The Most Exciting Time of the Year

It’s that time of the year again.  No, not Christmas or any other major holiday, rather on June 1st our part of the country sees the start of hurricane season.  While this might not seem all that exciting to other portions of the country, down here in South Florida hurricane season is a time of year met with some anxiety.  In 2005, South Florida was hit with storm after storm, one of which plowed its way across the everglades causing extensive damage to the Big Cypress Reservation.  So what does this matter to those of us who work behind the scenes in the Collections Division of the Museum?  Besides creating hurricane kits and preparing our homes for the possibility of storms, the Collections Division staff also finds itself creating kits and preparing plans for the rescue and stabilization of the galleries and collection storage areas found at the Museum.  One of the main ways in which we prepare for the possibility of being impacted by a storm is to run training sessions, for example our Emergency Preparedness, Response and Salvage in Museum Collections workshop held in February 2010. 

            Besides going through training, Collections staff also needed to prepare kits in order to deal with any disasters that might occur.  Unlike the hurricane kits possibly kept in your home, our museum disaster kits contain items such as nitrile gloves, masks, caution tape, and many different absorbent materials that will help us deal with any water type disaster.  Our disaster kits are also kept in rolling carts that can be moved around the property and brought to the site of the disaster itself. 

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Emergency Cart

Another large part of hurricane preparedness is planning.  In 2005, when Hurricane Wilma cut across the everglades, portions of the roof were torn from the main Museum building.  This caused water to pour into the Museum, which in turn damaged some of mannequins currently on display.  Most of the damage was minor and quickly fixed, but Museum staff realized that if another category 5 storm would hit the Museum action had to be taken.  In conjunction with a mold mitigation project that occurred in 2007, the staff devised a plan to de-install all of the mannequins and artifacts currently on display in the 5500 square feet of gallery space.  After a months work of planning and testing, the staff can now de-install and secure the entire gallery in one day. 

Courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Since the very active hurricane season of 2005, South Florida has not been hit by any hurricanes.  But a major mistake many South Florida residents fall into is the idea that since the past few years have seen no storms, we can become lax in our preparation and planning for this year’s season.  It is one of our major responsibilities as residents of this particular region to always be on watch and prepared for the next major storm.


Wait, so you don’t dig up gold?

Indiana Jones and Tombraider were nowhere in sight at the 2009 field season at the suspected Fort Shackelford site on the Big Cypress Reservation. While the archaeologists at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum are not being chased by Russian spies, we do have some exciting things happening that impact the archaeological community. The following is an account from one of our field technicians on his experience in the field:

My name is Derek Braun. I am an archaeological field technician for the Tribal Archaeology Section (TAS), but I also assist and conduct Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) Surveys for the TAS and Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO). GPR is a non-invasive geophysical surveying technique which can be used to find some archaeological features. In layman’s terms, “GPR works by sending a tiny pulse of energy into a material and recording the strength and the time required for the return of any reflected signal, (2010).” The basic steps for GPR are as follows: a survey is conducted over an area likely to have archaeological remains, the data has to be processed to make a visual image showing high reflection areas (possible archaeological features), and finally the high reflection areas are ground truthed or excavated to determine an explanation for said anomaly. For more detailed information see the GSSI website posted above. One of the most common uses in archaeology for GPR is cemetery mapping.

Derek Braun

While employed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida (STOF), I have assisted Dr. Kent Schneider with the GPR survey for the Fort Shackelford relocation project. Ft. Shackelford was an early to mid-nineteenth century military fort located on the Big Cypress Reservation.  We surveyed a large portion of land surrounding the Fort Shackelford monument. In the spring of 2009, an archaeological field school was conducted under the supervision of the STOF-THPO, and the Florida Golf Coast University. The field school provided a chance to ground truth some of the high reflection anomalies found after the processing of the GPR data for the Fort Shackelford relocation project survey. Unfortunately, no archaeological features were located during the field school. This should not reflect negatively on GPR, because like any process negative results will exist. Personally, I have seen a number of archaeological features located using GPR in the academic and professional field. Hopefully this brief glimpse into GPR will inspire some of you to look into or pursue a career in geophysical surveying techniques for archaeology.

Archaeologists at work

If you are interested in learning more about Ft. Shackelford or about the Tribal Historic Preservation Office in general, join us at the Florida Anthropological Society Meeting which will be held on May 7-9, 2010 in Fort Myers. We will be discussing the results of a unique collaborative research project between the Tribal Historic Preservation Office of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Anthropology Program at Florida Gulf Coast University. Hope to see you there!

Fort Shackelford field school

“Reach Out and Touch Someone”

Hey, hey you… I’m going to let you in on a little scoop.  Coming in 2011 the museum is developing a theme that we are internally calling “Get in touch with the Museum.”  This is going to be a full year of rolling out exciting openings, interactive elements, and programs all designed to engage the senses, stimulate the mind, and just have fun with cool stuff. 

            One of the biggest parts of next year is going to be the piece that inspired the theme.  The Microsoft® Surface™ multi-touch table top is a unit that runs interactive programming.  Basically, think Ms. Packman meets Star Trek.  The screen of the unit faces up and visitors will be able to sit or stand to interact.  The visitors will be able to scroll through several programs including a timeline of the three Seminole Wars, a map of a camp on which you will put actual game pieces that will guide you from place to place and tell you all about living in a camp, and a stickball game that up to four people will be able to play. 

            The table will actually arrive later this year in August of 2010, but because the programming is so intensive it will take several years to roll out all of the games, maps and stories.  To start, Quatrefoil Associates, with the help of the museum staff, will be putting together an interactive timeline of the three Seminole Wars.  This program will highlight the battles, leaders, weapons, and treaties of those wars in a graphical representation which will also include reenactment footage, archival documents, contemporary accounts, and artifact images.  Visitors will be able to interact with the timeline in several ways to go more in depth.  Important dates will link with images of artifacts either related to those events or are emblematic of that time period.  Along with the interactive Seminole Wars timeline, there will also be a static timeline showing concurrent events from around the county and the world.  This will help to show the context of the war periods.

            Other ways in which the Museum will invite people to “get in touch” will be though a technology called iCell.  One might think this is the latest product for making phone calls and listening to music but it is actually a proximity sensor system that reacts to body heat.  When the viewer comes close to touching an area or taps on a surface the infrared sensors detect the body heat and trigger a backlight and a video on a nearby monitor.  The videos highlight a certain interesting snippet of information on a piece, or a depiction of how something was used. After a beta testing of the product in the upcoming Tools of War exhibit we are hoping to add the technology to several of the permanent exhibits.

            Also in 2011 we will be expanding the already in place Guide By Cell® tour stops found throughout the current Postcards and Perceptions: Culture as Tourism exhibit and out along the Boardwalk.  If you haven’t tried out the tours come by and give a listen, there are no hand held units to rent or headphones to share. Simply use your very own cell phone to dial up the tour stops and hear Tribal Members tell their stories in their own words. 

            Everyone in the Exhibits Department and especially me are really looking forward to the next year and all of the exciting things we are developing.  The Microsoft® Surface™ will be a show piece in the museum and will also serve as a show piece for South Florida while keeping the first tribally owned museum accredited by the AAM on the cutting edge.  And along with the rest of the technological advancements and exciting upcoming programs, 2011 is the perfect time to “Get in touch with the Museum.”

Conservation Workshop: “Emergency Preparedness, Response and Salvage in Museum Collections.”

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum was honored to host a museum workshop last week titled “Emergency Preparedness, Response and Salvage in Museum Collections.”  We invited two conservators to come down to the Hollywood reservation and teach the course at the Native Learning Center.  The instructors were MJ Davis, a paper conservator from Northern Vermont, and Barbara Moore, an object conservator from New Jersey.  Both of the instructors are members of the American Institute for Conservation’s Emergency Response Team (AIC-CERT); which was formed after Hurricane Katrina when the conservation community realized that cultural collections that are unfortunately involved in disasters were not getting the attention needed for a successful recovery.  AIC-CERT offers free emergency response assistance to cultural organizations when a disaster has occurred.  If your historical site or cultural institution needs advice or emergency help, please call 202-661-8068.

MJ Davis and Barbara Moore explain which tools to use in a water recovery.

            The Emergency Preparedness workshop held by the museum was a two day workshop open to any museum or cultural institution employee in Florida.  The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum has annually held museum workshops to help bring together museum employees in the state and create a network of communication within the professional field. 

As we all know, Florida is threatened by numerous hurricanes and the resulting floods.  Unfortunately, there are few educational opportunities in the Southeast to teach museum employees how to handle disaster and emergency situations should they arise.  During the course of the workshop, the participants were taught what needs to be included in their institution’s emergency plan.  The lessons included how to work with first responders (fire, police, EMS, governmental aide), how to assess the document damage and how to prioritize, document, organize and carry out a salvage operation. 

Teams work to recover water damaged items.

            The course consisted of a day and a half of classroom lecture.  The sections included what should be in our own institutional emergency plans and covered risk assessment for natural disasters (hurricane, flood, blizzard, and fire), man made disasters (bomb threats, workplace violence, vandalism, arson), and internal disasters (building failure, pipe leaks).   We were also taught how different materials react to water or fire damage.  The materials highlighted were paper, books, textiles, paintings, photographs, electronic media, wood, furniture, leather, ceramics and glass.  The most exciting portion of the class was our actual salvage activity.  Groups of various “artifacts” were gathered from local yard sales, employees’ houses, and good will stores.  These artifacts were thrown into kiddie pools and allowed to soak for 6 hours before we staged a rescue operation on them.  This activity was a great way to provide hands on training as well as an understanding of both the rescue structure with its defined roles and how materials change when they are saturated with water.  We all enjoyed this activity and learned tremendous amounts about salvage of artifacts.  Let’s just hope that we never need to use these skills! 

All of the teams working on thier recovery efforts.

            For more information on this course, AIC-CERT, or conservation during disasters, please feel free to send me an email.   

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Conservator Corey Smith explaining what her team did.

The Evolution of an Exhibit

            There is a perception by many museum visitors that museum exhibits are static, unchanging, frozen in time. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Museum exhibits can evolve! The end point of a museum exhibit, or what a visitor sees, is only a small part of the journey. In this article I would like to highlight the process and the transformative steps our most recent exhibit Postcards and Perceptions: Culture as Tourism has undergone.

The Big Idea

            The process of creating the Postcards and Perceptions: Culture as Tourism exhibit was atypical due to the fact that the postcards idea had already been exhibited in the past. The decision to refurbish the exhibit was an interesting one. Usually exhibits do not revisit the same theme and if they do, a significant amount of time must have already

passed. Upon revisiting the subject matter it was revealed that we could create some incredibly interesting storylines that the first exhibit did not touch upon.       

            The original exhibit was called: Seminoles Look Back: Our People in Postcards and was featured in the later part of 2005 and most of 2006. In the original curatorial statement it was revealed that since the museum has such an extensive collection of postcards (over 600) they only had time to scratch the surface of this interesting topic. Most of the original exhibit dealt with the craft and history of postcards, the photographers who captured the original images and the tribal members who were most prominently featured in postcards of the time period. The exhibit also displayed historical dress from the museum’s permanent collection which was actually depicted in the postcards. In many ways this exhibit was successful and it effectively displayed a segment of the museums collection with great historical value.

The Re-creation

            When re-creating a previously well done and popular exhibit it is extremely important not to fall into a few traps, for example: How do we create new and fresh storylines when using previously exhibited material?…and…How can we change the exhibit design and layout to make it even more exciting than the last? The first thing we had to do was revisit the previous exhibit and ask ourselves what subjects did the previous exhibit not cover. This involved sifting through the postcards used in the exhibit, then going back through the postcards we had in the collection. The long and somewhat tedious process eventually started to reveal an obvious theme.

            Most of the postcards depicted Seminoles in tourist camps which were popular in the early to mid part of the 20th century. Building upon the tourist camp idea, we took it a step further to examine how Seminole identity was being portrayed, revealed and changed through the medium of postcards. When examining the literature of the time period, what also becomes apparent is that there was some definitive perceptions of Seminoles and American Indians in general placed upon them by the popular culture of early 20th century America. Most often, depictions of American Indians at this time was unflattering, an unfortunate circumstance of minority relations with the population at large. On the flip side, the tourist camps provided an economic opportunity for the Seminoles. Over time, Seminole entrepreneurs purchased, owned and promoted their own tourist camps. Today the Seminole Tribe of Florida enjoys economic success and political independence. These roots stem from the experiences, struggles and opportunities of the tourist camps.

            Exhibit design and layout is also a key factor in attracting the visitor’s attention. To enhance the postcards theme we have incorporated details that we hope will appeal to the visitor. All text panels and labels will be styled in the likeness of either a postcard or a postage related theme. The actual postcards will be displayed on the wall in a scrapbook like collage. Adding color to postcards was a key selling point back in the early part of the 20th century. We wanted to do the same with the exhibit and create a colorful environment by adding banners and color to the exhibit walls. Visitor interaction is an incredibly important aspect to any exhibition. We have created a fun photo opportunity with a life size postcard. Visitiors can get their pictures taken and we hope they will friend us on Facebook and post their pictures to our site.  We have also created a visitor feedback area in which the visitor can make comments. The exhibit poses a question in the beginning: “How did the tourist camps effect Seminole identity?” Visitors are then asked to think about this question while touring the gallery. At the end the same question is posed. The intent is to get the visitor to formulate and comment on their conclusions at the feedback area.


Have Exhibit, Will Travel

            A branch of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s exhibits division is called STEP, an acronym for Seminole Traveling Exhibits Program. We are very excited about this program and it will allow us to create exhibits, available for rent to the museum public nationally. Sharing the Seminole story is vital and STEP allows us to share with a much wider museum audience. One of the intentions of Postcards and Perceptions: Culture as Tourism is to first, exhibit at our museum and secondly, transform it into a traveling exhibition. This also has posed some challenges when trying to develop, such as: When creating components, how do we take into account the rigors of travel?…and…How do we make this exhibit appeal to a wider audience?

            Considering the first issue, when developing this exhibit for travel we had to be flexible in the design elements. We also had to be flexible in the sense that some sensitive artifacts, included in the showing at our museum, could not be included into the traveling exhibit due to conservation concerns. This needed to be taken into account when creating the storylines. The goal was not to lose intent when an artifact had to be removed from the exhibit for travel. We also had to be able to tailor the exhibit spatially to meet other institutional needs. The exhibit is presented in sections and not in chronological progression. Telling the story in sections rather than sequentially allows other museums to be able to change the order of the sections or even subtract a section and not lose the original intent of the exhibit.

            The second issue we had to consider is that we had to broaden our storylines just a bit to be able to meet a wider audience. The exhibit is still focused on the Seminole Tribe of Florida. However, the social situations, opportunities, and obstacles the Seminoles faced are a microcosm of what Native Americans also faced during this time period. For any exhibit to be a successful traveling exhibit it has to be accessible to all audiences and fit in a myriad of institutions.

            The evolution of an exhibit is an exciting and a dynamic process! We hope you visit us and experience Postcards and Perceptions: Culture as Tourism. If you do, think about the journey the exhibit has taken to get to its present state. Who knows, it might even come to a museum near you!