My First Time on the Boardwalk

I remember the first time I walked the boardwalk at the Museum. It was at my interview for the Education Coordinator position. The warmth of sun filtering through the trees, the feel of the cool wood planks beneath my feet (I had worn heels to my interview and my feet were sore). The needles from the bald cypress trees had begun to fall onto the boardwalk and were getting stuck to my trouser socks. I remember breathing in the clean Big Cypress air feeling the difference in the air quality compared to that of Detroit where I had grown up. Looking at the placards I appreciated the life giving nature of the plants around me. I wondered how many of these plants are weaved into the Seminoles’ culture.

I didn’t make it very far that day without proper footwear, but the memory has lasted and driven the way I work with the Tour Guides to give visitors a memorable experience. I have had many walks on the boardwalk since that time; each experience has given me a deeper appreciation for where I work. However, boardwalk itself isn’t how my understanding and appreciation for Seminole culture has grown; being a part of programming that takes place on it, the exchange thoughts and ideas about life and the world around us. Some days I go out talking with Tribal members, colleagues, and visitors, which left me with a feeling that we had just solved the world’s problems. Other days I walk out there to clear my head or to get in some exercise. Much of the time I’m out there, I’m working to keep the plant information fresh in my mind or am brainstorming ideas for a new program.

My advice for a person planning a trip to our Museum is to make sure you have enough time to walk the boardwalk. It’s just over a mile long so bring some water and good walking shoes. Bug spray is a must especially during the summer time. It’s hot and muggy this time of year with rain. Dry season is nice time to walk the boardwalk the humidity drops and the temperature in mild and cooler (75 to 80 degrees on average). In the wet season, with almost daily afternoon down pores, the rain gives life to the cypress dome plants that are dormant in the dry season come back to life in the wet season.

Need to take a break, about half way through the walk is our village and ceremonial grounds. It is a great place to cool off under a chickee, get a drink of water, and visit with Seminole crafters.

It’s more than just plants that come to life in the summer animals are more active, too. All staff seems to be aware that more animals are around and to keep a distance between us and them. The animals we see on a daily basis are wild and roam freely through our grounds. We see raccoons and turtles, alligators and otters, and on rare occasions a black bear will wander through. At this point many of you are thinking, “Isn’t it scary working in place with so much wild life?” Not at all. I feel safe out here knowing all the staff is trained in first aid and we have numbers on our boardwalk along with call boxes to send help quickly if something were to happen. The best part of all is we’re across the street from the police, fire, and EMT building; average response time in my experience about 5 minutes.

Maybe it’s the heat or any of the other unique experiences I just described, but we don’t get much visitor traffic during the summer time. I say, “Come prepared and you’ll have a great adventure.”

-Diana Stone, Education Coordinator

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THE AH-TAH-THI-KI MUSEUM NEEDS YOUR ASSISTANCE: Snapshots Recall Key Players of 1940s Cattle Program

One of the great pleasures of working at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is rediscovering small treasures held in the permanent collections.  Recently, while processing a portion of the Archival Collection photographs, I rediscovered a small group of photographs.  These twenty-one small sized snapshots show general scenes of daily life of the Seminoles, which include cattle operations and key figures related to the Tribe’s cattle program.  Key figures shown include James Benjamin “J. B.” Thomas, Fred Montsdeoca, Josie Billie, and Kenneth A. Marmon.  James Benjamin “J. B.” Thomas’ son Bobby Ray Thomas generously donated these photographs to the Museum in 1999.

Of special interest is this photograph of an unidentified signing event.  Museum staff believe this photograph is related to the Tribe’s cattle program and was taken on Big Cypress in the mid to late 1940s.  Big Cypress Agricultural and Livestock Enterprise trustees Morgan Smith and Jimmy Cypress are shown seated at a table.  Joe Bowers, Fred Montsdeoca, and others stand encircling table.

Photograph (1999.40.15) of unidentified signing event. Can you help us identify what is happening this photograph?

Further information about this group of Seminole cattle program photographs can be found in the next issue of the Seminole Tribune (http://www.semtribe.com/SeminoleTribune/AboutUs.aspx) and the Fall 2011 Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Quarterly, our membership magazine.  A subscription to the AQ is one of many benefits of joining our membership program.  To find out more about our membership levels please contact, Mary Birch-Hanson, Membership Coordinator, marybirch-hanson@semtribe.com

If you would like to view this group of photographs, additional items related to the Tribe’s cattle program, or other Museum materials, please contact the Museum at 877.902.1113 to arrange an appointment.

-James Powell, Associate Registrar

Lessons from Denver

The Denver Art Museum (DAM as it is affectionately known) has recently reopened their Native American Art section after a seven-month closure.  Why?  So they could attribute the names of actual makers to the pieces they made.  Could a slow and steady movement be catching on?  Are we finally moving away from the old methods of ethnographic presentation or simple art historical approaches to displaying Native art?  Will I have to find something else to harp on during my blogs?  One would hope so.

 

Let’s shift focus on what others are doing and talk a little about our own identification projects here at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki.  Seminole material culture has certainly not been spared from the scourge of ethnographic collection and display.  Hundreds if not thousands of objects in our own collection have incomplete records of who made certain items.  Even many of the faces within the hundreds of postcards in our collection are nameless while the non-Indian photographers are celebrated as noble recorders of history.  It’s time to take the anonymity out of the Museum whenever it’s possible. 

 

Here at the Museum we try to attribute the names of the makers and owners of the object in our collections.  We also make a point of identifying the people in historical pictures.  This has not always been the case as shoddy collection practices were prevalent until relatively recently.  That’s why we are making the addition of artist/maker names to as many objects as we can in the Permanent Artifact Collection (dolls, baskets, beadwork, ect.) a priority.  During the next few years we also plan on researching and writing biographies of the Seminole artists in our Fine Art Collection.

Osceola Wearing an American Flag by Seminole artist, Noah Billie.

I think we are off to a good start but we have a long way to go before we can claim any real accomplishment.  Through our community contacts we were able to get some Tribal seniors to visit the Museum and identify the makers of some of our ethnographic collections, such as dolls and baskets.  In August of 2009 the museum took possession of the Boehmer Collection of Photographs.  This collection of photographs may be one of largest visual records of the Seminole Tribe from the 1930s thru the 1960s.  While many of the people in the photos were identified before we received them there were a few faces researchers and our staff couldn’t recognize.  The community was again helpful in identifying their friends and relatives.

Collections staff meets with Tribal elders to identify individuals in photographs during an advisory tour in April of 2010.

Of course the best way to ensure these kinds of things occur is by ensuring Tribal members are involved in every aspect of their museum.  I’ll be the first to admit we don’t always hold fast to those ideals but in the last two years the Museum has begun to cultivate community with Tribal members so we can gather as much information as possible on the rich and vibrant Seminole culture by connecting the past with a contemporary population of Seminoles.  I would personally like to see more museums take a proactive approach by applying these principles.  Together with other members of the international museum network we can move our organizations to new levels of distinction while gaining credibility amongst the communities we claim to represent.

 

Jonathan McMahon

Museum Membership Happenings

It’s summertime here at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  We are preparing for summer camp kids, family vacation groups and you. 

For those of you that have been our friends for a year or more, and live or visit Southeast Florida in June, be on the lookout for BAMM.  What is BAMM you ask?  It’s the Broward Attractions and Museums Month.  As a member of Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum or any of the other 17 participating organizations you can visit all in June FREE…What a deal!  Check out www.BAMMinfo.org for additional information.

Next time you visit Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, look for our red shouldered hawk (south Florida pale adult) and his new mate.  They have built a nest right outside our curatorial building.  We have asked for ideas for names, have any suggestions?  Find us on facebook or email GregPalumbo@semtribe.com .

Our Tribal Historic Preservation Office is hosting another season of their archaeological field school.  University students will work directly with our THPO staff using ground penetrating radar (GPR), digging the site, processing artifacts in the lab and participating in a Chickee survey.  The site under study is potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

We also have, Tools Of War, our newest exhibit which looks at the changing technology of weapons and how these advancements shaped the Seminole Wars.  This exhibit features great items from our collection, including weaponry from 1817 -1858. 

Another current exhibit, From Surviving to Thriving: An Everglades Economy is also available for your viewing.  It is a chronological look at how the geographical area commonly known as the Everglades, has sustained the Seminole Tribe of Florida from the mid 1800’s to the present.  Learn how some of the deliberate attempts to change the Everglades have impacted the ecology of South Florida and how they have affected the Tribe in both positive and negative ways.

Our Museum Store also has new merchandise relating to the Tools of War exhibit.  In addition to a catalog of the exhibit, we have: sword letter openers in brass, gorgets of brass and silver plate, and decorative wooden canteens similar to artifacts from our collects.  We are especially proud of our Bandolier Bag jewelry.  It was designed based on details form Osceola’s bag as well as other exhibit items.  Remember that members of the museum receive a 15% discount on all purchases!

Beginning Memorial Day, May 30, 2011 and running through Labor Day, September 5, 2011, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum will offer free admission to active-duty military and their immediate family members (military ID holder and five immediate family members). Active duty military includes: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and active duty National Guard and Reserve members.  To learn more about Blue Star Families, visit http://www.bluestarfam.org.

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is proud to participate in Blue Star Museums; in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and more than 1,300 museums across America. Leadership support has been provided by MetLife Foundation through Blue Star Families.  The complete list of participating museums is available at http://www.arts.gov/bluestarmuseums.

To enhance your Museum experience we offer free tours on most days, check the calendar on our website for times & days.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum members are always admitted free.  If you would like Museum membership information, please email marybirch-hanson@semtribe.com or call 954.364.5205.

I look forward to seeing you at the Museum. 

Mary Birch-Hanson

Membership Coordinator

What Inspires a Great Exhibit?

By: Greg Palumbo

Over the last week I took a vacation to Washington DC. In a city with some of the world’s best museums it’s hard for an exhibit designer to stop thinking about how they can incorporate new elements into their own exhibits.  As a Tribal employee, it was important that I made a stop to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). I even got a behind the scenes tour from a very accommodating Collections Manager, Gail Joice.  But one of the most inspiring places I visited on my trip is sort of a hidden gem of the Smithsonian museums, the National Postal Museum. 

As I walked though the NMAI it was clear that there was a deep commitment to native peoples in the exhibits. This, I believe, was the intent from the onset of the museum, and it shows in a very appropriate way.  Native co-curators are showcased in the exhibit areas and helped tell their stories. Each exhibit space was somewhat different from each other and reflected the individualities of the Tribes.  The concept of community co-curation is something that we here at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum will be bringing to our rotating gallery space in the years to come. This will allow the different communities within the Seminole Tribe of Florida to in the development of the exhibits that will tell their stories.  We are also in the process of developing a more consistent advisory committee for both the museum as a whole and for the Interpretive Planning Committee (for those unfamiliar, this committee helps to develop a lot of the programming in the museum).   

Another inspiring element that struck me, and will influence my future exhibit designing was in the “Our Lives Exhibition” gallery.  The exhibit in this gallery features the inclusion of a modern art piece which was seamlessly integrated within the middle of what is essentially a history exhibit.  I say essentially a history exhibit, because nothing at NMAI falls neatly into traditional museum boxes.  The concept of many voices and many hands developing the exhibits in a more community based way lets NMAI push the norms of museum design.  Art mixed with history, with a dash of anthropological explanation, a community center vibe, all make for a vibrant museum that is alive with energy.  The “Our Lives Exhibition” gallery uses the idea of a storm swirling around, encompassing the native world.  From contact, to daily life, to legal battles, these struggles take the form of a hurricane spinning its way around the gallery, but in the middle is a conceptual art piece by Edward Poitras (Saulteaux/Metis) entitled “Eye of the Storm” the label reads,

“This is a place of stillness, a space in time where Indians regrouped, adopting elements of the storm to keep their cultures alive.  The piece features evidence of Native survivance: seeds of corn, cardinal direction markers, pages from the Biblical book of Revelation, and the hat similar to one worn by Wovoka (ca. 1858-1932)… Storms come and go, but life continues.  There is regeneration and renewal, rebirth and rebuilding – always and forever.  Native history is not over it continues as yet unwritten.”

“Eye of the Storm” Edward Poitras (Saulteaux/Metis)

This piece was impactful even without the explanation above and the feeling of a still, reflective space in the middle of a tempest of information and overwhelming abundance of artifacts, exhibited on a scale intended to overwhelm, created a powerful experience as a visitor, an experience that I will not soon forget.  For professionals, we hope that moments like these will instill in the visitor a drive to learn more and understand the subject matter after they have left the space, even if they don’t retain all of the information written in the text. 

Another experience I had in DC, that I will not soon forget, was my visit to the National Postal Museum.  Tucked next to booming Union Station, this museum tends to be overlooked by visitors. However, it is well known in the exhibit world that this is a place that is getting things right.  When you walk into the museum you’re greeted by the all too common security check and then what I think might be one of the only failings in the museum. When you enter the beautiful old post office with grand architecture, you have to be guided by the security guard around the corner to actually enter the museum, which is then past a small information desk and down an escalator.  After talking to some staff, I know that this is something which is being addressed in the next two years and there will be more of a museum presence in the old post office.  However, once you are in the museum you are in for a treat. 

National Postal Museum Main GalleryStamp Collection Display at NPM

 

The NPM features exhibits that lead you in and out of beautiful immersive environments, interactive elements that even we most senior of kids can have fun exploring, and hierarchical text panels that allow the visitor to get the quick facts and move on or read more in depth when they find something that sparks their interest.  Many elements in this museum can be held up as examples of how things should be done. One element in particular is the way that the museum has identified their audience and reflects it in the exhibit spaces.  The more difficult concepts for younger people to understand (i.e. legal issues, development of the early mail systems, route management) are dealt with in interactive immersive elements that allow the visitor to make discoveries and learn at their own pace while making sure the major themes and concepts are conveyed.  Meanwhile the NPM also knows that they are recognized mainly for the post offices icons such as their mailboxes, trucks, and most of all their postmen and women, and they don’t bury the lead.  As you come down the escalator you enter an atrium that houses the trucks, trains, planes, stagecoach, mailboxes, and postal worker statues that everyone immediately recognizes as postal.  But we can’t forget the largest revenue stream for the post office and how millions of people interact with the post office… stamp collecting.  The NPM has made sure that they dedicated ample space to this pursuit with an area geared toward the youngest stamp collectors in a fun design gallery, to the most serious who can go through dozens of collections racks to view stamps from all over the world.  The NPM also doesn’t forget what every stamp collector wants to know the most either. How can I get more?  The NPM has a special gift shop just for the collectors where they can purchase stamps right from a teller in a classic style old post office counter. 

Stamp Collection Display at NPM

 

       As someone who is an exhibit designer and who loves museums I didn’t have any allusions that my vacation wouldn’t involve some work.  But with terrific institutions such as those of the Smithsonian I don’t mind punching the clock.  While the National Museum of the American Indian is a must see for any fan of this blog, try to carve out a little time in your DC trip to stop in to the National Postal Museum and see what’s new, you won’t regret either stop. 

GregPalumbo@semtribe.com , Exhibits Manager