Friday, October 12, 2012

Campus Archaeology Exhibition

We’re delighted with the new exhibition developed by our Museum Studies interns Karina Harig and Erin Chenvert, “Archaeologists Dig Central: Excavating the CWU Campus.”  We had been talking for some time with Shane Scott, director of the Central Washington Anthropological Survey( CWAS) on campus about partnering on such a show. CWAS has provided great educational opportunities for so many of our students and we’ve been wanting to illustrate that very interesting story. 

We're pleased that Erin and Karina plunged into the project, to make sure it was all installed in time for Homecoming tomorrow morning.  Hope, Lynn and I all have had a great deal of fun working with the students on the project over the past couple of weeks. 

Erin and Karina decided to display a dozen sets of objects, unearthed over the past several years in a few locations on campus. These including a projectile point, old tax tokens, a .22 casing, a 1920s lipstick tube, an unusual wire gold nugget, and so forth. 

The limited space available presented some interesting display challenges, which I think the students ingeniously addressed. They moves one of our three-by-three vitrines out along the museum front windows, so its contents can be viewed easily by passersby as well as those in the gallery. Rather than cluttering up the case’s interior with detailed captions, they numbered each object set and then attached two extended object label panels, protruding from two sides of the case at an angle.

Then, they hung the associated panels for the exhibition on the walls of the adjacent alcove. There’s always a risk when there’s spatial separation of installation components, especially when a show is surrounded by a large exhibition, as is the case right now with the Hanford show.  But I think the students solved this by using a distinctive Courier font (to give a kind of old style typed archaeology report look to the panels; and with Hope’s help on Photoshop, they develop a recognizable logo for their show,  repeated on each label, showing an archaeologist’s trowel breaking through a line of dirt.  

The Introductory panel notes that the campus exists on “ceded land”, which has a very long history of indigenous habitation, including one of our favorite Alexander Ross quotes about the appearance of Kittitas Valley in the early 19th century There’s also a fun panel on “What makes archaeology exciting”, which the students hope will encourage other young people to explore the field. 

Along the way, Erin and Karin pursued a few historical puzzles. We were all intrigued by the 1920s lipstick tube: were young women students at Central in the 1920s actually allowed to wear lipstick on campus?  University archivist Steve Hussman has been digging around in old files for information on the dress code, but results are still inconclusive. Equally puzzling was a fragment of an ID bracelet listing a woman’s name, an old phone number, and the words Ellensburg and “Baptist.” With the help of the County Historical Museum, the students determined when the phone number had been assigned and to whom, which gives them a few leads to pursue.

Finally, there’s an entertaining interactive component to the show. The students’s were especially struck that at one location, the archaeology survey unearthed the following objects: the broken woman’s ID bracelet, the .22 casing, the interwar lipstick tube and a tin button. They’ve invited museum visitors to speculate, in a short story or drawing, what all these objects might have had to do with one another, and append these to the wall. We can’t wait to see what scenarios our visitors come up with! 

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