing patchwork or other types of traditional Seminole clothing and posing thoughtfully for the pictures.

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 Traditional clothing is a popular category at STOF clothing contests, and in this portrait Jimmy O’Toole Osceola wears an early 20th century style bigshirt and turban combination (ATTK Catalog No. 2015.6.13240)

 

Maybe they were doing this because they were all ready to participate in a clothing contest, such as the ones held every year Tribal Fair.  People spend a lot of time making clothing for these contests and then get together to show them off and compete in categories. Indeed, some of the photographs are labeled with the initials “TF96” on the back, and we know that refers to the Tribal Fair celebration in 1996.

 

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This portrait of an unidentified man wearing a patchwork jacket and cowboy hat was taken at the Seminole Tribe of Florida Tribal Fair celebration in 1996 (ATTK Catalog No. 2015.6.14286)

But we’re not sure that all these photographs were taken at a Tribal Fair event. Clothing contests also take place at other times and on other reservations.  And some may not have been taking during contests at all.

 

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Rita Gopher takes part in a clothing contest in Immokalee in 1999 (ATTK Catalog Numbers 2015.6.14274 and .14275

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As the Museum and THPO’s first executive director, Billy L. Cypress often showed off traditional garb like this, so this photograph could have been taken at any number of events (ATTK Catalog No. 2015.6.13280)

 

We wonder how often the newspaper was in the habit of taking such stunning pictures of so many photogenic folks? Was it only for a couple of years?  Could it be for at any event or any location? Do you know any of the people that we haven’t identified in this blog?  Any information we can gather helps us preserve and share the past.

These are nice portraits, and we imagine that if you were the subject of one, you probably didn’t get a copy at the time.  It wasn’t that easy 15 or 20 years ago, when film had to be commercially developed and printed.  These days we can make digital copies quickly and we’d be happy to do that for you.  Maybe you’re looking for a nice photo of a family member?  Or maybe you just want to see what the Seminole Tribune reporters were up to from the 1980’s to the early 2000’s.  The easiest way to see our photographs is to browse over 11,000 through the online collections on our website.  Try this shortened link to bring up just the Seminole Tribune photograph collection:

 

https://tinyurl.com/y86latru

 

But if you’re in the area, you can also come to the Museum library to see the photographs.  We’re happy to help and it’s easier if you make an appointment.  Just call 863-902-1113 and ask for the Library.   See you soon!

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Found in the Swamp: The Search for Fort Shackelford Part II

By Domonique deBeaubien, THPO Collections Manager

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you may remember a special story titled “Lost in the Swamp: the Search for Fort Shackelford,” where Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) Archaeologist, Shawn Keyte, recounted the harrowing challenges of locating a U.S. Army fort burned to the ground in 1855 by the Seminoles living on Big Cypress.

This winter, THPO Archaeologists Shawn Keyte and Dave Scheidecker continued their search to locate the lost fort.  Shawn and Dave, along with the rest of the Tribal Archaeology crew, were committed to finding the long lost fort. After a long and fruitless field season of metal detection, former THPO Research Coordinator Rechanda Lee commented that the only place they hadn’t looked yet was under the truck.  So that’s exactly what they did!

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The Truck: Sometimes archaeology is underneath it.

Surprisingly, this unusual methodology led to an exciting discovery: square cut nails from the 1800s!  THPO Archaeologists were so encouraged by this find that they put in several new test units to further explore what may be hidden under the surface.

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Archaeologist Shawn Keyte holding a hand-cut square nail found during metal detection.

A test unit is a small square shaped area where archaeologists excavate down carefully, layer by layer, until they hit bedrock.  This helps them see changes in the soil, and accurately document any artifacts that they may find. This new test unit yielded a very exciting discovery:  a burned piece of wood! This may not seem like much, but many 19th century forts were constructed entirely of wood. While we had located a few metal nails and objects that may have dated to the correct time period, what our archaeologists really wanted to find was evidence of the structure itself.  As the crew continued their work, they began to see a series of dark oval stains in the soil, each about the size of a post. As they continued to excavate, they realized that remnants of the posts were actually still preserved! According to Archaeologist Shawn Keyte, this post may have formed part of the stockade (or fence) surrounding the wooden blockhouse.  Officers would have kept quarters in the more robust blockhouse, while soldiers would have erected tents within the confines of the stockade.

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Test Unit 9, with brown oval features and dark ashy soils.

As exciting as this discovery was, the team wanted to ensure that the artifacts were removed from the ground safely. Robin Croskery Howard, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Conservator, was called out to the site to help extract some of the wood for lab testing and preservation. Finding preserved wood in the Everglades is a rare occurrence. As wood ages in a moist and acidic environment, it often loses its structural integrity and rapidly decomposes. Our team wanted to be extra sure their find didn’t crumble to pieces after exposure to the air!  Shawn, Dave, and Robin worked carefully to extract the wood, as well as collect a sample of the dark soil surrounding each of the posts.

Once back in the THPO Lab, the Collections team set to work.  To get the most precise results possible, we often use radiocarbon dating.  In these instances we send out organic material, like animal bone or charcoal, and measure the amount of Carbon-14 left in the sample.  When a piece of wood is burned, the Carbon-14 in the object begins to slowly break down at a consistent rate.  Scientists are able to measure the amount of Carbon-14 present, and compare it to closely calibrated charts and determine a very precise age. If you look carefully at the soil in the test unit, it’s very dark compared to the light colored soils found nearby.  Such an intense darkening of the soil was caused by a large quantity of ash and charcoal produced by a fire.  The soil sample was packaged up and sent off to a lab in hope that they could extract enough charcoal in the soil to perform C-14 testing to determine when the fire occurred.

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Soil sample from Test Unit 9, with charcoal flecking

In addition to the soil, we also sent out a large piece from one of the wooden posts.  The lab will first use a high powered microscope to determine what type of tree the post was made from, and then use a small segment of the wood sample for C-14 dating!

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The carefully extracted wood sample. Is this part of the Fort Shackelford stockade?

We haven’t received all of the results yet, but some are in!  The charcoal in the soil sample dated to 1840 +/- 30 years.   This is exactly the date range we were hoping for!  This places our charcoal right around the time Fort Shackelford was destroyed, 1855.  While we anxiously await the results of our second C-14 date, we are left to wonder, did we find Fort Shackelford?  The Tribal Archaeology Section heads back out this April to continue the search. Check back soon to find out more!

Discover our Discovery Days!

By Alyssa Boge, Education Coordinator

What do atlatl throwing, swamp cabbage tasting and crafting have in common? They’re all things that you can do as part of our Seminole Discovery Day series!

Discovery Days are a great time to bring friends and family for a hands-on experience to delve deeper into the Seminole Story. Our first Discovery Day of the year celebrates Florida Archaeology Month with our Archaeology Day on March 10th. Meet actual archaeologists and learn about their quests for uncovering Seminole history. You can discover what makes Tribal archaeology unique and how our archaeologists work with community members.

You can also get your hands dirty. Be inspired by archaeological pottery and pinch your own pots out of clay. Play with Legos and examine artifacts to discover how archaeologists decode the past. You can also try using an atlatl! At-ul-at-ul isn’t just fun to say! Before people used bows and arrows for hunting, they used these spear throwers to help them hunt. The atlatl allowed to them to throw farther and with greater force. Finally we also have a special session just for Tribal Members to learn more about historic camp sites on our Tribal Register of Historic Places.

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Pinch Pot Activity, Archaeology Day 2017
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Atlatl, courtesy of https://www.crowcanyon.org/educationproducts/peoples_mesa_verde/archaic_artifacts.asp

Our next Discovery Day- Earth Day- on April 21st will highlight the importance of the Everglades to the Seminoles. Explore the Everglades with a tour along our boardwalk and taste swamp cabbage made from sabal palm trees. You can also find out about hunting with Daniel Tommie in his hunting camp and test your archery skills.

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Daniel Tommie in his hunting camp

For crafty visitors, our Art at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Day on June 28th is a great chance to get creative.  Be inspired by our Museum Village Crafters exhibit and art by the Pemayetv Emahakv students from Brighton Reservation on display. Visitors can meet Seminole artists and create their own crafts including beading keychains, coloring in Seminole scenes, and more.

July 28th, our Seminole War Day, offers more information about this important period in Seminole history. Play our Tools of Survival card game to gain a deeper understanding of the Seminole experience and find out more with a special exhibit.

Our final Discovery Day will highlight our upcoming exhibit “We Are Here: Hands & Voices Making Community Happen.” Understanding any government can be a mystery, but this exhibit will highlight different departments, showcasing the role they play in supporting the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Join us September 15th for special activities.

For the most up-to-date information on our Discovery Days offerings, check out our website: https://www.ahtahthiki.com/programs/.

We hope you will join us for these special programs.  Seminole Story Days, our first major series of public programs in recent years, began in 2016. The series started as part of an internship project with Eden Jumper, then a senior at the Ahfachkee School, whose marketing designs we still use! We followed it up with our Seminole Summer Fun series the same year. In 2017, we renamed the series Seminole Discovery Days and have continued to add programs under this title.  Become part of our new tradition!

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Seminole Summer Fun Postcard designed by Eden Jumper, 2016

 

Ringing in the New Year!

 

 

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Setting a New Year’s resolution is a popular practice for many people.  When the clock chimes twelve on January 1st, it’s a chance for a fresh start and an opportunity to begin the New Year on the right foot with the best of intentions guiding you forward.

Doing a quick internet search reveals some of the top resolutions people set in the New Year:

  1. Get fit
  2. Travel to new places
  3. Reduce stress
  4. Learn something new
  5. Spend more time with family

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with new goals and forming new habits.  Try taking advantage of opportunities that can help you check off several of your new resolutions at once– I guarantee it will make you feel happy and productive.

I’d also recommend spending time researching unique and off the beaten path activities to make your year unforgettable.  Here at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum we not only offer a memorable, one of a kind experience, but can help you work towards some of those 2018 resolutions!

Healthy Habits

Our mile long boardwalk offers  visitors a chance to stretch their legs and get in their steps, all while taking in the beautiful scenes of a cypress dome environment. The boardwalk is a continuous loop so feel free to make as many laps as you’d like.

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Explore New Places

We are a perfect day trip for locals and out of state visitors alike.  A little over an hour from major city hubs like Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Fort Myers, a visit to the Museum will feel like a mini getaway from the hustle and bustle.  Don’t forget to stop down the street at Billie Swamp Safari to wrap up your visit with some Seminole fry bread and a buggy ride.

Limit Stress

Walking our boardwalk is not only great exercise but can be a special retreat for visitors to relax and unwind.  Several rest stops along the boardwalk encourage you to sit and stay awhile.  Spend a few minutes taking in the different animal sounds and the breeze rustling through the tree canopy.

Enjoy a self-guided and self-paced tour of the Museum galleries and make sure to bring a picnic lunch to eat under a traditional chickee (adjacent to the visitor parking lot).  Don’t forget to stop and take in a peaceful moment by the crackling fire in front of the Museum as you leave.

Learn New Things

We may be biased, but we think there is no better place to learn then at a museum!  The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum strives to foster an understanding and appreciation of Seminole history and culture.  We are excited for you to learn about the Seminole Tribe of Florida through collections, exhibits, oral histories, programs, tours and more.

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Quality Family Time

If you’re like me, making time for family is important, but it can sometimes prove difficult to pry ourselves away from the everyday responsibilities.  Planning activities or outings together can be a great way to get everyone excited and out of the house for some fun.  We know your valuable family time will be well spent at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

Whatever your goals and resolutions may be for 2018, we wish you all a prosperous and joyful New Year and hope to see you soon!

 

When Objects Visit the Doctor

By Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits

Objects, like people, sometimes need to visit the doctor. Museums strive to keep objects in their best health. But some objects, like the Archer who lives in the Village of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, will always require a little more healthcare than others. Because his purpose is to live outdoors, the Archer deals with the wind, rain, and curious kids. The Tribal members who sell and work on their crafts in the Village keep an eye on him. So do the maintenance staff.

Sooner or later, though, the Archer needs a bath or to have a few repairs to keep him looking fit and trim. This is when the object’s doctor comes in, or conservator, if you want to be fancy about it. The conservator will make the diagnosis and often apply the treatment. Sometimes she or he will need help from other specialists to complete the treatment. In this case, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s conservator, Robin Croskery-Howard, made her treatment plan and requested assistance from the Exhibits Fabricator, Nora Pinell-Hernandez. Below Robin and Nora share a little about the process that got the Archer back to his full health.

(Rebecca Fell) Tell us a little about the history of the Archer. Who made him?

(Robin Croskery-Howard) The Archer was created by artist Brad Cooley, who has created several other statues for the Tribe, including the bronze statue in front of the museum.

 (RF)Robin, tell us a little about the problem the Archer was having:

(RCH) Like most outdoor sculpture, the Archer began to have a few issues after so many years outside. Over-exposure to water and sun can do a lot of damage. Many of the areas around his hands and the folds in his clothes were cracked and worn. He also had quite a lot of pigment loss to his legs and the top of his head. Other issues included general dirt residue, insect casings, and bird droppings. All of these had to be cleaned off before any other work could begin.

(RF) It sounds like he needed a spa day as well some assistance. Describe how you make your decisions and treatment plans for the Archer?  How did you coordinate your care with Nora?

(RCH) When beginning a new treatment, it is always best to consult the latest information regarding a specific material typology or problem. Books are a great resource, as well as colleagues and professionals in related fields. After doing quite a bit of reading, a sponge bath followed by patching seemed to be the best option. I coordinated with Nora in regards to what should be done. I bathed the Archer with a special soap and water. She was able to research the best fiberglass for this sculpture and methods of application. Once clean, she applied the fiberglass and color-matched the areas that needed touchups.

(RF) Did you go back to the artist and request his help?

(RCH) When I first received the request to help the Archer, I was given the artist’s contact information. Unfortunately, by the time I began on the project in earnest (about a month later), the artist had passed away. It is always better when the conservator can have input from the artist in regards to the care of their artwork.

(RF)Nora, describe your process for us:

(Nora Pinell-Hernandez) Typically I work like a mad scientist in my (home) shop, mixing materials and colors to get the result I want. But the Archer is not an experiment – he depicts a Seminole warrior and needs to be treated with the utmost care. My first task was to research resins that would be used to compensate for large cracks on the Archer’s clothing

(RF) Tell us about resin:

(NPH) The resin has to withstand high humidity, be able to fill a hollow area of about 1/4”, sandable, adhere well to other materials, and not cause damage to the original material. We selected Aqua-Resin because it fulfilled all of these requirements but even better – it is a water-based, non-toxic resin. Don’t let the water-solubility fool you – Aqua-Resin is very tough when used with fiberglass and after leaving it out in the swampy environment for over a month it definitely won its place in our tool cart.

(RF) How about when you are mixing up the paint?

(NPH) Before I began work on the Archer, Robin and I tested the material on a small part of the big shirt. I then did another set of experiments using multiple grades of sandpaper to obtain the same smooth surface as the Archer. Next, I had to see how well the new surface took to the second most important aspect – the paint!

I used Gamblin paint which is a high quality acrylic. As a fine artist I have a knack for matching paint – probably from trying to fix all of the scratches on my own paintings (I’m a bit clumsy in my personal studio). Not only did I need to color match, I also needed to get the right sheen. The Archer’s clothing has a semi-gloss finish while the hands and face are less lustrous and the belt is a matte black. The Archer is placed under direct sunlight, making imperfections easier to spot which meant the texture and paint color had to look seamless. I hope that when you visit the Archer you will be unable to distinguish where the cracks used to be.

 (RF) What is his purpose in the Museum?

(RCH) The Archer usually stands sentinel in the Village about half-way around our boardwalk. He is an example of what a mid to late 19th century Seminole man who was bow hunting would look like. His bigshirt and kerchief are both solid colored.

(RF) What other considerations did you keep in mind in getting the Archer back to health?

(RCH) We had to remember that the Archer was going back out into the same environment from whence he came. This means that he’ll be exposed to the same stressors, and will likely need an annual checkup next fall to ensure that he’s still in tip-top shape.

(RF) How did Hurricane Irma affect the Archer and his treatment?

(RCH) The Archer weathered Irma quite well, with only minimal damage. However, some of the process had to be repeated, due to the nature of destruction during a hurricane.

Thank you for sharing your insight on this process, Robin and Nora. It sounds like the Archer had quite recuperation under the Curatorial Chickee.

If you would like to see the Archer back in action, take a stroll to our Village grounds. The Village is located at the halfway point of our mile long boardwalk. He is the quiet type, but the ladies and gentleman working in the village will gladly talk with you.

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Image 20171023_110449 After receiving a gentle bath, the Archer is being patched up by Nora. He is patient and quiet as she works.
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Image 20171201_100323 The Archer is back in his favorite spot, ready to go hunting.