Great exhibits take collaboration

By Rebecca Fell-Mazeroski

A lot of people think of exhibits as something handled by the Exhibits Department with little to no input from others. My experience, however, has been that the best exhibitions involve a lot of collaboration with other departments and the community. Our latest exhibit: “Alligator Wrestling: Danger. Entertainment, Tradition.” is a great example of strong collaboration.

Like most of our exhibits, we rely on the Collections team to help us source objects in the collection and make sure they are safely displayed. Even other departments outside the museum become vital. Up the road, our pals at Billie Swamp Safari provided the welding and metal skills to help install the totem pole in this display.

Our co-workers down at Billie Swamp Safari used their superior welding tools to make a stable metal base for our totem pole display.

We are lucky enough to have an oral historian, Justin Giles, to conduct interviews and search the archives for stories and interviews that come from alligator wrestlers. If there is one thing I have learned working for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, it is the voice of the community is vital and needs to be heard in the Museum. Also, spending time in their archives, Seminole Media Productions (SMP) provided us a short film allowing visitors to experience alligator wrestling matches.

Of course, getting interviews from alligator wrestlers involves sharing and collaborating with them on the every aspect of the exhibit. Every good exhibit topic has more stories and themes than we can share with visitors. The wrestlers, like Billy Walker, Zac Battiest, Everett Osceola, and the Holt Brothers, are essential in pointing out what stories matter to them. That is how we develop the text, displays, and interactives. Jack Chalfant, THPO staff member and retired alligator wrestler, and his team built a 7’ x 7’ chickee in the museum in two days. Along the way, the museum consulted with Facilities and the Seminole Fire Department to meet safety requirements.

Community member Jack Chalfant and his team put a chickee together inside the museum in two days. Jack is a cattleman, THPO staff member, and retired alligator wrestler

Additional help came from other community members. Marlin Billie was able to share his experiences growing up in a tourist village, including all the gator wrestlers he knew. Cody Motlow, who is working with us through the Tribe’s Work Experience Program , gave us a much needed  pair of hands, some good proof-reading, and even an another photo to use in the displays.

Robin Croskery-Howard, Conservator, is always on hand at installs to ensure the safety of the objects. Cody Motlow, WEP intern, is helping install a postcard. Cody also provided additional community insight and resources.

We are truly excited about our exhibit on Alligator Wrestling because it feels like something that is bigger than the Exhibits Department and even the Museum itself. I hope you get a chance to come see it and enjoy it!

“Alligator Wrestling: Danger. Entertainment. Tradition.”  is open now and on display until November 29, 2020. The opening reception will be on January 11th, 2020 from 1 pm – 4 pm.

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