Tribal Historic Preservation Office: Collections Division

The Tribal Historic Preservation Office’s Collection Section plays many roles in the preservation and care of the Seminole Tribe’s archaeological collections.  From carefully cleaning artifacts as they come in from the field, to cataloging and housing the objects through archival methods, the Collections Section works hard to uphold the highest standards of safeguarding the archaeological collections. 

Left: Katy Gregory, Right: Kate Redente working in the conservation lab.

One of the most important aspects of the Collections Section is the lab.  The lab is where most of the work takes place including the cleaning, sorting, identifying, cataloging, and accessioning of the objects.  Below is an explanation of the life of an object once it enters the lab.

Most of the objects come from the archaeological excavations done by the Tribal Archaeology Section and primarily consist of animal bone and ceramic fragments.  Once excavated, the objects are brought back from the field to the lab.  Depending on the material and type of object, it is gently cleaned in order to remove any excess dirt and sand.  Cleaning is done to prevent future damage and deterioration to an object.  However, it is important to know that not all objects are cleaned especially if the historic or cultural integrity of an object could be affected or destroyed.  Most of the time cleaning can be done by using a soft bristled toothbrush and distilled water.   

After the objects have been cleaned, they are left to dry on the drying racks.  It takes about a day or two for the objects to completely dry. 

Once the objects are dry, they are carefully sorted into like groups and cataloged.  Each group of objects receives a unique number which helps to identify the object as well as link the objects to their records.  Keeping track of each individual object is important and helps keep the collection organized and as well as allow for easy research access. 

Object Sorting

The final stage of preparing the object for storage is to place the objects into archival bags.  Each bag has an identification tag which is also printed on archival paper.  However, because some objects are too fragile to house in bags, custom boxes and supports are sometimes made to help prevent damage and deterioration.

The Collections Section is excited to be a part of the preservation of the archaeological collections.  It is great to be able to preserve these objects so that we might have a better understanding of the past!


Postcards and Perceptions: Exhibit Installation

Hello, my name is Stephen Ast and I am the Exhibits Coordinator here at the museum. My position entails a number of different duties and responsibilities, but right now I am here to tell you about one of my main duties, which is exhibit installation.

Stephen Ast working on Postcards and Perceptions

Currently we are in the middle of installing our upcoming exhibit Postcards and Perceptions: Culture as Tourism, which opens here on February 12th. Installation of our new exhibit begins with the de-installation of our previous exhibit, The Randle/Sheffield Collection. Once all the photographs were taken down and had conditions reports done on them by the Collections teams and returned, the real work of installation was able to being. The first step for this exhibit was to completely strip the Mila-walls, this included all the black vinyl that had been on the walls for over 2 years. Mila-walls are an interlocking, modular wall system that allows us to arrange the gallery differently for each exhibit. They are fully paintable and patchable and this will be the first time since I have been here that we have been able to change the color. Currently, we are at a mid-way point in our installation. The walls were rearranged and painting is half way done, thanks to our Exhibits Manager Greg Palumbo. While he has been painting away in the gallery I have been in the lab mounting and framing all the postcards for the show.

Please keep in mind that while installation began for this show on January 19th, preparing for installation and the creation of the show began over a year ago. All artifacts, archival materials, text panels, labels and any other visual collateral that are part of the show have been picked out, inspected, designed and ordered well before installation begins. For example, I turned in all the text panels, banners and labels that I designed to our printer at the end of December to make sure they were ready with enough time to fix any problems, because no matter how much we plan there are always last minute issues. Last week we received all the printed material and it looks terrific, but there were a few minor things that needed to be changed. Luckily we planned for the extra time and will have everything in time to put it on the walls. And even to get the text panels to the printer took months of editing and design work. Overall, there is so much prep work before installation begins that every department within the museum contributes something and we would not be able to do our job with out their help, especially the Curator, Registrar, Conservator and Researcher.

From this point on there are still a number of things left to be done. The walls will be adjusted further, and then they will be painted. Following that, all cases will be moved in to the gallery, as well as all artifacts and text panels. Cases will be cleaned and filled while the two dimensional artifacts and panels are laid out and hung. These final weeks will be hectic and busy but they are the most exciting part of my job. So please, come out and enjoy our new exhibit Postcards and Perception: Culture as Tourism. I truly think it will be one of the most exciting exhibits we have ever done and I hope after you see it that you agree. Thank you.

Now a word from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Membership corner…

Here we are in January 2010.  It is an exciting time for the Museum and its members with new exhibits and new “social networking” opportunities to keep you and the general community current on all that is happening at the Museum and with related community events.

It is a great time to visit our boardwalk, the winter birds are back.  Our friends at the Hendry Glades Audubon Society ( tell us they have spotted Great Egret, Red-shouldered Hawk, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher,  Black-and-white Warbler and American Redstart just to name a few of the beautiful birds in our area.

We will be at the Battle of Okeechobee Reenactment February 6 – 7, 2010.  This event is presented by the Okeechobee Battlefield Friends, Inc. and commemorates the largest and fiercest battle in the Seminole War fought on Christmas Day in 1837.  (

We have just become a “geocaching” site (  Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices.  The basic idea is to locate hidden containers outdoors (called geocaches), and then share the experience of the hunt online.  So grab your GPS system and begin your adventure.

Postcards & Perceptions: Culture as Tourism opens on February 12, so make plans to come and enjoy the new exhibit.  Elizabeth spoke in the previous blog about the fun she has had in working with Tribal elders to identify Seminole Tribal members in the postcards.

Check out the benefits of Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum membership at  We have added many new benefits to give you more value for you membership dollars. 

In addition, be sure to sign up for our new E-news set to launch in February (select Join Our Mailing List from the Home page).

Hope to see you at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki soon!


Postcards and Perceptions: Community Oral History in Exhibit Development

This year the Exhibits Department revamped an old postcard exhibit, which is scheduled to open at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki on March 6th, 2010.  The original, and new, exhibit displayed postcards of the Seminole Tribe that were sold all over the country for decades.  The postcards often had politically incorrect text and sometimes inappropriate names as labels.  The flipside to the seemingly bad postcards was the glimpses into people’s lives and the documentation of times past.

One of the unfortunate problems with the postcards was that the people depicted in them were largely unidentified.  The lack of identification muffled the story of the people in the picture by not allowing them to tell their own story.  In an effort to remedy the situation, I took the postcards that are to be featured in the exhibit to every tribal senior center to have them identified.  I also took the postcards out to the community and brought them with me to interviews with people.

Community oral history in action at a "Seminole Storytellers" event

On one very lucky day, the Big Cypress Senior Center was hosting their annual Christmas party.  I was able to speak with seniors from Big Cypress, Hollywood, Brighton, Immokalee, Tampa, and the Miccosukee Tribe.  Additionally, the seniors also identified most of the pictures from the Randle-Sheffield Collection, which is a travelling exhibit from the South Florida Community College Museum of Florida Art and Culture and is currently featured in the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki gallery.

There are two very memorable events that came from the Christmas party.  The first event was a chance encounter.  One postcard features the Brighton Day School.  In the picture, several children are lined up in front of the day school’s bus.  I recognized some of my friends from Brighton and joined their table.  I asked if they knew any of the children in the picture.  Much to my surprise everyone at the table had attended the Brighton Day School and they were all in the picture.  After labeling all of the children, they shared wonderful stories about the school and the school teachers- Mr. and Mrs. Boehmer.

The other event was with a senior in Big Cypress who had often refused interviews with me.  While flipping through the pictures she came to a page where her entire family had been photographed in the early Florida tourist attractions called Silver Springs and Tropical Hobbyland.  She identified several postcards and graciously told me about growing up in tourist camps that had Seminole camps such as Musa Isle, Tropical Hobbyland, and Silver Springs.

In the end, most of the people in the postcards were identified and many stories about the people were collected and shared.  The seniors from all of the reservations enjoyed the opportunity to look at the old postcards and talk about them and their experiences.  As an employee of the tribe, my times at the senior centers and in the community are the times I cherish the most.  Often, I unexpectedly learn something about myself or my life from one of the seniors.  In the end, the entire staff at the museum pulled together to bring the community, and our museum visitors, an exhibit that will truly be an experience.

"Seminole Storytellers" event at the ceremonial grounds at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

Postcards and Perceptions: Culture as Tourism is scheduled for a soft opening  on February 12th, 2010 and there is a opening reception on March 6th, 2010 at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum located on the Big Cypress Reservation.  For more information, contact the museum directly at 863-902-1113.  The exhibit will also feature an audio tour where museum guests will get to hear the stories behind the postcards from the people depicted in them.

2009 in Review

2009 has been a banner year for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Not only have some major milestones been met by the Museum, but we have kept on going with special programs and exhibits that have helped to highlight the history and culture of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Here is a quick review of what happened in 2009.

2009 has been a banner year for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  Not only have some major milestones been met by the Museum, but we have kept on going with special programs and exhibits that have helped to highlight the history and culture of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.  Here is a quick review of what happened in 2009:

In February the Museum, along with Heritage Ft. Lauderdale, AutoNation and RM Auctions, participated in the Wheels fundraising benefit.  The benefit was held at the Broward County Convention Center and included live entertainment provided by “The Fabulons” and a silent auction with all proceeds benefiting Heritage Ft. Lauderdale. 

March found the Museum hosting Kattle Kids Day, a weekend long event for school age children in the surrounding area.  The day was a resounding success with both Tribal kids and kids from across the region learning about the importance of the cattle industry for the Seminole Tribe of Florida.  In fact the event was such a success that another one will be held March 2010, so stay tuned for more information on this popular event. 

Roping up some cattle at Kattle Kids Day 2009
April was an extremely busy month for the Museum.  Unconquered Imagination opened at our facility in Okalee at the beginning of the month. The exhibit featured contemporary native artists from across the country and ran at that facility through October 2009.  Another exhibit, Native Words, Native Warriors, opened at our Big Cypress facility at the end of the month.  This exhibit, produced by the Smithsonian Institutions Traveling Exhibit Service, was met with much excitement by both the staff and community. 
Native Words, Native Warriors Opening April 2009
The other big news from April was the Museum finding out that it had earned national accreditation from the American Association of Museums (AAM).  This made the Museum the first tribally governed museum in the United States to receive official certification from the AAM.  It took four long years to earn this distinction, but with it the AAM verified that the Museum met national industry standards of excellence in all aspects of its responsibilities including governance, staffing, sustainability and stewardship of the collection entrusted to its care.
Chairman Mitchell Cypress and Historic Resources Officer Tina Osceola at Accreditation Press Conference

June found staff from the Museum attending the Smithsonian’s Affiliation Conference held in Washington DC.  Because of the long standing relationship the Museum had with the Smithsonian, the Museum became an official affiliate member in April of 2009, which allowed staff to attend the conference.  Affiliate museums from across the country also attended, which allowed for some excellent opportunities in networking. 

In July, Native Words, Native Warrior closed at our Big Cypress facility which allowed for a new exhibit to open in the space.  The Randle/Sheffield Collection: Life Along the Tamiami Trail in the 1940’s and 1950’s was loaned to the Museum by the South Florida Community College Museum of Florida Art and Culture for exhibit until January 2010.  This exhibit is based upon the photography of Florence Randle who was a commercial photographer with a studio in Coconut Grove in the 1940’s. She and her niece, Phyllis Sheffield would often spend their weekends photographing the Seminole people who lived along the Tamiami Trail.  The exhibit shows some excellent images of the Seminole people which have never been shown before in the Big Cypress facility. 

Randle Sheffield Opening July 2009

Fall of 2009 continued to be a busy time, with the Museum celebrating the one year anniversary of the exhibit, Cattle Keepers:  the Heritage of Seminole Cattle Ranching.  Because of the popularity of this exhibit, it will remain open until September 2010.  Staff also represented the Museum at various conferences including the Florida Association of Museums conference, held in Sarasota, Florida, and the Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums conference in Portland, Oregon.  At both of these conferences Museum staff presented on various aspects of the Museum, including disaster planning, the accreditation process, and the oral history program.  

In November the Museum was proud to host the 12th annual American Indian Arts Celebration (AIAC).  The event took place from November 6, 7, and 8 on the festival grounds across from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on the Big Cypress Reservation.  During the festival the Museum hosted an authentic American Indian market, food vendors, children’s craft corner, dance demonstrations, story telling and alligator wrestling.  Also special performances by the award winning Yellowbird Apache Dancers, featuring Kevin Duncan the current world champion teen hoop dancer. The event ended each day with a musical performances by renowned Native American reggae artist and singing sensation CASPER and the 602 Band.

This was just a quick review of some of the larger events that occurred in 2009 for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  Stay tuned to our website, blog, and Facebook page for what we have planned in 2010!