Counting what Counts

An Inventory Adventure

By

Misty Snyder, Collections Assistant

Completing an inventory doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing to the majority of people…

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… but it is a very important component of Collections Management. Here at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum we have 8 main collections. These include:

 

1) Permanent Archival Collection- all items that are essentially paper in nature (newspapers, postcards, photos, government reports, books, periodicals, reference works, maps, and  manuscripts).

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2) Oral History Collection- oral histories and other recordings from the Seminole community, subject to controlled access procedures.

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3) Audiovisual Collection –non-accessioned film and audio recordings of various Seminole events.

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Tribal Spirits: Indians of the Americas

4) General Reference Photography Collection – a non-accessioned collection of photos and slides that depict Seminole life in Florida.                                   pic5

Color photo of women in traditional clothing cooking in a chickee.

5) Library Collection – books, journals, and unpublished manuscripts relating to Native American culture, museum practices, and the archaeology of Florida, accessible to the staff, general public, and Tribal community.

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“American Indian Art Magazine”, Spring 1979.

5) Permanent Artifact Collections – all non-paper-based historic items such as baskets, clothing, militaria, archaeological collections, beaded items, dolls, artwork, sculptures.

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Female palmetto fiber doll w/ one row of patchwork.

 

6) Teaching Collection – a non-accessioned collection that consists of objects used by education and outreach staff at presentations and events.

7) Exhibit Collection – a non-accessioned collection containing objects that can be permanently exhibited or loaned out with STEP traveling exhibits.

8) THPO Collection – archaeological materials obtained largely from surveys conducted by the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) since 2003.

(To see more amazing items from these collections check out our Online Collections Database here: http://semtribe.pastperfectonline.com/)

The current inventory project includes the first 4 of these collections, which are housed in the Archival Vault, and serves two purposes: to satisfy our Collections Management Policy of a biannual inventory of our collections and to prepare the collections for offsite storage during the completion of a vault renovation. This renovation, made possible through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ “Museums for America” collections stewardship program, will install high-density movable shelving in the Museum’s main building vault. The new shelving will double our current storage capacity, providing much needed space to continue to grow the collections as well as to properly house items.

In order to install compacted shelving in the archival vault, EVERYTHING needs to be removed from the vault and stored elsewhere, and to do this, it must all be accounted for through an inventory.

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The types of items that were inventoried range from artwork on paper, historic newspapers, rare books, government documents, manuscripts, photographs, postcards, maps, and a large variety of audiovisual and ephemera materials.  Many have already been cataloged and housed in archival materials.  But some of the items, not yet cataloged, have needed some extra attention. For example, we removed enough rubber bands from recently acquired photos to make a rubber band ball the size of a softball! Just think of all the photographs that were saved from the deteriorating effects of being bound this way.  Not quite a world record, but we were impressed …

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World-record rubber band ball (according to Google)

After insuring that each item was adequately protected we securely packed them into over 200 moving boxes and recorded their respective locations.                       pic10

Some of the boxes were big enough to hold a person!

   And we used four of these giant rolls of bubble wrap. I’m all packed up and ready to go!

Very soon the collection will be transported by museum moving specialists to offsite museum quality storage where it will be stored in a temperature and humidity controlled environment while the renovations take place. So far we have inventoried over 140,000 items, including over 100,000 photos!

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             “97,873 Ahh, Ahh, Ahh…”

These photos have come to us from multiple sources, one being the Seminole Tribune. (The Seminole Tribune is the official newspaper of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and is published monthly. You can access Seminole Tribune articles online here: http://www.semtribe.com/SeminoleTribune/)

We have just a little more to go to complete this part of the project and are getting ready for the big move. Being new to the Museum, it has been a true adventure getting to inventory the entire archival collection. The work has been both fascinating and laborious – and a great introduction to the priceless wonders cared for here at the Ah-Tah-Thi-KI Museum each and every day.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MA-30-16-0122-16]

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A winter walk

A treasure to experience during any season, walking the Museum’s mile long boardwalk gives you a wonderful chance to see plant and wildlife distinctive to the Everglades environment. However, winter brings a certain tranquility that is unique compared to the warmer and rainier months.  The bald cypress trees have shed their needle-like leaves, opening up the top canopy to clear, bright blue skies.  Their tall trunks are in constant sway with the seasonal breeze, creaking back and forth.  Take a moment to stand still and stare up at the towering trees.  You’ll almost feel like you are floating or swaying too.

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Although the cypress are waiting to grow back their leaves, there is no lack of greenery.  At first glimpse  the dense vegetation all appears to be one color.  But look closely, moving to where you can see the sun peek through the leaves and you’ll soon see endless shades of green appear.

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The boardwalk is full of life during the winter months.  Unlike northern states, South Florida’s pleasant temperatures bring migratory birds to the area, invite alligators to bask in the warm sun, and continue to foster the perfect environment for new plant life.

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airplant

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On your walk, make sure to take the time to look in all directions.  You never know who you will see or who might be watching you!

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boardwalk

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Whatever the season, the boardwalk is sure to transport you away from the hustle and bustle of the every day, opening your eyes to Florida’s true beauty.

What a Wonderful World

By Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager

Let’s face it—unless you live out here on the Big Cypress Reservation, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is a bit of a drive.  We are just over an hour from Ft. Lauderdale or Naples, and nearer to an hour and a half from Ft. Myers, Palm Beach, and Miami.  No doubt about it, you need a car to get here.  While many vacationers rely solely on public transportation when visiting Florida, those who have a car often venture out to the Everglades and (we hope!) to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

If you had to guess, how many countries would you think we saw international visitors from in 2016?  Maybe 10?  20?  Would you believe me if I told you that in our fiscal year 2016, we saw visitors from 61 different countries?  And those are just the ones who signed the guest registry!  That’s 1/3 of the countries in the entire world.

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Country of origin visitation map for 2016

When visitors arrive at the Museum, we ask them to sign the guest registry and provide information about where they are visiting from and how they heard about us.  This information is entered into an Excel spreadsheet by the front of house staff for easy tracking and sorting.  I include the data in my monthly report, and analyze the stats on a quarterly and yearly basis.  This information is critical for providing a snapshot of our audience and helps us create our marketing plan.

It’s interesting to note that our visitors do not necessary line up with the State of Florida’s international visitors on the whole.  Our top ten list is very Europe-heavy and includes the following countries: Germany (23%), Canada (14%), the UK (6%), Finland (5%), France (5%), Denmark (4%), Sweden (4%), Netherlands (3%), Switzerland (3%), and Norway (3%).  Our overall Latin American audience makes up only about 5% of our total international visitation.  Compared to the Florida as a whole (see below), we notice quite a large difference.

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Over the past few years, the Retail Division has been working with a translation company to offer our museum guide in various languages.  We now have the printed Museum Guide in English, Spanish, German, and French.  In 2017, we will be translating the guide into Swedish, Finnish, and Danish.  Our international visitors are a key part of our audience and we want to make sure they gain the most out of their experience here at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

The next time you think that an hour seems too far to get out and explore the areas around you, think about the visitors from the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and New Zealand to name a few who came out to visit us in 2016.

As we always say, the drive is part of the journey.  And once you get going, it might just be the most peaceful hour drive in all of Florida.

 

Christmas Ornaments from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Store

By Rebecca Petrie, Retail Manager, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

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IT seems that everyone likes Christmas ornaments and visitors especially like to take home a bit of their vacation to be appreciated over the holidays.  With that in mind in the fall of 2011 the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Store decided to create a Seminole patchwork inspired Christmas ornament.  Although this seemed like a simple task it  wasn’t.  We discovered that although there are companies who can print on round ornaments, most could only do a patch, not what we wanted- a band of patchwork design circling the glass ball.  Finally we found The Stocking Factory in of all place the Florida Keys.  Known for their personalized Christmas stockings and ornaments, they could also do printing all around an ornament.

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Our first attempt was a huge success incorporating three types of patchwork: Man on a Horse, Fire and Crawdad.  Over the next few years everything went smoothly, and then we decided to hold a contest to pick the 2014 patchwork pattern.  We didn’t verify the patterns before holding the contest and it turned out that the winning design couldn’t be done as we had in the past.  The design wouldn’t line up or was “out of register” (the same thing that happens when a newspaper prints in color and the various images aren’t precisely on top of each other).  As always the folks at The Stocking Factory came through.  They provided the ornament with the design (but no glitter) and we bribed (with donuts) the Museum staff to help hand glitter 600 plus ornaments.  Another success was achieved.

 

We have often been asked why we don’t do more elaborate styles of patchwork.  The answer is in the printing.  With the surround printing process we are only able to print two colors, one being glitter, so the ornament’s color becomes a part of the design element.  We are limited, but the results haven’t been; every year the ornaments have been beautiful.  This year’s ornament is no exception.  If history is any indicator, it will sell out by the end of the year!

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2016

 

WITH the success of the Seminole patchwork inspired ornaments we thought to go BIG as in an ornament inspired by the iconic Seminole doll.   We talked to several companies that could do custom mouth blown “old world” ornaments.  Mia Kaplan’s Mia’s Polish Treasures was chosen as their design was a full-sized, detailed Seminole doll.

The ornament itself was designed in a months-long process throughout 2013.  Images flew back and forth over the internet between the Museum, Mia’s office in New York City and Poland where the ornaments are actually manufactured.  The metal mold, unique to the medium of glass, was made from an original clay sculpture which represented a Seminole palmetto fiber doll.  With the design and the mold completed the intensive work of creating these works of art began.

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What’s with this hair style???  Wrong, Wrong, WRONG!

 

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THIS is much better!

The first step in a process that takes weeks to complete is to mold glass into the correct shape.  To that end a glass tube is heated repeatedly until the correct temperature is reached, it is then inserted into the two piece mold.  The artisan blows a puff of air through the cool end of the tube inflating the glass into the shape of the mold.  The mold is then opened and the raw ornament is removed and set aside to fully harden and cool.  The next step is to pour a milky white liquid into the hollow ornament, the liquid is swirled to coat the interior and the ornament is then dipped in a bath of warm soapy water.  Magic happens when the ornament is removed from the bath- the milky liquid has turned the interior chrome silver.  Another drying period is needed before the painting can begin.  Each ornament is hand painted in the approved design with more drying time as each color is allowed to dry.  Once our doll is fully painted the final step is apply the glitter.  Once again each color is added layer by layer with drying time between each coating.  When looking at these ornaments it is easy to appreciate the many, many hours of hand work that goes into each one and to grasp the fact that at any point in the process the delicate ornament could be shattered!

                 2016

This year we will offer two options, the first was inspired by a cape and skirt in the Museum’s collection (accession #2007.9.71) in a limited edition of 250.  This version is beautifully dressed in garnet, gold, black and cream- familiar colors of a certain state university- and decorated with the famous Man on a Horse patchwork pattern.  Our second option is limited to 200 and features a more fancifully colored outfit of turquoise and bold pink with a combination of Telephone Pole and Crawdad patchwork patterns.  Either, or both, will look striking on a Christmas tree or hung on display year round.  If past year’s sales are any indication customers will need to order this family heirloom today as they may well be sold out tomorrow and once gone they are gone for good.

Once the ornaments are in the Store they will also be available online at http://www.seminole-store.com/.

The Most Interesting Things Aren’t Really Things

By Dave Scheidecker, THPO Field Technician

One of the questions I often get asked as an archaeologist is “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve found?”  It seems simple and straightforward, yet it’s always an odd question to try and answer. What’s interesting to most people and what’s interesting to an archaeologist often aren’t the same things.

Think of the first scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark (And if you haven’t seen it, go see it right now. I’ll wait). Indiana Jones sneaks into ancient ruins, deftly avoiding poison darts, spring loaded spikes that activate at the touch of sunlight, and the world’s largest bowling ball, to make it out with a priceless golden idol that was worth all the risk.

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There is nothing you can possess which i cannot take away… because unlike you i sought permission and worked with the local community.

But is it? Really, when you get down to it, it’s a statue made out of a shiny rock. Statues are nice, we can learn from them.  You can see the art style of the people who made it. What it represents could be something very important to the people who had it. Or it could mean they liked cats. But now think about that temple the statue was in. This is a temple that, among other things, has solar and pressure-plate activated booby traps. Ones that still work after centuries without maintenance! That beats out most warrantees you’ll get now. Think of what could be learned by studying that temple… if the team could survive.

For an archaeologist, the artifacts found can be individually remarkable, but the real importance is what they tell us about the site they were found in. All of the things we find and all of the data we collect are tied together. Context is everything. This is one of the reasons archaeology goes so much slower in the field than it does in the movies.

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Of course, we don’t deal with ancient spike traps much in regular archaeology.  Not just because few traps keep working long after the culture that built them has gone, but because the best information we get can come from the least glamorous places. The best information about how people really lived comes from the garbage. Yep, that’s right. We get far more information from their tossed out leftovers than we do from that statue. The true treasure trove is when you find the garbage pit. Bones of what people ate, broken dinnerware, tossed out tools… the pieces of life from all around the site are collected in one spot. The trash.

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That’s right.  Wall-E is a better archaeologist that Indiana Jones.

All of these individual items, every artifact, is part of a larger context: the site itself. And not just the item itself, but how it was found. Where was it? How far underground? What was it near?  An arrowhead taken from a sight is a curiosity. An arrowhead found within a site is a piece of a puzzle, one that tells the story of the place and the people who lived there when it’s put together. And that is the real goal of archaeology, to preserve the legacy of the people.

The most interesting things most archaeologist find aren’t artifacts… they’re sites. Not every site that is important is easy to spot, and not every place is important to the same people. In ancient Greece scholars once put together a list of incredible sites that people should visit. The Pyramids of Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Statue of Zeus, the Temple of Artemis,  the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria… the Seven Wonders of the World.

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And so the Ancient Greeks invented the Travelogue…

Of all these ancient sites, only the Pyramids remain. The rest were lost through the ages, fallen into ruin, destroyed, or lost to memory (If you can know Halicarnassus without help from Wikipedia, then you know your history!). If this happened to such well known places, think of all the other places lost through the years. And not every site has such obvious importance to the people who don’t use it. Many sacred places with long and rich histories might seem like simple wilderness to those who don’t know. With the amount of construction and development going on in the world today, ancient sites and sacred spaces are constantly at risk of being bulldozed.

One of the most important jobs archaeologists have is preservation. We work to identify sites that are culturally and historically significant. We ensure that they’re not destroyed when we can, or that the knowledge is preserved if we can’t. Sometimes the most interesting thing found is a place that’s important to people, has a story, and is important to them. And that’s not a thing. But it is the best part of the job.