Seminole artists featured in new exhibit at FGCU


James Powell, Registrar


Tennile Jackson, Collections Assistant

A new exhibit at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) features the art of several Seminole artists.  The exhibit is called, Long, Long River: Tradition and Expansion in Native Art, and it is co-curated by FGCU Gallery Coordinator Anica Sturdivant and Seminole artist Jessica Osceola.  The exhibit explores the pull between tradition and contemporary for Native American artists.

FGCU Arts Complex
FGCU Arts Complex
FGCU Gallery Coordinator Anica Sturdivant
FGCU Gallery Coordinator Anica Sturdivant

Seminole artists featured in the exhibit include Noah Billie, Elgin Jumper, Jessica Osceola, Jimmy Osceola, LeRoy Osceola, Samuel Tommie, and Oliver Wareham.  The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum was pleased to loan to FGCU two artworks for this exhibit.  From the permanent collection, the Museum loaned two painted cow skulls by Noah Billie.

FGCU exhibit "Long, Long River"
FGCU exhibit “Long, Long River”
FGCU exhibit "Long, Long River"
FGCU exhibit “Long, Long River”
Painted cow skull by Seminole artist Noah Billie loaned from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to FGCU Gallery.  Accession number 1997.61.2
Painted cow skull by Seminole artist Noah Billie loaned from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to FGCU Gallery. Accession number 1997.61.2

On January 9th, several of us from the Museum had the opportunity to travel over to FGCU to attend the exhibit opening.  The well-attended reception included artist introductions, performances, refreshments, and the opportunity to view this excellent exhibit.  The performances included an enjoyable story by Oliver Wareham, and an emotional performance piece by Elgin Jumper.  It was an enjoyable and memorable evening.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Collections Manager Tara Backhouse and Museum Director Paul Backhouse
Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Collections Manager Tara Backhouse and Museum Director Paul Backhouse

If you can, be sure to make arrangements to go to the exhibit soon, this short exhibit will run only through January 30, 2014.  For more information on the exhibit, visit FGCU Main Gallery’s webpage online at or phone the Gallery at 239.590.7199.


(Posted by James Powell on behalf of Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s Exhibits Preparator Nora Pinell-Hernandez.)

Otter, Coffee and Sand – Bringing an Interactive Exhibit to Life

by Nora Pinell-Hernandez, Exhibits Preparator

Hi Friends!
With every exhibit there exists an immense amount of research and consideration involved to make the experience informative and engaging. The Education and Exhibits departments have been working hard to create an interactive activity at the Stranahan Trading Post located in the From the Land gallery of the museum. Visitors, especially students, will have the opportunity to trade deer, alligator, and otter pelts for supplies such as flour, sugar, soap, and fabric-much like what the Seminoles would have traded in the late 1800’s. The activity reinforces the concepts of trade, bartering and basic mathematics to students. As Exhibits Preparator, I oversee the production of props, signage, and display elements that make the space look and function as a trading post. This process requires technical drawings and many test pilots that will inform how the props will be constructed and displayed.
Lucky for me, the façade of the Stranahan Trading Post was constructed in 2007. The crate-like exhibit cases were modified into tables and shelves were constructed to go onto the larger crate. The technical drawing drafted by Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits, was helpful to imagine where the tables will be positioned.

Technical Drawing of the Stranahan Trading Post Facade by Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits
Technical Drawing of the Stranahan Trading Post Facade by Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits

Flour, coffee and sugar sacks were bought with the intention to display them upright. I constructed eye shaped towers to stand the sack upright and created a shallow shelf that will support at least 40lbs of weight.

Sack frame made out of foam board. This shape gives the sack the appearance of being full.
Sack frame made out of foam board. This shape gives the sack the appearance of being full.

The sack frame made out of foam board was later dressed with cotton batting. Each sack was topped with a fabric that matched the color of the item: brown painted faux suede was used for sugar, muslin for unbleached flour and a dark cocoa sheer-weave for coffee.

Foam frame dressed with cotton batting and topped with faux suede.
Foam frame dressed with cotton batting and topped with faux suede.

To make the trading post look from the 1800s certain objects needed to be artificially aged. Small pieces from the sack were applied different stains to determine which method would be best to stain all sacks.

Samples: A.Coffee and green tea B. Coffee C. Swamp water and dirt D. Red clay smear
A.Coffee and green tea B. Coffee C. Swamp water and dirt D. Red clay smear

We decided to stain all the sacks using method A, which is a concoction of brewed coffee and green tea. The fabric was then dunked in a vat of this concoction 3 times in two hour intervals. This method is easier to manipulate and offers a more natural aged look.
Considering that the public will be interacting with the sacks, a weighted custom crate was constructed to go inside the foam shape – making the sacks less probable to knock over.

Crate that will hold a sand bag to go inside of the foam frame.
Crate that will hold a sand bag to go inside of the foam frame.

Another concern was the material that will be used to weigh down the crates inside of the foam frame and the filler for the brown bags on top of the sacks. Dirt and sand typically found outside may contain bugs, eggs and larvae which can cause severe damage to the collection. To combat the possibility of pest infestation, we decided to use “clean” sand which is sand that has been filtered multiple times.

Bag of sand in freezer.

Our bags of clean sand have been in our Back Bay Area for quite some time which is why we decided to err on the side of caution. We placed our sand in the freezer for over 96 hours in a freezing temperature of -18 degree Fahrenheit. Freezing objects is a preventative technique used to reduce the chances of pest infestation because it can kill insects that cannot adapt quickly to low temperatures.

Faux alligator skin, suede, and fur were purchased to mimic the animal hides that will be used to trade items. A pattern was created to make the process of making multiple alligators easier. Even the feet of the alligators where considered when making the pattern. My favorite part of the entire interactive are the googly eyes on the otter pelts.

The cutest otter pelts you will ever see.

Alligator pattern with optional stuffed feet.

The element that brings the entire exhibit together, and makes the interactive feel more authentic is the replica of a receipt sheet that would have been used at the Stranahan Trading Post. The original sheet was scanned and digitally edited by Rebecca Fell. The edited image was then printed on stacks of paper, cut to its original sized, and glued into booklets. Every visitor can now write and take with them a replica of a receipt sheet.

Original receipt sheet used at the Stranahan Trading Post.
Replica of the receipt book without the writing.

The Stranahan Trading Post took a lot of brainstorming, planning and painstaking labor. Though I truly enjoyed working on this project, nothing felt more satisfying than seeing all of the elements combined together to make an immersive space.



I hope you make a trip over to the museum and make use of our interactive. We otter see you there!

(Posted by James Powell on behalf of Ellen Batchelor, Head of Security, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.)

Up On The Roof

by Ellen Batchelor

No this is not the 1962 Drifter’s song!!


The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is getting a long-awaited new roof!


While watching the workers climb to the 32 feet peak, I noticed I was not the only one watching! The visitors to the museum were also watching
while the workers swung from spot to spot while perched on the side of the roof!


Can’t help thinking how these guys really “earn” their money. The temperatures are a lot more intense up there with nothing to block out the sweltering sun, not to mention the heat emanating from the metal roof.

Work on the roof is expected to last for up to 9 weeks.  But, the Museum will be open regular hours, (9:00am to 5:00pm, 7 days per week), during the entire re-roofing project.  We apologize in advance for any dust, noise, or inconvenience of any kind.

“Up on the roof … it’s peaceful as can be … “

(Posted by James Powell on behalf of Dr. Paul Backhouse, Museum Director and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer)

A Trip to the Red Bay Community on Andros Island

by Paul Backhouse

A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to visit the Red Bay community on Andros Island in the Bahamas and thought our blog readers might be interested in hearing more about it.  Departing early in the morning from the Big Cypress Reservation in a small aircraft and flying southeast of the Florida peninsular we soon glimpsed the surprisingly large land mass of Andros Island out of the plane windows. Andros Island was not like the other Bahamian islands I had previously travelled to and viewed from the air much of the more than 100 miles of coastline is largely undeveloped.

Interior of Andros Island and the small airfield that serves the main Fresh Creek settlement.

We were soon on the ground and warmly welcomed by folks who had invited the Chairman of the Tribe, James Billie, to visit their island.  Our visit also happened to coincide with “Crab Fest” and we were received with full VIP treatment for the event.  The crustaceans in question were indeed formidable beasts, large land crabs that roam the island. We had spotted a particularly large one on route to the festival as he foraged for algae (their main diet) amongst the bushes.  At the festival a small enclosure allowed us to get a closer look at some specimens and the pincers certainly were impressive!

Large land crab in the enclosure at the Fresh Creek Crab Fest.

We were not at the festival long before we were on the road bumping our way up the Queen’s Highway to the Red Bay settlement on the northwest tip of the island.  The drive was long and for me most enjoyable as were driving on the correct side of the road (the left!).  Our observation from the air had been correct and we barely saw any other houses until we reached the small settlement of Red Bay.  This community was the primary reason for our trip.  The people living in this area are largely descendants of indigenous and ‘Black Seminole’ communities that had escaped Florida in 1821 shortly after Spain ceded Florida to the US.  As we bounced down the road I tried to imagine the struggle that these people had been through to reach Andros Island and the hardships that they had endured.    

Once we reached the Red Bay settlement it became almost immediately obvious that the community had distinct cultural origins.  Palmetto leaves were hanging outside a small wooden house as we pulled up.  We were warmly welcomed into the house and introduced to the residents – Reverend Bertram A. Newton and his wife Rose Newton.

Palmetto fronds hang drying in preparation for use in traditional basketry still practiced in the Red Bay community.

Reverend Newton was a tremendously kind individual and I felt privileged to witness him and his wife meeting the Chairman of the Seminole Tribe.  Rose was busy making a basket in her living room, weaving palmetto leaves together without use of any additional materials to make beautiful baskets.  During the visit I was struck by the heat within the wooden framed housing.  No air conditioners and only limited breezes from the doors and windows that were wide open.

Chairman James Billie meets Reverend Newton at his home in Red Bay.

A little further up the road we came across a compound of houses that rose had directed us to in order to purchase one of her beautiful baskets.  We were interested to see the compound was arranged so that a cooking area was set-aside in a separate structure and a palmetto ‘camp’ structure was also still being used.

Thatched ‘camp’ structure at the Red Bay settlement.

At this camp we purchased basketry that had been crafted by Rose and also her sister Eva.  I selected a rather handsome basket that was crafted by Eva and this will be added to our collection back at the museum shortly.  We hope you will get the opportunity to visit and see the basket yourself and as for me I will never forget my visit to the Red Bay community.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki staff attend opening reception for Museum of Florida History’s Seminole exhibit

Museum of Florida History
located in the R. A. Gray Building
Tallahassee, Florida

A couple of Thursdays ago, May 16, I had the privilege of attending the opening reception of the new exhibit, Seminole People of Florida:  Survival to Success, at the Museum of Florida History (MoFH) in Tallahassee.

Just before the reception, I joined up with Paul Backhouse, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Director and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, and Annette Snapp, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Operations Manager, for the short walk from the hotel over to the MoFH.

“Hey, wait fo me!”

Once there, and after the initial hellos, the staff of the MoFH gave us a fantastic tour of the exhibit.  The exhibit documents the history of the Seminoles, and highlights the past and continuing accomplishments of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

MoFH sign located at the start of the exhibit
Just one of many cases and displays of Seminole artwork and artifacts from the holdings of the MoFH

The exhibit is comprised of artwork and artifacts from the MoFH’s extensive Seminole related holdings, and from thirteen items loaned from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to the MoFH.  Nine of these loaned items are paintings by Seminole artist Noah Billie.  These paintings are accompanied by a video on which Noah Billie discusses his paintings and artwork.

The other loaned items include a beautiful bandolier bag, historic and contemporary dolls, and printed copies of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s 1957 Constitution and corporate charter.

Seminole artist Noah Billie paintings loaned from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to the MoFH
Bandolier bag loaned from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to the MoFH

After our tour, the reception continued with music and food in the lobby.  The Kenney Hill Band provided the music, both music and food were excellent.

Next, everyone gathered in an adjoining room to hear Seminole Tribal member, historian, and Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Community Outreach Specialist Willie Johns speak about the Seminole Tribe of Florida.  Extra chairs were brought in for the overflow audience.  Willie Johns’ talk was followed by an enthusiastic and extended question and answer period, that ended only when MoFH staff gently reminded the audience of the late hour.

Thank you Museum of Florida History for a very enjoyable reception and evening!

Seminole People of Florida:  Survival to Success will be on display until August 18, 2013.  If you find yourself in the Tallahassee area, be sure to visit this excellent exhibit.

For more information, visit the MoFH’s website at,  Here, you will find information on the exhibit and upcoming scheduled talks related to the exhibit.