The Preservation Technology Podcast

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Preservation Technology Podcast

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training

Welcome to the Preservation Technology podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation.

Episodes

Cory Rogge "Examining Hélio Oiticica’s Pigments"

Transcript

Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons, with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Cory Rogge, the Andrew W. Mellon Research Scientist at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Menil Collection. In this podcast, they talk about Cory’s work examining the pigments and works of Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica Catherine Cooper: I'm here at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston with Cory Rogge, the Andrew Mellon research scientist at the MFA Houston and the Menil Collection. Cory Rogge: Hello. Catherine Cooper: And today I wanted to ask you about the Hélio Oiticica collection that you have here that you've been working with. Cory Rogge: So we have an amazing Latin American arts collection at the MFAH. And in the early 2000s our Latin American arts curator, Mari Carmen Ramírez, reached out to the Oiticica family because she was interested in doing a show on Hélio Oiticica, who had died in 1980. He was born in 1937. Oiticica was a Brazilian artist and he kind of came of artistic age at the very end of the concrete art movement in Brazil. And here, concrete doesn't mean like concrete sidewalks. Concrete means constructivist, more like Mondrian. So very geometrical, very rigid paintings. And Oiticica was really interested in art, but he quickly became bored with the two-dimensional aspect of things and launched his art into three dimensions, all the while being very interested in color. And Oiticica's father was a scientist, an engineer, and an entomologist and a mathematician, and Oiticica actually worked in the museum where his father worked. And so he kind of, despite being an artist, had a scholarly or a scientific approach to what he was doing. And he kept amazing journals and he kept his paints. And so as part of this exhibition, our Mari Carmen and our then head of conservation went down to Brazil, brought the artworks back for treatment, but also brought all of the extant studio materials that were still with Oiticica's family. And at that point there wasn't a scientist here in Houston. So the paint sat—on a cart—for years. Until I showed up and got asked to look at them as part of a Getty project on concrete art in Los Angeles. And we were interested in them because number one, they're a record of what he used, which is interesting of itself. Also, unfortunately a lot of his extant artwork burned in a fire in Rio. And so these paints are the only records we have of what was on his art. And they give us insight into what the colors of his art should be. And then Oiticica also kept journals: he kept diagrams for his artwork, he kept recipes of what the color mixtures were that he was using on a given piece of art. They weren't always very accurate in that he measured out his amounts in spoons. So we had a soup spoon and a teaspoon and a coffee spoon. And in his notebook he'll say, "This color of yellow is made by mixing one soup spoon of this with one coffee spoon of this and a teaspoon or two of that." So we don't know the volumes that were involved really, but we can guesstimate. So now what we're interested in doing is taking the paints, figuring out what the pigments are, and then figuring out what the binding media is and then seeing how that relates to what his recipes were because he wasn't mixing his paints by taking pigment and mixing it with oil. He was mixing his colors by mixing different amounts of other paints and we don't always know what was in the other paints and he'll say, "I mixed a soup spoon of this brand of paint’s Vermilion red with this teaspoon of an orange paint with this." We won't know what the Vermilion really is, so we're trying to pick that out as well. So long story short, those are the paint collections and that's how they came to live in Houston. Catherine Cooper: Have you been able to see the convergence of his documentation of a work with one of the few that still exist with the artists' paints that you have? Cory Rogge: Sadly, we haven't really because all of the paints we have that we can tie to a specific artwork are related to artworks that either burned or we don't have access to. We have in our collection, one Oiticica object. In English, it's called a spatial relief or Relevo Espacial, for Oiticica. And it's a bright orangey yellow object. It looks almost like it's a piece of origami folded together, although it's made out of plywood and about three and a half feet long. It was meant to float in space and you're meant to walk around it and appreciate the color as an object. And this object has, in some areas, eight layers of paint on it and one of those paints appears to be the same as one of the paints in our studio collection. And that paint, interestingly enough, is labeled for another artwork. It's supposed to actually be associated with Núcleo, or Nucleus. And so now we can say that probably these two objects were sister objects. They were maybe being made together in his studio at the same time. And that gives us insight into the fact that he wasn't making only one thing at a time and he was thinking about these different constructs in space at the same time. Catherine Cooper: Is there a correlation with the pigments that you have and the journal articles and his changing art style and expression? Cory Rogge: Wow, complicated question. So he went through a bunch of different series as he broke out of strictly two dimensional art, and the first series to really do that he called Inventions and these were square paintings that hung off from the wall. They were offset so they leapt out into space just a little bit. And we have four paints related to the Invention series and these are all bright, brilliant reds in tone. The next series we get into are the Spatial Reliefs and the Nuclei and here he backs away from red, he starts going into the yellow colors and then from there he jumps off entirely into three dimensional objects that you can handle or that you can wear or that you can walk into or around and manipulate. And so he really, at least color wise, he makes a break from the inventions which are largely bright red into these yellow-oranges that he tends to favor later on. In terms of pigments, I guess we find differences from what he wrote and what he used and that he would say things in his journals like "This pigment isn't very stable, this other yellow pigment would be better", but in fact we find the one that he thinks is less stable in a lot of his artwork so he doesn't always practice what he preaches. And then in terms of binding media, most of what we have are oil paints. He manipulates them a little bit. He mixes in some commercial paints that are alkyds and faster drying than oils, but he's not being like other Brazilian artists at the time, like Lygia Clark, who were using really modern paints like nitrocellulose automobile lacquers. Even though he's being very nontraditional in how he uses them and the objects that he's making, he's still using really traditional materials. Catherine Cooper: Where do you hope to take this research or is it mostly completed for this past exhibit or is it hopefully going to inform future conservation or future work with the family? Cory Rogge: I'm slowly in the process of writing this all up, but there are 139 different studio material things that came. Most of them are paints, but we have some powdered pigments and some varnishes and some media that he used. And right now I'm in the process of trying to correlate all of what a given paint has in it with what his journal articles might say. And then what we've learned is that his objects are sometimes more complex than he indicated in his journals. So for an object he might say, "Oh, I made three paints for it, or four paints for it." But in our collection we have 21 so we know that he layered his paints. Are these iterations, did he manipulate the color, but change the color ever so slightly—evolve the color as he went along. Were these paints really all on a given object? We don't know, but because so many of his artworks burned and we have the journals, the family has been reproducing them. And so this information we have will inform them in those reproductions because they'll be able to better understand that his paints and his objects were not a single flat tone of color. The surface color was influenced by the layers below and so they're much more vibrant an object than the reproductions are. Catherine Cooper: Does the depth and complexity of the pigments relate to conservation problems as these objects age? Cory Rogge: So we have issues with, with our object, the fact that he has tried to make plywood act like paper. Plywood doesn't bend like paper, so you can't get those creases. So he had to force the wood into bends and turns that it doesn't want to make, and so some of the seams are opening up and that's causing paint loss. He had actually intended to make more of these kinds of objects and gave them up because they were so very hard to construct. In terms of the stability of his materials, he actually used really stable materials for the most part. So we're not having too many issues with his objects fading for instance, as far as we can tell. Because so many of them lived in environments in Brazil that had relatively poor climate control, there have been issues caused by expansion and contraction with the wood, which can cause paint loss. And then also just dirt in the environment. Museums filter their air to keep dust and grime and pollutions out and other institutions and places don't have that benefit. Catherine Cooper: What about Oiticica’s art—for people who are unfamiliar with it—what should people know? Cory Rogge: He was one of the most inventive artists out there, and he really kind of revolutionized what was thought of as art. For centuries art was on paper, art was a painting, it was hung on a wall. And he thought that color was an object and he wanted to make these color objects, he called them, that were interactive, that allow people to see color and experience it in a way that nobody else had. And so we have American artists like John Cage or Robert Rauschenberg who are doing art that's breaking the boundaries of moving beyond painting into interactive exhibits, into interactive occurrences, happenings, and Oiticica was doing that at the same time. And so he's really, he's changed what art is. He made a series of objects called parangolés, or capes, and they were meant to be worn and danced around the streets and in Samba dances. And so he's doing performance art, right, and making objects for that. Catherine Cooper: For any of those performance art pieces still existing, are they being treated in performance or are they stationary now? Cory Rogge: They are stationary. But for the exhibit here, the foundation and family permitted reproduction ones to be made that the public were allowed to wear and to dance with the way that Oiticica would have wanted. Catherine Cooper: The intersection of the integrity of these objects and conservation of them is always an interesting question when they're in use. Cory Rogge: Yes. And he made a series, another series of objects called bólides which translates into firecracker and here he wanted people to interact with color in the form of pigment. And so there are boxes that can be opened that have pigments in them or there are jars that have pigments in them. You can put your hands in them and stir the pigment about and sift it like grains of sand. And in a museum environment we can't let people do that because it would go everywhere and some of the pigments aren't necessarily good for your health to be doing that. So we do walk a line—we can explain how they're meant to be used and there are photographs of him using it. But we chose in that case not to ask the family if they can be reproduced for the public to use. It's really been an interesting project because it's made me learn a lot about Brazilian paints that I didn't know and the paint industry in Brazil. Oiticica was kind of transnational in that he also lived in the U.S at two different points, and he lived in London and he wrote letters to people. He and Lygia Clark had an extensive correspondence, so you could go back through and get a real sense of him as a person and his real philosophical take on what he was doing and talking about the psychology of stuff. And then you have his wonderful journals and then you get to learn a little bit of Portuguese for reading them. The more you read about it, the more interesting he really becomes as a person and unfortunately the conversation is one sided, right? He's talking to me from the past. I can't- Catherine Cooper: Ask him. Cory Rogge: Exactly, but I think he would have been a really interesting person to have been a friend. Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much for talking with us today. Cory Rogge: It's been a pleasure. Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today's show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov until next time, goodbye everybody.

Cory Rogge, the Andrew W. Mellon Research Scientist at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Menil Collection. In this podcast, they talk about Cory’s work examining the pigments and works of Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica

Heidi Swierenga "Conservation and Community Use: the Collection Access Program at the Museum of Anthropology"

Transcript

Kevin Ammons Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service's National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Heidi Swierenga, Senior Conservator at the Museum of Anthropology--frequently called MOA--in Vancouver, British Columbia. In this podcast they talk about MOA's Collections Access Program. Catherine Cooper: The first question I want to ask you is what is the Collections Access Program at MOA and why is so important for MOA’s collections in particular? Heidi Swierenga: The Museum of Anthropology is, what we would call in Canada, a medium size institution, and we have about forty thousand objects in the collections now from cultures from around the world. The Collections Access Program is the work that we do within the institution to connect the cultures from which those objects came from to the objects themselves. It can take a couple different forms. Probably the most significant part of that program is the people that come into the museum. We host quite regularly elders gatherings, or community gatherings, sometimes school gatherings; different types of groups from different communities will come in to spend time with the belongings that they’ve selected. So, a typical visit might be twenty elders coming down to see forty objects. And let’s just say it’s a basketry collection. So we might pull all those basketry pieces, put them in one of our research rooms, and then they have the day to work with them, and speak about them, and handle them. The other type of collections access that we do is when we bring belongings out to communities for use. And most of my experience is around use in a Potlatch. Often that means that something might be danced, or presented, or processed as part of the business that goes on in the Potlatch. Catherine Cooper: How did this program develop, and have you noticed it change as a part of the Truth and Reconciliation process that Canada has recently gone through? Heidi Swierenga: It’s actually a program that has, I think, evolved naturally and very slowly. When we talk about when did this all start, we go all the way back to the early 1980s when then Senior Conservator, Miriam Clavir, had her first request to lend out one of the older pieces for use in a Potlatch. And at that time in the early 80s this was a very, very different and new thing. For her as she talks about it, it challenged her and her professional training, because conservators are trained to make sure that an object lasts for future generations. And using something, even though it may be done gently and safely, there is always a risk that damage might occur. And prolonged use will inevitably change the look, or the aesthetic presentation of something that’s used. So, for her, it started a decades long conversation about that balance between preservation and use, that now we as conservators are very, very familiar with. But that first loan turned into the next loan, that turned into the next loan, and the next loan. And now we do quite a bit of it. And the second part of your question, how has this changed since the Truth and Reconciliation and the TRC, for people that might not be familiar with it, is the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was established to look at the residential school system, and the abuse and the damage and the fallout from that over several generations. One of the big things that came out of the Calls for Action was, how have we, as an institution, met the directives of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights on Indigenous People. It was a challenge, and UNDRIP has been around for a long time; it forced a lot of us to say, “Have we thought about it? What have we implanted in terms of policies and procedures, that have addressed the primary directive?”—Which is that Indigenous people have the rights to say what’s going to happen about their cultural belongings, and the right to control the information about those cultural belongings. And I think what we did is realize that we may have been doing what we thought was a pretty good job at working with our Indigenous communities, but we were being very passive about it. Yes, we were approving loans. Yes, we were facilitating these requests, but we were still doing it in a way that was convenient for us. I think since the Calls for Action came out, we have taken on a more proactive stance, and we as an institution have recognized that we have the responsibility to make sure our program provides the resources and funds so that people can have the ability to travel to come see us. It’s a limited pot but at least we went after it and we made sure we’ve got resources there so that we can offset the costs associated with coming to the institution, or we can fully cover the costs that are associated with the insurance that is required when you travel a belonging out to a community. And it’s a priority for us. It is absolutely the number one priority for many of the people who work in the institution. Catherine Cooper: How does the Collections Access Program, and particularly the loan of objects, balance the conservation ethics of preservation and use? Heidi Swierenga: I think it does very well is the short answer. [laughs] Catherine Cooper: Yeah. Heidi Swierenga: And maybe I can come at it from how we deal with the requests. So, when a request is made, let’s just say it’s a request to borrow a headdress from a family member that has the rights and privileges to either wear that headdress or have somebody dance it on their behalf at their Potlatch. It is not such a complicated process, but it’s a process that involves several different people. So, conservators would be involved, a curator would be involved, the individual that’s made the request, and possibly the dancer who might be dancing that piece. And together, we’ll work out whether or not the piece is strong enough to be danced. Basically, what are the risks involved? Heidi Swierenga: And together as a group we’ll say, yeah it is strong enough, or we can’t quite attach the rigging that’s required in order for it to be attachable to the person who’s dancing and therefore safe, or we can, or maybe together we have to do some modifications to the piece in order for it to be strong enough to dance, or look in a way that is respectful for it to be danced. So, for one example, myself, working with the late Kwakwaka'wakw artist and hereditary chief Beau Dick, modified a headdress only after he was satisfied that it was safe enough to be danced. When we first looked at it together, it was carved out of beautiful, thin hemlock wood and it, was cracked in several places. He thought it was going to move around too much during dancing and was worried that it would deteriorate further, and he said, “Whoa, maybe not, maybe we should look at something else.” And I was able to say, “You know what, I think I might have a really simple fix for that.” And my conservator brain was saying, it has to be simple, it has to be observable, and it has to be reversible. And I was able to do it quite easily just using tinted Japanese tissue paper and wheat starch paste. Once I did that, it was super, super strong and solid. And Beau said, “Yeah, that’s great. Now what I need to do is, re-carve the missing elements,” because he couldn’t present it in a way that he felt wasn’t respectable both to the object as well as the owner. So, he recreated the missing elements, painted them and then passed them back to me to stitch the whole thing back together again. So, it was a perfect balance, in my mind, because we were both able to get at the point where we knew it would be safe. Yet we had to make changes to it in order for it to be safe. So, it’s not just preserved in its original form, it’s now different, and it’s showing the process that it went through. It’s showing the Potlach it went through, it’s showing that it was danced again, and it was able to still do the job that it was originally created to do, which was to show a certain privilege that the family wanted to show and be witnessed at that Potlach. Catherine Cooper: How has your work as a conservator changed as these programs and initiatives have developed? Heidi Swierenga: I would say that my personal process has changed quite a bit, and one story I can tell that illustrates this is… I was going to through some documentation for some belongings that are owned by a family who was going to be hosting a Potlatch. And when I went back to the file, I saw this memo that I had written when I was just freshly hired at the museum, so going on twenty years ago. And this memo was in response to the first request for the loan of a particular headdress for the first Potlach that this family had had in several decades. And the memo that I wrote I feel now was appalling. It wasn’t really, but it was me as the young conservator who knew the best thing to say, and who knew exactly what had to happen, that well, yes, I think that it could be loaned but it couldn’t be used, it could only be presented because of a number of different issues. And it was in fragile condition and maybe that would have been the end result, but my quick answer was, “No, I don’t believe it’s possible.” Now, that’s never how it would happen. Now, I would say, “I’m not sure. Why don’t you come in, let’s take a look at it together, see what you think?” And I would offer some thoughts, and they would offer some thoughts back, and together we would come up with a plan. But I read that memo and I thought, “My God, well I’m going to have to burn this. Nobody can know what I said.” And actually, I showed it to a colleague, and they said, “No, this is great, this shows how much we’ve changed, this shows how much our practice has evolved.” And for me really, it shows how much I have learned from the different artists, dancers, and community members who I’ve worked with, who have taught me how to go about doing this properly. And I am grateful for all of those lessons, and grateful that I have something to go back to, to show my own students and say, “Look, this is one approach, and this is how you might rethink that and approach it in a different way.” Catherine Cooper: So, what are some of the challenges of creating a program like this? Heidi Swierenga: Well I think the most important challenge to overcome is the understanding that it’s important and the prioritization of this type of work over other things. Within every institution, that is such a challenge in itself because there are so many different priorities. Also, another challenge would be the connections to the communities for institutions that maybe didn’t have such strong connections. I think the other big challenge for us, and it’s one that we’re still dealing with, is how do you get the information out? And that goes pretty deep. It’s not just letting families know that they can come and access the collections here, but families might not even know that their belongings are here. Many things have been taken from communities in different ways, a lot that was done within a period of oppression imposed here by the Canadian federal government and throughout the world. And family members may know that their belongings were taken or sold, but they may not know where they went. So, part of this is trying to facilitate that research process as people try to discover where their material culture now resides. The Reciprocal Research Network that was co-developed, MOA being one of the partners, is one platform that we support and that helps with that. We also feel it’s important to make sure that our own home collection is digitized and accessible online through our collections Access System. But that’s just one thing. How do you get the information out about the grants that you do hold? And what we’re learning also is, how do you write about it so people make sure they know that this information is for them? Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today's show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov until next time, goodbye everybody.

Heidi Swierenga, Senior Conservator at the Museum of Anthropology--frequently called MOA--in Vancouver, British Columbia. In this podcast they talk about MOA's Collections Access Program.

Allison Titman "Running a Small Museum during the Pandemic"

Transcript

Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Allison Titman, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center in West Chester, Pennsylvania. In this podcast they talk about how the pandemic has affected small museums.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you for joining me today.

Allison Titman: Thanks for having me, it’s great to be here.

Catherine Cooper: I’d like to start with asking you to introduce yourself and the museum.

Allison Titman: Sure. I’ve been at the museum a little under a year. It’s a really cool place and has about 35 helicopters on display outside and inside. When we’re open and not in the conditions of a pandemic, several of those helicopters are actually interactive because we want people to understand—as much as they can without taking flight—what it’s like to really sit at the controls and to pilot a craft like that. We also offer helicopter rides, have special events for holidays, do all the fun museum type activities that everybody else does.

Prior to being at this museum, I was actually at the American Alliance of Museums as an Accreditation Program Officer, where I worked with museums of all types and sizes as they prepared for, and then achieved, accreditation. And in case all of that isn’t enough work, I’ve also been involved with the Small Museum Association for about ten years. I am currently the President Emeritus of the Board.

Catherine Cooper: How is small museum defined in the United States?

Allison Titman: I would get that question all the time when I was the one fielding emails for SMA and my answer generally is, if you feel like your museum is small, then it is small. People throw around different definitions based on budget and staff size; it used to be under 250,000 dollars annual budget, now I hear more under half a million, something like less than five staff members or less than ten, but it’s really hard to define. So, what I say is a small museum is one that feels like it doesn’t usually have the resources it needs to meet its goals but figures out innovative ways to meet them anyway.

Catherine Cooper: You have mentioned that we are currently in pandemic times, how has that affected your museum?

Allison Titman: Well like every other museum, we’ve had to close. We closed on March 13th [2020] and are still closed, though we’ve just been notified that museums in our region will be able to open over the next few weeks. During that closure, myself and the one other full-time person transitioned to working from home.

Unfortunately, I did have to furlough my six part-time staff members because without earned revenue, we just weren’t able to sustain our usual staffing levels.

During the closure, we’ve been working to maintain operations in terms of finances and the essential tasks we have to do to keep the place running. I’m also trying to take advantage of this time to do some behind the scenes work on how we use technology and other systems to make sure that we’re streamlining our work as much as possible, so that when we go back, our lives are hopefully a little easier. I’m also, like every other museum, applying for all the various funding opportunities to help us get through this crisis. And I’ve had to work on a phased reopening plan, looking at what kinds of cleaning and disinfecting procedures and safety protocols we’re going to have to institute to open safely and then putting those on paper, so that our staff and our volunteers and our visitors all feel safe reentering the facility.

Catherine Cooper: Could you tell us any details about that plan, sort of how it fits in with the phased reopening of your region or museum practices that everyone has been discussing?

Allison Titman: Sure, so it’s a combination of information from my region, information from federal sources like the CDC, and then thinking about how our museum works and how to integrate those things into our operations. And I think all Directors and all operations staff members and other people with similar responsibilities have been cobbling together the same things. It’s challenging to take a set of CDC protocols on cleaning and disinfecting and then think about how that applies at my 30,000 square foot building, 15,000 square feet of which is a big gallery full of helicopters, but which also has a museum store, staff offices, two commercial tenants, a theater space, an archives, a library and I’m sure other people are grappling with the same things. Our most popular spaces are our kids’ helipad area and then our interactive helicopters. Both of those spaces are meant to be really heavily hands on. They’re supposed to engage all ages, but especially those learners who might not be reading yet but who can really experience things using their other senses. We use helicopters as a gateway to STEM education, and we feel like those hands-on experiences help to make that connection between helicopters and aviation to larger concepts for people of all ages. So, we have had to think through what spaces have to close because they’re just too high touch we can’t keep them open, versus what we can keep open if we make sure to clean more heavily, and to make sure that people understand really what the experience is going to be like in the new normal that we’re all having to deal with.

Catherine Cooper: From speaking with colleagues who work at other small museums, how similar or different have their pandemic experiences been from yours at the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center?

Allison Titman: My friends and colleagues have really had a variety of experiences. For me, I’ve been at the helicopter museum less than a year, so I was still in a phase of doing some organizational transformation in terms of our goals and our programming and what we were really trying to put in place to build on for the future. So, I have colleagues whose institutions are more settled who have solid programs in place, who have been able to make really impressive pivots into virtual programming. Friends are doing things like virtual story times, and turning an education program that was previously in person into a zoom-based experience. And then being able to reach out to institutions like local libraries that are looking for virtual programming and partner with them.

I used to be on the Board of the Greenbelt Museum in Greenbelt, Maryland and as they think about reopening, they’re seeing a phased approach, where the first thing they bring back is their walking tours of Greenbelt. That’s an outdoor experience that people can engage in more safely, whereas the museum itself is a house from the late 1930s that’s less than 1000 square feet. So, you can’t put too many people in there at one time at this point. So, people are really thinking through what kind of existing programming they have and how to pivot to make it fit our current conditions. And then we’re all dealing with some uncertainty around the future. Whether that’s financial uncertainty, whether it’s not knowing if visitors are going to come rushing back to our institutions when we reopen or whether it’s going to be a trickle at first. And then how people will respond as we have to make adjustments over time. If we can’t have our signature events or if we have to really reduce our capacity, will our audiences understand why and really work with us to follow the safety protocols we feel like we have to put in place.

Catherine Cooper: How can members of the public help small museums at this time?

Allison Titman: So, during the pandemic I got a new phone system at the museum because we had a traditional system where the phones rang to our desks, which didn’t work when we weren’t at our desks. So now the museum’s phone rings through to my cell phone, and I’m the frontline staff picking up all the calls.

So, the first thing the public could do that would be really helpful is just to be understanding. I know that there are people who really want to get out of the house, and who really need a place to take their bored kids now that their summer breaks have started, but some museums just aren’t permitted to be open yet, and some are still putting their safety practices and protocols in place and aren’t ready.

So, members of the public should just keep an eye on museums’ Facebook pages, websites, anywhere they’re posting information to see when they’re reopening, if they’ve had to adjust their hours, if they’re asking people to buy tickets online in advance. It’s really helpful if people take a second to plan their visit and to look up the information before making a phone call or before just showing up. And then if the public really care about an institution, it’s great if there is a way for them to financially support that museum. If they can’t do that, can they share the museum’s Facebook post, or forward the emails, or tell their friends how long they’ve been a member of the museum and what a great experience that’s been? So, whether people have dollars or can just extend the museums reach, that’s all really helpful right now.

I think right now, we’re all trying to figure out what the future looks like. And we’re having to think about the short term because that’s where our heads are, that’s where we’re all working. Either our museums have just reopened their doors or they’re working towards that, decisions are having to be really immediate.

What I think is coming, and we’re starting to have to grapple with, are the longer-term implications of this pandemic and what the lessons we take away from it are.

When I worked in accreditation in 2018, we were still seeing museums who had not rebounded to their pre-2008 recession levels. So, cataclysmic events like this affect museums for years and years and years. But on the bright side, these kinds of events give us a good opportunity to plan for the future. What can we put in place now or over the next year or two years, that will help us weather the next crisis? How do we build more sustainable institutions and how do we become more resilient? And I don’t say that lightly, I know it’s not easy. I know that small museums in particular, but all museums in general, tend to feel under resourced and to feel like it’s really today that they can handle and the future that has to wait. But I think that if we can learn from this crisis, that we have to plan and we have to put a strong foundation in place, we can at least take something positive out of what has been a fairly negative experience.

And if nothing else, at least it shows that we are all in this together. It really is museums across the globe that have had a hard time and it’s been wonderful to see people talking to each other. We might be stuck at home, but we have access to people across the country and across the world and our museum professional organizations have really stepped up to offer helpful resources. So, the American Alliance of Museums, AASLH, ASTC, all of the museum umbrella organizations and then the disciplines specific organizations, have really tried to help their members and the field at large.

So hopefully, no one feels like their museum is struggling through this alone.

Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov until next time, goodbye everybody.

Allison Titman, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center in West Chester, Pennsylvania. In this podcast they talk about how the pandemic has affected small museums.

Discussing the Display of Mummies with Curator Gina Borromeo

Transcript

Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons, with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Dr. Gina Borromeo, Curator of Ancient Art at the Rhode Island School of Design Art Museum. In this podcast, they talk about Gina’s work on redesigning the RISD Museum’s Egyptian Art exhibit and the museum’s decision to rehouse the mummy, Nesmin, in his sarcophagus.

Gina Borromeo: The redesign and reinstallation of our Egyptian mummy—and that is of a Ptolemaic money of a priest named Nesmin—Nesmin and his coffin has been at the RISD Museum since they were acquired in 1938. Since that time, they have always been on view separately; the mummy on one side and the coffin on the other. I would say that in the past couple of years, we have had certain programs and projects in the museum that began to question whether it was okay for us to continue to display a human body in the museum. These projects were based on a discussion called Double-Take where we invite two different experts to discuss one object from two points of view. During that discussion, which happened between a professor of criminal justice and an anthropologist, it was brought up that the idea of displaying a mummy in the museum was problematic and specifically, the displaying of a human being in an art museum.

That was also followed closely by a project made by a RISD MFA student who had a program here that spoke all about the display of black bodies in particular. Here, he was really asking the question whether we would show a mummy if it were not of an Egyptian, weather we would feel equally free about displaying a white body. In addition to that, there was a Brown BA thesis that discussed various displays of mummies in the United States. I think these three programs together made us rethink our approach to this display. Some of the questions they raised were: “Is a human body of work of art?” Then another one was, “Does the human body belong in an art museum? And if so, should it even be on view?” Then they brought up the fact that we would probably not display other human remains in an art museum, particularly Native American human remains because of NAGPRA considerations in this country. They pointedly asked, “Well, what makes it okay to show an Egyptian body?” I think we had to come face to face with the questions, or actually the realities, that we have always seen Egyptian mummies on view in museums so much so that they have become normalized and we began to question that idea. Is it in fact okay to continue to do so just because it’s become normal? I think we started thinking that, well, no. Just because Nesmin no longer had descendants who could speak on his behalf, didn’t mean that we had permission to continue to show his body in this very public context. Also, it became clear to us that we could still continue to talk about Egyptian religious traditions and even Egyptian religious beliefs about death and about the afterlife, but didn’t have to show the mummy anymore. In fact, the coffin itself could stand in as the object from which we could educate our viewers about all these issues.

Catherine Cooper: It sounds like there were a number of different aspects that you had to mediate in redesigning the exhibit. How did you handle those different voices?

Gina Borromeo: Well, first of all, this was a very difficult decision and one that I did not want to make alone. So, I engaged other members of the museum staff in this discussion, certainly the director, the deputy director, our conservators, our registrars or installation staff and even other curators, as well as outside experts, outside Egyptologists and anthropologists, were part of this discussion process. In the end, the major points of consideration were continued care for the mummy and the coffin. We wanted to make sure that whatever we decided to do would not damage the mummy any further or the coffin. We have to remember here that these have always been on view separately. Essentially, that wooden coffin has not held the weight of Nesmin’s mummy since the 1930s and we were really afraid that the wood had become brittle. There were cracks throughout the coffin. We were really scared. I don’t think that’s an overstatement of the situation. We were scared to put the weight in and we were afraid we would further damage the coffin. It was interesting because our conservator, brilliant conservator, Ingrid Newman, decided that perhaps we should place little tissue bandages across the cracks of the wooden coffin so that when we put the weight of the mummy back in, we could see whether those cracks would tear the tissue paper and if so, that meant that we were causing damage to the wood and that the wood may not be able to take the mummy’s weight anymore. Fortunately, that did not happen, but I have to tell you that when we were putting the mummy into the coffin, a lot of us were holding our breaths and there was a visible sigh of relief when we discovered that in fact, the coffin was stable enough and could still hold the weight of the mummy and that essentially, it was still good for its original purpose.

I would say that a second consideration in our decision was also consideration for museum visitors because while I would say a great majority of our visitors are school children come to the museum to see the mummy, it is a highlight actually if they’re sixth grade experience here in Rhode Island, they come to the museum to study ancient culture; so ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. They have come to expect to see Nesmin in the museum. We had to let people know that we would no longer be showing him, but I have to tell you about something else that I think not a lot of people know and that there have been instances where our visiting public, and I’m speaking specifically about these sixth graders, there’ve been instances where their encounter with Nesmin is their first experience, their first vision really, of death. For some children, this has been a traumatic experience. I have heard of teachers who have had to take children out of the room because they were so shocked and disturbed by seeing a dead body in the museum. These are things that I think the general public doesn’t know about, but I felt very strongly about the fact that we had to think about our museum visitors. The RISD Museum, I don’t know if you’d know it, but it is a small museum, so we don’t have a space that we could segregate with a notice outside that says, “You are about to enter a room with human remains.” I think visitors can just be roaming around the museum and immediately, before they know it, be face to face with the mummy and the coffin of Nesmin. So this is a way of also, not shocking people into that experience if they were not prepared for it. Also, we worried about the coherence of the display. Because we would be taking the mummy off view, we had to deal with a whole other side of the case, and we’re talking about a custom made climate controlled case here that was quite expensive and that we could not make modifications to really. We couldn’t move the support, we couldn’t move the stainless steel framing supports that held the shelf for the mummy and the coffin. So we had to think about what we should put on the other side and we were able to find painted mummy portraits from the Roman period to put on the other side. But I would say that if I had my choice, I would really prefer to lower the coffin a little bit right now because you really can’t see the top of the decoration on the coffin, but we had to deal with the limitations that we had and not being able to make modifications to the case.

Catherine Cooper: In rehousing Nesmin and changing the display, it was also an opportunity for further education of why this display had changed and why RISD has Nesmin, and you were able to work that into the display, correct? Gina Borromeo: Once we made the decision to put Nesmin back in his coffin, we focused on how to make our decision process transparent to our visitors because I think it’s a really good illustration of how museums decide to do things. We decided to make videos that when you visit the museum you can access, and we decided to make these videos so that they addressed specific questions that we thought people would want to know about. The first question and the first video deals with, “What do you see on the coffin?” Essentially, what can we learn from the text and images that are on Nesmin’s coffin? Then the second video addresses how Nesmin got from Egypt to Providence in 1938, so his history of ownership and where we think he might have been excavated and how he passed from one private collector to another before he eventually made his way to RISD. Then the third, and I think perhaps the question that is most interesting to a lot of people is, is a body of work of art? This basically answers the question of why we chose to put Nesmin back in his coffin. We had invited an anthropologist and an Egyptologist to talk about how ancient Egyptians viewed bodies and mummies and how that has changed from antiquity through today. Basically, touches also upon the history of the display of mummies in museums. That was very interesting. I would say for the most part, I’m really happy with the way that display turned out and really quite happy with the videos. But should things change in the future, I know that what we did could easily be reversible and we can improve on these videos, so I leave that open. I hope that we could make this display even better for our visitors. Catherine Cooper: Have you gotten any feedback that you’d like to share on how people have received the change to the exhibit? Gina Borromeo: When people realized they could no longer see him, at first there was, I wouldn’t say an outcry, but people were asking questions, “But why? But why?” And gradually, now, over time, people have said, “Well, Oh goodness. Those are actually valid questions. I’m glad that the video is here to help me understand why you did what you did.” So I guess that’s positive feedback. In this display, we really felt a responsibility to the mummy of Nesmin and the coffin, so we took such care with it. We were concerned about making sure that we did not cause harm to the mummy of Nesmin and the coffin that we in fact, practiced the move several times before we actually did it. Our manager of installation, Steven Wing, made a model of the mummy that was about his size and weight and we wrapped it in linen as we would eventually wrap Nesmin. Then with members of the installation crew and with the conservators, we practiced lifting him out, lifting him from his shelf. We did this so we could identify where possible issues might arise and so that we could find solutions together about we have to support him more specifically here, and we have to lift this part up just a little more when we put him into the coffin. At the time we actually made the move, it was done in one smooth movement. These decisions, obviously it was not taken lightly, but we tried to prepare as much as possible for the move of Nesmin back into his coffin. I like to think that he is finally now in his intended resting place and that he is finally getting the rest that he’s so, so deserved and that we had temporarily interrupted. Now, he is back in the coffin and resting quietly we hope.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much for sharing that process with us.

Gina Borromeo: Thank you, Catherine, for allowing me to do so.

Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time, goodbye everybody.

Dr. Gina Borromeo, Curator of Ancient Art at the Rhode Island School of Design Art Museum. In this podcast, they talk about Gina’s work on redesigning the RISD Museum’s Egyptian Art exhibit and the museum’s decision to rehouse the mummy, Nesmin, in his sarcophagus.

Dr. Jennifer Kramer, “Shake Up: Preserving What We Value”

Transcript

K. Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service's National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Dr. Jennifer Kramer, who holds a joint position at the Museum of Anthropology--frequently called MOA--and the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. In this podcast they talk about Dr. Kramer's recent exhibit, “Shake Up: Preserving What We Value,” which explores earthquakes from a variety of perspectives including First Nations narratives and teachings, and the seismic upgrades that the museum will undergo.

C. Cooper: What is the Shake Up Exhibit and what was the impetus for creating it?

J. Kramer: The Museum of Anthropology is about to undergo seismic upgrades of a significant portion of our building called the Great Hall to protect against seismic movement of the earth. As a result, the curators were tasked with telling our public what was coming, and what to expect, and what they could learn about the process when they were physically cut off from being in the Great Hall.

The Great Hall is this soaring space of glass filled with totem poles from the First Nations of the Northwest Coast and other monumental sculptures. So, we wanted to prepare people about what they were missing seeing, but also make them understand why it was so important that we preserve what we value.

C. Cooper: When designing this exhibit around these seismic upgrades, how did you and your team decide which narratives to include and how to balance them?

J. Kramer: I co-curated this exhibit with Curator of Education, Dr. Jill Baird, so it was definitely a team effort. With her interns in the Department of Education and also with help from other curators in my department, because we have four curators that work with First Nations Northwest Coast peoples here in British Columbia.

It was a learning curve for Jill and I to learn about what causes earthquakes and how they can be mediated. We had to do our own research on protecting historic iconic buildings, of which the Museum of Anthropology is one. It was designed by Arthur Erikson, a Scottish-Canadian architect, who is quite famous for his modernist buildings. But in this case, he was very much also inspired by First Nations longhouse and big house construction and also was inspired by having a building that fit within the land. This is always an important message from the Museum of Anthropology, that we sit on the ancestral, unceded territory of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓-speaking Musqueam people.

So, while the architecture is modern, it might seem like it’s a different trajectory than seven thousand plus years of inhabited history for the Musqueam people. There’s actually a tactile relationship with the architecture. So we wanted to preserve the iconic architecture, we wanted to preserve, of course, these incredibly important First Nations totem poles, which tell long standing histories between people, their territories, their ancestors, and how they came to live and steward the land upon which they draw their resources.

But we also realized that it was a bigger story than so-called western science about how do you preserve a material building using—and this is what we’re doing, we’re using something called base isolation, which I have learned a bit about. But what we also realized was beyond the science, the engineering, the architecture, we realized there was so much knowledge within the Indigenous communities who live on the Northwest Coast about how you survive an earthquake and a tsunami. And we realized that there are multiple ways of knowing and being prepared for what now we think of as these ultimate disasters, but we realized there was knowledge to be learned from talking to Indigenous communities.

So, Jill and I basically looked at the totem poles we had represented in the Great Hall and said, let’s try to do an overview from the north of British Columbia—so we chose a Haida Gwaii Haida artist, Kwiaahwah Jones. From relatively the south, so we chose Tim Paul, a Hesquiaht Nuu-chah-nulth elder from Vancouver Island. And we chose someone sort of in the central coast from the Kwakwaka’wakw community, from the Nelson family, Frank Baker and K’odi Nelson. So we basically asked them, as this kind of north to south representation, of their cultural teachings about earthquakes and tsunamis. And that was where the exhibit exploded. In a wonderful way.

There is actually only one physical belonging, or otherwise known as a treasure maybe, in this exhibit. It’s a Ninini Kwakwaka’wakw Dzawada’enuxw earthquake mask. Ninini means earthquake. And it has been in our collection since the 1950s, sold directly from the widow of someone that had owned the rights to dance Ninini as part of his box of treasures in Kingcome Inlet, Gwa’yi, a Dzawada’enuxw Kwakwaka’wakw man.

What was exciting about this exhibit is first, we became involved in figuring out—so just from this one physical object—we did research to figure out whether there were living community members who were attached to this mask that had been in our collection for seventy years. And we were able to find a family that owned that connection and still had that right to dance Ninini. And we were invited to a potlatch in Alert Bay, British Columbia in October 2018, to watch a different version of this mask be danced and we recorded it. We were given permission to record it and show it as a five-minute film. But then due to establishing that relationship with that family, they got closer to the mask in our collection and the following year, a different member of that family, who held that inheritance, asked that the mask that was in MOA’s collection, go up to Alert Bay to be danced in his memorial potlatch in October 2019. And so, we now have footage of that and what it is, is showing that this cultural heritage, this material heritage is not from the past, that it has ongoing meaningful significance. It’s a small exhibit but it’s scattered in multiple locations and it covers a tremendous amount of information about what causes earthquakes, tectonic plates, the Ring of Fire, vernacular architecture that worked with protecting buildings from earthquakes like the longhouses on the Northwest Coast. We also share chronologies of earthquakes around the world, beginning with the last major subduction zone Cascadia earthquake that hit the Northwest Coast in 1700. So, another sort of larger, underlying reason is we know from science and from records around the world that subduction zones, so underwater tectonic plates that suddenly slip causing mammoth sort of scale eight or nine earthquakes, happen about every 250 – 500 years. So, we are definitely due for one here in Cascadia. And so, this was getting that message out.

C. Cooper: How will these seismic upgrades help protect both the building and the contents of the Great Hall?

J. Kramer: Now, caveat, I am not an architect, but I have spoken to our building people to understand. Base isolation is a platform which has this ability to move sideways during an earthquake in order to allow the energy of the earthquake to go out sideways instead of forcing the totem poles and the other monumental sculptures in the building to fall down due to vibration. So it releases the strength of the vibrations.

What we learned was that, we’re going to have to actually take down the building completely in order to put in this base isolation and then rebuild it. It was somewhat of a shock to us all, but it will be a safer construction if we start from scratch, and it will be built to exactly Arthur Erickson’s vision. But I want to add that the seismic upgrades made us realize not just that we were preserving the iconic building or even preserving tangible material culture, but also that we were working on preserving intangible knowledge, intangible heritage that was part of the mission of the museum.

And so, respecting all of that knowledge about how to be prepared for disasters from First Nations on the Northwest Coast, was also part of what we were preserving, what we all valued. And so, we were making those different knowledges from the west and from Indigenous people with thousands and thousands of years of history on the land, come together, to work together and that was exciting.

C. Cooper: Because of the pandemic, quite a bit of this material has gone up on MOA’s website. How did you decide what portions to put up on line, and will they remain up beyond the physical exhibit?

J. Kramer: When we all went into lockdown in mid-March, everyone at the museum moved very, very quickly to plan how we could share the work we do at the Museum of Anthropology with the larger public. One advantage of virtual access is it can be from anywhere in the world if you have the bandwidth. So, in some ways, we’re thinking this is a complete sea-change in how a museum does the work it does. I doubt we’re going to take down what we’ve already put up. It isn’t about forcing people to come and pay door admission in order to hear these stories about earthquakes, see these dances about earthquakes and longstanding family relationships to specific lands, territories, and resources, songs. I imagine they will stay online.

We did a three-hundred and sixty virtual degree tour of the Museum of Anthropology Great Hall that people can go online and experience for themselves. Because I imagine once we get the hoarding wall up, which is supposed to happen in the fall, it probably will be closed to the public for 18 months at least. The Shake Up exhibit will obviously remain.

C. Cooper: This “Shake Up: Preserving What We Value” exhibit is one of two exhibits that are planned to discuss natural disasters. Can you speak of it to how this exhibit will interact with or converse with the other exhibit?

J. Kramer: I can’t say that we actually planned it this way. It was a lucky happenstance, and especially if you add the pandemic into dealing with global disasters. But the two exhibits do work very nicely together. Our Curator of Asia, Fuyubi Nakamura, has been planning an exhibit called, “A Future from Memory: Art and Life After the Great East Japan Earthquake.” She’s been working with artists that have done contemporary responses to what the 2011 great east Japan earthquake meant and has ongoing meaning. Also, the remnants of what was found from the tsunami, photographs that were lost to people’s families. I know she went, and they had thousands and thousands drying, trying to connect them back to their families. So, it’s been a grand preservation effort of reconnecting individuals to their personal history, but also a country figuring out how to deal with this disaster. And I would read a statement that she made that I think is really important as to how it connects to Shake Up. She said, “A Future from Memory will show that this disaster is not simply about a region, Tohoku, or a country, Japan, rather this event has global relevance. Fishing boats from Tohoku arrived on the shores of the Pacific Northwest, reminding us that we are connected by the same ocean and are mutually responsible for our environment.” She put that wonderfully, but it also is what we were thinking about when we did Shake Up. That we’re all in this together, the Ring of Fire circle, the world and so we are all mutually responsible for our human relationship to the earth. It’s about making us all think about the land beneath our feet and how we move forward into the future, knowing that we know there’s going to be another disaster.

C. Cooper: Thank you so much for sharing this exhibit with all of us.

J. Kramer: Thank you. It’s been wonderful sharing it with you.

K. Ammons Thank you for listening to today's show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast, show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time, goodbye everybody.

Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Dr. Jennifer Kramer, who holds a joint position at the Museum of Anthropology--frequently called MOA--and the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. In this podcast they talk about Dr. Kramer's recent exhibit, “Shake Up: Preserving What We Value,” which explores earthquakes from a variety of perspectives including First Nations narratives and teachings, and the seismic upgrades that the museum will undergo.

Celebrating the 19th Amendment with Stories from the Lucy Burns Museum

Transcript

Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Laura McKie, the creator and current director of the Lucy Burns Museum at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Virginia. In this episode they talk about the women who picketed the White House in pursuit of women’s right to vote, and how these suffragists fit into the larger history of women’s suffrage in the United States

Catherine Cooper: What is the Lucy Burns Museum and why is it in Lorton?

Laura McKie: It is there for a very special reason. The prison that was built in Lorton was for the District of Columbia; in 1910, they built a men’s workhouse and in 1912 they built a women’s workhouse.

A few years later, 1917, women from the National Woman’s Party began picketing the White House in support of women’s right to vote. They were on duty in front of the White House with banners but silently standing from January until the beginning of the summer of 1917.

Up till that time, in that winter and spring, Woodrow Wilson, who was then President, was not concerned apparently about these suffragists. But right around the middle of the summer, he became more and more upset with having them there. He asked the commissioners to ask the police chief to get rid of the women. He did not want them in front of the White House. So, arrests began. At first the women were sentenced to a couple of days in the DC jail, but since they kept coming back—this didn’t stop and the women appeared every day, every day—these sentences got heavier. They were frequently offered the opportunity to pay a fine, but no one did. They chose to take the jail sentence.

So, beginning in late summer of 1917, suffragists who were arrested began to be sent down to the women’s workhouse in Occoquan. They were sent there up to November of 1917. The last group of women came in mid-November of 1917 and they were treated horribly. While they were there, they were roughed up, they were forced to be in cells, which at other times they hadn’t been. Lucy Burns, who was one of the arrestees, was chained to the cell bars with her hands over her head all night long and that was typical of what was done.

They asked for permission to be political prisoners, but they were denied that. So, they decided to go on a hunger strike. The warden did not want them to die and become martyrs to the cause, so he ordered that they be force fed. Force feeding is not a very pleasant activity: it involves putting a tube down a person’s nose, down past their throat into their stomach, and then using a funnel, raw eggs and milk were poured down into the woman’s stomach. From what was written by those who were involved, it’s a very painful process. And they did that three times a day and, in the meantime, while they were doing this, they would walk by with plates of fried chicken, apple pie, coffee and stand outside the cells, hoping the women would give up. They couldn’t see each other at this point, and they were told that all the other women had given up, but they hadn’t. So, they were using every kind of psychological and physiological things to make the women quit. But they didn’t.

Eventually, it was found out that the women were at the workhouse because they had basically been smuggled down. So, there were 32 women there and after about a week, a lawyer came down and wanted to see them. He was denied the opportunity to see them, but he got a writ and came back and was able to see the women and saw what terrible shape they were in. He then went to the courthouse in Alexandria to a federal judge and arranged for the women to be brought there on a writ of Habeas Corpus. It was a challenge to get the women there because they were in such fragile condition, and we have photographs of some of them coming out of the jail and they looked terrible.

That particular incident was so powerful, they were written up in virtually every newspaper across the country in great detail. Names were listed and how they were treated and so on.

This combined with all the other activity that was going on in support of women’s suffrage, basically forced Woodrow Wilson to go to the Congress and ask them to pass an amendment. After five tries, they actually did in 1918. Then the amendment was sent around to the states for ratification and it was ratified in August of 1920. And that’s why we are now celebrating the 100th anniversary of the enactment of the 19th amendment.

We honor the women at the workhouse for what went on in 1917 because it was so influential. And many people have said it was a turning point in the views that people had of the suffrage program.

Catherine Cooper: How is the story of the Occoquan Workhouse unique in the suffrage story in the United States and how does it fit in to the other aspects?

Laura McKie: Well, a lot of things were going on in women’s activities around the turn of the century. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who had been so in front of the movement, were passed away by the turn of the century and a new group of women came in. And they began to be active all over the United States and they proceeded in a variety of ways. The National American Woman’s Suffrage Association felt that it was most important for them to work at the state level and to go state by state. The group that Alice Paul and Lucy Burns formed was an outgrowth of that. You’ll hear me use those names, Lucy Burns and Alice Paul, frequently because they were the ones who spearheaded the activity in front of the White House. No one had ever picketed the White House and especially no woman had ever done anything like that before. It was considered outrageous.

Lucy and Alice were the co-founders, but we named the Museum after Lucy Burns because she was the only one of the two to actually be imprisoned at Lorton.

Catherine Cooper: What objects or elements did you have to work with when putting the museum together and can you tell us a bit about how they’re displayed?

Laura McKie: We relied primarily on photographs. The Library of Congress has wonderful photographs from the period of the activities of the women in front of the workhouse, of groups being attacked by visitors who were surrounding them, having their signs pulled down and stomped on, being shoved around, it became a messy thing. In the exhibit, many of these pictures are blown up to larger than life size.

In addition to that, we have three beautiful larger-than-life size statues of Lucy Burns, Alice Paul and Dora Lewis. Dora Lewis was chosen because she represented one of the older women who were involved with the project. The oldest woman who was imprisoned was 72 years old and the youngest was 19.

The only real objects that we have on display that directly relate to the suffragists are the jail log books, and we’re fortunate enough to have the three logbooks that cover the dates from 1916 to 1918. These are great, heavy books, probably five inches thick and they weigh about 20 pounds each. But inside of those books in carefully written script—the script is beautiful—are the names of everyone who was arrested in the district, day by day, hour by hour, what they were charged with, where they came from, and what the disposition of their charge was; if they were sentenced, what they were sentenced to, and if they were released.

This is the place where all of the names of the women who were arrested are listed and includes the 72 women who were sent to Lorton to the workhouse. It also includes the other women who were sent to DC jail. The one that we have on display is open to the page that has the most suffragists names on it. Lucy Burns’ name is there. It lists and details all the things that happened to her while she was there. Many of them listed the name of the place where they resided as Cameron House. And Cameron House was like an office-boarding house right in Lafayette Square for women who had come to town to stand in front of the White House and picket. Women came from all over the country, but it was also Alice Pauls’ office.

Catherine Cooper: For visitors to the museum, what are the main things that you want them to take away.

Laura McKie: So, I really want them to know the bigger story, starting with the group who met in Western New York in 1848 and the intense involvement of so many thousands and thousands of women, leading up to the 1920 amendment. It was amazing. It was the largest organization that the United States has ever had. The vast majority of women who were working toward the suffrage amendment were white women. They did come from all classes, however. But black women were not included. It was a conscious decision made on the part of the leadership. They wanted to get the South behind the project of getting the vote and they felt if they brought black women into that process, that the South would turn against them. So, they consciously decided not to include them. However, African American women across the country were very, very active and working towards the vote. However, their view was a much broader view than the white women. The white women were narrowly focused on one thing, getting the vote. The African American women had a much broader social agenda, because although African American men had been given the vote in the 15th amendment, they, in many parts of the country were not allowed to vote under the very strict Jim Crow laws that were then in effect. So, the African American women who were working towards suffrage, wanted to enlarge the vision to include men, but also to include the social aspects of the black community which were then so terribly benighted. So, African American women were there but not nearly so obviously.

One African American woman and her daughter did, in fact, picket the White House. She was not arrested, so she’s not on our list of people. Her name is Mary Church Terrell and she’s a very, very fascinating woman who lived in Washington DC, and in her autobiography, she writes about her experiences.

The second thing to take away in my opinion is to recognize that women were willing to die for the vote, because people have died from going on hunger strikes. They went into this situation and went to jail willingly because they felt their sacrifice was sufficiently important for everyone and they were willing to do it. So, we need to honor that bravery, that commitment by voting and voting locally, voting statewide and voting nationally.

In 1920, not everyone in the United States could vote. Even though women had been given the right to vote, Native Americans couldn’t vote, Asian Americans couldn’t vote, citizens of District of Columbia and of the territories of the United States could not vote. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that everyone in the United States who was a citizen over the age of 18, could vote. So that’s the last message that I tend to throw out to people as they leave the exhibit is, vote.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much.

Laura McKie: Been a pleasure. And I hope that folks will visit us digitally if not in person. We do have a website. It is workhousearts.org/LucyBurnsMuseum.

Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast, show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time, goodbye everybody.

Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Laura McKie, the creator and current director of the Lucy Burns Museum at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Virginia. In this episode they talk about the women who picketed the White House in pursuit of women’s right to vote, and how these suffragists fit into the larger history of women’s suffrage in the United States

Discussing the Display of Mummies with Curator Gina Borromeo

Transcript

Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons, with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Dr. Gina Borromeo, Curator of Ancient Art at the Rhode Island School of Design Art Museum. In this podcast, they talk about Gina’s work on redesigning the RISD Museum’s Egyptian Art exhibit and the museum’s decision to rehouse the mummy, Nesmin, in his sarcophagus.

Gina Borromeo: The redesign and reinstallation of our Egyptian mummy—and that is of a Ptolemaic money of a priest named Nesmin—Nesmin and his coffin has been at the RISD Museum since they were acquired in 1938. Since that time, they have always been on view separately; the mummy on one side and the coffin on the other. I would say that in the past couple of years, we have had certain programs and projects in the museum that began to question whether it was okay for us to continue to display a human body in the museum. These projects were based on a discussion called Double-Take where we invite two different experts to discuss one object from two points of view. During that discussion, which happened between a professor of criminal justice and an anthropologist, it was brought up that the idea of displaying a mummy in the museum was problematic and specifically, the displaying of a human being in an art museum.

That was also followed closely by a project made by a RISD MFA student who had a program here that spoke all about the display of black bodies in particular. Here, he was really asking the question whether we would show a mummy if it were not of an Egyptian, weather we would feel equally free about displaying a white body. In addition to that, there was a Brown BA thesis that discussed various displays of mummies in the United States. I think these three programs together made us rethink our approach to this display. Some of the questions they raised were: “Is a human body of work of art?” Then another one was, “Does the human body belong in an art museum? And if so, should it even be on view?” Then they brought up the fact that we would probably not display other human remains in an art museum, particularly Native American human remains because of NAGPRA considerations in this country. They pointedly asked, “Well, what makes it okay to show an Egyptian body?” I think we had to come face to face with the questions, or actually the realities, that we have always seen Egyptian mummies on view in museums so much so that they have become normalized and we began to question that idea. Is it in fact okay to continue to do so just because it’s become normal? I think we started thinking that, well, no. Just because Nesmin no longer had descendants who could speak on his behalf, didn’t mean that we had permission to continue to show his body in this very public context. Also, it became clear to us that we could still continue to talk about Egyptian religious traditions and even Egyptian religious beliefs about death and about the afterlife, but didn’t have to show the mummy anymore. In fact, the coffin itself could stand in as the object from which we could educate our viewers about all these issues. Catherine Cooper: It sounds like there were a number of different aspects that you had to mediate in redesigning the exhibit. How did you handle those different voices?

Gina Borromeo: Well, first of all, this was a very difficult decision and one that I did not want to make alone. So, I engaged other members of the museum staff in this discussion, certainly the director, the deputy director, our conservators, our registrars or installation staff and even other curators, as well as outside experts, outside Egyptologists and anthropologists, were part of this discussion process. In the end, the major points of consideration were continued care for the mummy and the coffin. We wanted to make sure that whatever we decided to do would not damage the mummy any further or the coffin. We have to remember here that these have always been on view separately. Essentially, that wooden coffin has not held the weight of Nesmin’s mummy since the 1930s and we were really afraid that the wood had become brittle. There were cracks throughout the coffin. We were really scared. I don’t think that’s an overstatement of the situation. We were scared to put the weight in and we were afraid we would further damage the coffin. It was interesting because our conservator, brilliant conservator, Ingrid Newman, decided that perhaps we should place little tissue bandages across the cracks of the wooden coffin so that when we put the weight of the mummy back in, we could see whether those cracks would tear the tissue paper and if so, that meant that we were causing damage to the wood and that the wood may not be able to take the mummy’s weight anymore. Fortunately, that did not happen, but I have to tell you that when we were putting the mummy into the coffin, a lot of us were holding our breaths and there was a visible sigh of relief when we discovered that in fact, the coffin was stable enough and could still hold the weight of the mummy and that essentially, it was still good for its original purpose. I would say that a second consideration in our decision was also consideration for museum visitors because while I would say a great majority of our visitors are school children come to the museum to see the mummy, it is a highlight actually if they’re sixth grade experience here in Rhode Island, they come to the museum to study ancient culture; so ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. They have come to expect to see Nesmin in the museum. We had to let people know that we would no longer be showing him, but I have to tell you about something else that I think not a lot of people know and that there have been instances where our visiting public, and I’m speaking specifically about these sixth graders, there’ve been instances where their encounter with Nesmin is their first experience, their first vision really, of death. For some children, this has been a traumatic experience. I have heard of teachers who have had to take children out of the room because they were so shocked and disturbed by seeing a dead body in the museum. These are things that I think the general public doesn’t know about, but I felt very strongly about the fact that we had to think about our museum visitors. The RISD Museum, I don’t know if you’d know it, but it is a small museum, so we don’t have a space that we could segregate with a notice outside that says, “You are about to enter a room with human remains.” I think visitors can just be roaming around the museum and immediately, before they know it, be face to face with the mummy and the coffin of Nesmin. So this is a way of also, not shocking people into that experience if they were not prepared for it. Also, we worried about the coherence of the display. Because we would be taking the mummy off view, we had to deal with a whole other side of the case, and we’re talking about a custom made climate controlled case here that was quite expensive and that we could not make modifications to really. We couldn’t move the support, we couldn’t move the stainless steel framing supports that held the shelf for the mummy and the coffin. So we had to think about what we should put on the other side and we were able to find painted mummy portraits from the Roman period to put on the other side. But I would say that if I had my choice, I would really prefer to lower the coffin a little bit right now because you really can’t see the top of the decoration on the coffin, but we had to deal with the limitations that we had and not being able to make modifications to the case. Catherine Cooper: In rehousing Nesmin and changing the display, it was also an opportunity for further education of why this display had changed and why RISD has Nesmin, and you were able to work that into the display, correct?

Gina Borromeo: Once we made the decision to put Nesmin back in his coffin, we focused on how to make our decision process transparent to our visitors because I think it’s a really good illustration of how museums decide to do things. We decided to make videos that when you visit the museum you can access, and we decided to make these videos so that they addressed specific questions that we thought people would want to know about. The first question and the first video deals with, “What do you see on the coffin?” Essentially, what can we learn from the text and images that are on Nesmin’s coffin? Then the second video addresses how Nesmin got from Egypt to Providence in 1938, so his history of ownership and where we think he might have been excavated and how he passed from one private collector to another before he eventually made his way to RISD. Then the third, and I think perhaps the question that is most interesting to a lot of people is, is a body of work of art? This basically answers the question of why we chose to put Nesmin back in his coffin. We had invited an anthropologist and an Egyptologist to talk about how ancient Egyptians viewed bodies and mummies and how that has changed from antiquity through today. Basically, touches also upon the history of the display of mummies in museums. That was very interesting. I would say for the most part, I’m really happy with the way that display turned out and really quite happy with the videos. But should things change in the future, I know that what we did could easily be reversible and we can improve on these videos, so I leave that open. I hope that we could make this display even better for our visitors. Catherine Cooper: Have you gotten any feedback that you’d like to share on how people have received the change to the exhibit? Gina Borromeo: When people realized they could no longer see him, at first there was, I wouldn’t say an outcry, but people were asking questions, “But why? But why?” And gradually, now, over time, people have said, “Well, Oh goodness. Those are actually valid questions. I’m glad that the video is here to help me understand why you did what you did.” So I guess that’s positive feedback. In this display, we really felt a responsibility to the mummy of Nesmin and the coffin, so we took such care with it. We were concerned about making sure that we did not cause harm to the mummy of Nesmin and the coffin that we in fact, practiced the move several times before we actually did it. Our manager of installation, Steven Wing, made a model of the mummy that was about his size and weight and we wrapped it in linen as we would eventually wrap Nesmin. Then with members of the installation crew and with the conservators, we practiced lifting him out, lifting him from his shelf. We did this so we could identify where possible issues might arise and so that we could find solutions together about we have to support him more specifically here, and we have to lift this part up just a little more when we put him into the coffin. At the time we actually made the move, it was done in one smooth movement. These decisions, obviously it was not taken lightly, but we tried to prepare as much as possible for the move of Nesmin back into his coffin. I like to think that he is finally now in his intended resting place and that he is finally getting the rest that he’s so, so deserved and that we had temporarily interrupted. Now, he is back in the coffin and resting quietly we hope. Catherine Cooper: Thank you so much for sharing that process with us.

Gina Borromeo: Thank you, Catherine, for allowing me to do so.

Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time, goodbye everybody.

Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Dr. Gina Borromeo, Curator of Ancient Art at the Rhode Island School of Design Art Museum. In this podcast, they talk about Gina’s work on redesigning the RISD Museum’s Egyptian Art exhibit and the museum’s decision to rehouse the mummy, Nesmin, in his sarcophagus.

UHawaii Hilo students caring for ‘ohana at Kalaupapa

Transcript

Recent HOPE Crew at Kalaupapa National Historical Park.

K. Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation, Technology and Training. Today we join Jason Church as he talks to students from the University of Hawaiʻi Hilo. In this podcast, they talk about the students’ cemetery preservation work at Kalaupapa National Historic Park.

J. Church: You’ve been here now for a week and a half doing cemetery work here at Kalaupapa, so introduce yourselves and let’s talk about what you’ve been doing.

Darienne: My name is Darienne Marie Kaiaʻokūlaniakea Kealoha, I go by Darienne.

Nanea: Aloha, my name is Naneaikealaula Victoria Thomas and I go by Nanea.

Cody: Aloha, ʻo Cody koʻu inoa my full name is Cody Koʻokāne Pacheco, but you can call me Cody.

Kinohi: Aloha ʻoe, my name is Kinohi Pūkaua o Kamehameha Neves and you can call me Kinohi.

Sheldon: Aloha, my name is Sheldon Takeshi Keoni-Kawikaonalani Rosa and you can call me Sheldon.

J. Church: What interested you in doing this project? Why here and why the cemeteries?

Cody applying D/2 to a grave before scrubbing with a natural bristle brush.

Cody: Well first, before I think we talk about the importance of being here, we should talk a little bit about the history of this space and so where we are located right now is a peninsula on the island of Molokai and it’s called Kalaupapa. This peninsula at precontact time had Native Hawaiians living and residing here but in 1866, that’s when the first leprosy patients were brought to this settlement. There were nine of them, there were six men and three women. And at that point in history, Hawaii was experiencing a very drastic change in the way that our native populations dealt with leprosy and how our ancestors were dealing with that disease, which at the time, had not cure.

And so, this settlement which is about two by two miles long and wide, totally trapped off from the rest of our islands because of the two thousand foot pali or cliffs on one side and then being surrounded completely by the ocean on the other side. And so, you can think of it as a natural prison and so when our government was dealt with the leprosy epidemic that was occurring, the Board of Health decided to take these people from our communities who were dealing with leprosy and put them in this landlocked prison of some sort.

And so, that started in 1866 and since then…it ended in 1969 and in between 1866 and 1969, roughly eight thousand patients were brought to this peninsula and so the reason that we’re here is because that eight thousand plus patients that were buried here and died here have graves and markers. Not all of them but those that do have that, we’re here to just mālama take care of them.

Kinohi: Mahalo Cody, for all of his manaʻo it’s important to go to the history because when you hear the history, you’d assume that everyone would want to be here, but for a lot of schools and this was brought up during our week here, that sometimes this subject is not covered in our classes. I know in my education, it wasn’t really a subject in school. As he mentioned, there’s eight thousand patients and during our work days here, we’ve seen a lot of familiar names. Some family members that we didn’t know had family here and maybe they don’t even know our friends connection here.

For me, my parents have always told me that there was a family member that was a resident here. That drew me into being a part of the class, being involved and to reconnect that family tie.

Nanea: Like Cody and Kinohi said this place has a lot of very important history here in Kalaupapa for a lot of us students, it’s personal history. We are called here, not only a privilege but in great honor to be able to come to this space and mālama each and every single grave on this peninsula. A lot of us are called here because we do have family here, whether we are able to identify their tombstone or not, every single grave on the peninsula is ʻohana to each and everyone of us and it’s very special too when we do find our ʻohana because whether you see the name or you hear someone say the name out loud and you’re like that’s my ʻohana it’s bigger than an oha moment, it’s that connection that just…it roots you even more to this space and really makes you appreciate just being able to be herea

Hilo students scrub a concrete grave marker removing biological growth.

Darienne: To go off of what Nania was saying and then to go all the way back to Jason’s question about why we applied, it was something that Kumu Kai mentioned in one of her history classes. It was just that she was going to have this class and if you want to do it complete the application with an essay and when I did the essay, it was the first time that I really thought about whether or not I have a connection here, or how much my family doesn’t know about Kalaupapa. And when I started to ask my family members, they didn’t even know what island Kalaupapa was on or like what it really was. All they knew was, oh yeah, some Hawaiians got sent there and they were isolated from everyone else.

When Kumu Kai put it out there that we were going to come to Kalaupapa, it felt like a tugging sensation and it felt like something I had to apply for, and I had to make sure that I was going to come here, and I was going to be able to be on this trip. And like everyone has said, we all have connections, but we don’t always know about it.

Yes, so the more I learned about Kalaupapa, the more questions I asked my family and I found out that I did have family here and had I not got that tugging sensation to come to Kalaupapa, I wouldn’t have asked about our family history here or even if we had history here.

When we went to ʻĪliopiʻi it just so happens that my family was there that day. I didn’t think much of it when somebody told me, “Oh, I found a Kahihikolo over here, maybe check it out.” As soon as I got to the grave, I burst into tears. And I think everybody saw me just like crying on the side to myself. That was something that kind of brought it all together for me was that feeling of connection to my family and to my culture that I don’t really get to experience that often.

Rinsing the grave marker after cleaning with D/2.

Sheldon: That we can clean the gravestones and how we can mālama and take care of the kūpuna so that we can remember it, we can pass on their stories, because you know we all have a kuleana here. We all didn’t get to experience this teaching of what Kalaupapa is and what the trauma that these patients went through. So, we all have a responsibility here to teach this to our children and to the next generation to make sure that they know this history, because if you don’t pass it on, then it’s gone.

Cody: Today, Kumu Kai asked me a question in the field that we were working in, she said, “Cody, are you learning things from this workshop? What have you learned if anything?” And amongst the many things that I listed to her in response to that question was, that the ability and skills that I’ve gained in learning how to mālama and take care of these gravestones and the connections that are built when you take care of them, is something that I’m going to take home to my families graves.

And I know…when I was a kid, my family would always on Sundays go to a cemetery where a lot of my ʻohana is buried and it’s been awhile since we’ve gone but I know that a lot of the graves of my ʻohana is falling apart or the soil is running away and just being in this workshop, constantly I’m thinking about how now I have the tools and the skills and the desire more to go back home and take care of that ʻohana that I know deserve more. And so, I really appreciate that from this workshop.

Nanea: Like Cody said, how to properly tend to cemeteries, specifically gravestones and thinking about the gravestones that I can access and tend to back at home. When I was young, my mom used to take us to Kona of the island, which is where most of my family is buried and we were never allowed, me and my siblings were never allowed to eat McDonald’s and so when we’d visit the cemeteries, we’d buy one bag full of all cheeseburgers and we’d go eat our little McDonald’s at the cemetery. And I didn’t like pickles so I’d give pickles to the grave sites and then the fries that don’t make it into the little fries’ box, they would get dumped into the bottom of the bag, we’d dump it on the graves so they could enjoy it with us. And so now going home, I can do more than just give them my pickles, I can you know, properly scrub them, pull the weeds and tend to them, so I’m really excited and grateful to have learned all this knowledge on proper tombstone care and take that home to my ʻohana there.

When I think about it, there are over eight thousand patients buried here and only about one thousand, a little over one thousand of which are visibly marked graves. And so, when we research them and then see their graves, we get to, each person gets to mālama their person a little bit extra and then when they tell their story, it’s a way for us to do our…a small part in making sure that each person is remembered.

Student uses a bamboo skewer to remove biological build up from the inscription.

Kinohi: As Sheldon was talking about how he talked to Uncle Mike and that he describes this place as a forgotten place, I would say for whoever is listening that, that connection to us should be that where ever our grandparents, our uncles and aunties or whoever is buried, that that place doesn’t become a forgotten place as well. That we learn from Kalaupapa that where our family is buried doesn’t become Kalaupapa as well. That we stay connected just as we reconnected here in this place.

Darienne: On the first day when Jason, Molly and Rusty was talking to us about what we’re going to be doing for our time here, I don’t remember who said it but somebody said to ask for consent before scrubbing the graves and when they said that, I thought it was funny because we all knew we were going to do that anyway. That we were going to ask for permission to be in that space with our kūpuna before we work in the first place. And then something else to mention is that Aunty Mikiʻala it took some time to explain to us the different signs of our kūpuna saying, “Okay yeah, you guys can come in, it’s okay” and some of the ones that she talked about was hearing the manu or like the bird chirping, is it a happy chirping or is it like a warning chirping. If it’s a happy one, then obviously, yeah you can go ahead and if it’s a warning, then maybe we should go somewhere else or maybe we should work on something else or it can be like the change in temperature and the wind or a feeling that you get, knowing that it’s okay to go in or it’s not okay to go in.

Sheldon: I would like to say thank you whole crew and Jason, Rusty and Molly for coming down as well as NPS for allowing us in here. Thank you for hosting us and giving us this awesome opportunity to give back to our community and give back to Hawaiʻi to the patients that lived here. Giving us the opportunity to reconnect with these people and to connect back to Kalaupapa. We now all have a kuleana that we need to ʻauamo or carry, a responsibility we get to carry and we’re thankful that you opened that avenue and that gate for us to be able to explore this and to learn how to take care of our kūpuna. It’s been an awesome experience and it’s going to be a memory that I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life.

Kind of ending it on “He Mu” it’s a protocol we do before we leave so that all the negative energies, of spirits perhaps, you know they’ve never seen people in a longtime sometimes. So, when they see us young people coming down, they get excited and they want to talk. So, we do this just to tell them like, goodbye. Please stay where you are and don’t follow us back and just to keep them where they should be, because you don’t want to be taking this energy with you because it can affect your life. That’s what a lot of people have been saying to me before I came here, like don’t bring anything back. So, they gave me a bunch of salt, like make sure you leave Kalaupapa at Kalaupapa. But yeah, I’m just making sure we let them know like, okay we are leaving and a hui hou, never aloha but always a hui hou, until we meet again.

UH Hilo students: Chanting “He Mu”.

K. Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.NCPTT.NPS.gov. Until next time, goodbye everybody

Jason Church talks to students from the University of Hawaiʻi Hilo. In this podcast, they talk about the students’ cemetery preservation work at Kalaupapa National Historic Park.

Finding and Preserving LGBTQ Southern History with the Invisible Histories Project

Transcript

Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Josh Burford and Maigen Sullivan, the co-founders of the Invisible Histories Project. In this podcast they talk about the Invisible Histories Project and their work finding and preserving queer history in the South.

Catherine Cooper: What is the Invisible Histories Project and how did you come to start it?

Poster presentation on the Charlotte Queer Oral History Project

Maigen Sullivan: We are a 501C3 non-profit. We’re not a traditional archive or a traditional education, but our main focus is LGBTQ history and archiving. We act as an intermediary between organizations like museums and libraries and universities and LGBTQ people in the south. So, we’re trying to connect folks and locate histories in order to get them preserved and researched. So that’s basically what we do. It’s a little unusual, there’s not a lot of folks doing that because we don’t actually have that kind of physical archives space and we’re not a university, but we act between them in order to preserve that history in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia as of March this year. And we also manage a network of archivists, historians, just people interested in queer and trans southern history. It’s called Queer History South, which is a conference where we get together, and we just talk about best practices. How do we find this history? How do we preserve it and how do we make it accessible?

Josh Burford and Maigen Sullivan, co-founders of the Invisible Histories Project

Josh Burford: I think how we got started is very typically a queer story in that there was this gap. We were looking for information about our own history. We were being asked information about our own history and we didn’t have access to it. It wasn’t in traditional repositories, it wasn’t in libraries, it wasn’t being studied at universities and so, we took it upon ourselves to do what a lot of southern queer people have done, which is grass roots organize to locate and preserve our own history.

The nice thing is Maigen and I have both been in higher ed in the past. We understand how it works. I moved to Charlotte in 2012 to build an archive for the city of Charlotte—an LGBT archive—and so, while I was there, Maigen and I talked about the possibility of taking this city-wide project and turning it into a state-wide project in Alabama. Since we’re both from Alabama and both from the deep south, it made sense that that’s where we would start.

And now we’re a regional project within in two years. There’s just so much material that needs to be collected. We’ve collected sixty-three individual LGBT collections in Alabama in the last eighteen months. We’re on track to double that number in the next two years and we’re on track to have collections that wide and in that much scope in Mississippi and Georgia. We’ll be at five hundred, six hundred collections in three states in four years.

Catherine Cooper: What materials does the project seek to collect and are you actively looking for these collections?

Josh Burford: Yes, we are actively collecting and so if you can imagine a spreadsheet in your head for a second, you know there is a whole section that’s just stuff we’ve already collected with all the data. There’s a section of collections that have started but we haven’t picked up materials. So, that list is probably around seventy or eighty individuals and groups. So that we’ve contacted them and then we’re working with them. And then we have our research collections. I mean, the one from Georgia has gotten so big, so quickly and we’ve only really been officially in Georgia since March.

So, we are working with donors every single day. I mean I was on the phone with donors this morning, I have donor meetings the rest of the week and even though we’re distancing, you know we’re looking for ways to continue the process.

Josh Burford and donor with the first disco ball from a gay bar in Tuscaloosa

Every single donation that we pick up—and I think this is part of the benefit of doing a grass roots-based project—is that I see every donation that we pick up as access to fifteen or twenty additional donors and donations. Because we are asking people when we pick up their materials, who influenced you? Who were your people? Who was your community? And so, the work quickly fans out especially because of the connectivity between Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. There’s so much shared history there.

As far as what we’re collecting, I mean it would probably be easier to list what we’re not collecting at this point. But you know, the traditional manuscript collections, so letters, photos, documents related to organizations, meeting minutes, posters, flyers, the usual stuff that you’d see in an archive. But because, to make Maigen’s point, we’re not a traditional archival repository, a lot of 3D collections; so, dresses, drag performance gowns, Mardi Gras textiles, banners from gay pride festivals, we’ve got the very first disco ball from a gay bar in Tuscaloosa, which is in our office currently.

Maigen Sullivan: The good thing about us, is because we’re really focusing on community accessibility, that’s our number one goal for materials. So, we have a number of repositories that we work with and these are both local, state repositories as well as some national partners that we negotiate what that will look like and then we can work with the donors to get their materials to the right place.

Ideally, something would stay local, so if it came from Birmingham, Alabama, it would go to Birmingham Public Library. However, everyone has restrictions on what they can take and size and specialty, so if there are pieces, we do like to keep things together, but let’s say that there’s a really critical piece like a disco ball, that can’t just be stored anywhere, we will find the repository that is invested in storing that kind of material in order to make sure that it’s the right fit for the archive as well as the donor.

Catherine Cooper: So that actually very much speaks to the next question which is, what is your process for housing and preserving and it’s these partnerships…

Josh Burford: Yeah, and I think the layer that we have that a lot of traditional archival repositories don’t have, is that we have integrated social media into our work. We also have amazing archival repository partners, so if we get a piece in and it’s in really bad shape or it’s like Maigen’s point, like a disco ball, like where’s that going to go? We have a network of people we can reach out to immediately and find out. So, we’re not saying no to collections right away, but we get the chance to bring collections in to IHP, to do what we call a pre-sort. So, we’re able to organize the materials as they come. So, it doesn’t matter what shape they’re in. We work with the donor and then we get it figured out.

Alabamians marching on Washington as part of a large rally calling for lesbian and gay rights; October 11, 1987

Then we get to take photos of material, we put that on our social media. We get to look at what the collections are about and then start building lists of individual people we want to work on the collections because we’ve got this huge network.

I think, if things had been different in our world at the moment, this summer we would have had four different graduate and undergraduate students in Alabama, all working on a different collections.

So, we’re pushing the material out, we want people to see it and handle it and to look at it and to photograph it and to write about it and to experience it. So, for us, the preservation piece is very crucial so that people can see it from now and a hundred years from now.

But Maigen is right, accessibility is at the top of our list because as we’re very fond of saying, the difference between archiving and hoarding is a very important distinction to make. It’s not enough to have it in a box. It’s not enough that it’s safe. It needs to be available to the public.

Maigen Sullivan: We also provide support for the repositories and the universities that we work with. So, you know you’ve got all this stuff coming in, sixty collections really fast, that is very overwhelming. So, what we like to try to do is give this information up front; this is what’s in this collection. We’ve worked with the donor, they understand what is and what isn’t archivable. We’ve gone through and cleaned things up and then we work with universities in the three states that were to bring in graduate archival students that will help fully process. You know, write up the finding aids, organize everything, help store it and then give everything to us, so we can connect with researchers, either on student level or a faculty level who want to come in and research the material and get that out into the public as well.

So, we’re helping a lot of these folks get the things that we donate to them ready for research and accessibility pretty quickly because these students are, they’re killing it. They come in and they’re like, boom, boom, boom, forty boxes, what’s that?

Josh Burford: It’s also nice to be able to plan for the future of individual materials that we’re getting. We get requests all the time for things like LGBT identity and southern religions, or lesbian history. As we’re bringing collections in, we already have a working list of people that we can reach out to, even before we’ve picked up the actual boxes and say, “Hey, I want you to know that this is coming.”

Because of that we’ve been able to build coursework at so many of our institutional university partners so that undergraduates are working with primary documents. They’re digitizing for us. They’re describing collections, they’re creating subject headings for search.

Catherine Cooper: So, for people who are looking for getting access to these collections, what do you recommend?

Josh Burford: Well I think the easiest place to start is our website, which just went through a facelift and so it’s really beautiful and people should look at it, InvisibleHistory.org. It’s a good place to start because we’re listing out our institutional partners and our collections by state. If they follow us on social media at all, they’ll be able to see the collections literally as they arrive on our doorstep.

And then, we push people to our repositories so that they can make the initial contact. Anybody that were working with, if you pick up the phone and say, “I’m looking for this collection, IHP brought it to you,” they can get it to you.

Lesbian Avengers from Mississippi State University, October 1995.

Maigen Sullivan: We are on Instagram and Facebook the most, we’re at Invisible Histories Project on both of those. We are technically on Twitter, but we are not great at Twitter, but you can find things there.

Another thing too, if people are looking for something, if they’re interested, if they’re doing a project or if they have materials that they want to donate, we get a ton of hits on social media, they’re like, “Hey, I have this 1940’s piece, is this good?” They can email us at contact@invisiblehistory.org, and we can work with folks to figure out what would be best, particularly with everything being so weird right now, trying to get them access to the materials is going to be a little tricky because like Josh said, most of the stuff isn’t digitized right now at least.

Catherine Cooper: What are the ways you’ve been able to use these collections in your education programs?

Maigen Sullivan: We do a lot of talks, we do a lot of presentations, we have worked with queer youth centers and we have a traveling mini exhibit that represents mostly Alabama right now, but also Mississippi and Georgia.

The biggest thing was in the beginning, well even now, this material was not widely available. It wasn’t collected and if it was, it was oftentimes hidden under weird headings or unacknowledged or not processed. So, we have spent, at the beginning time, just getting the materials, just finding them and bringing them in. We are now to a place where we can do more education.

Photo of Frank Bowers, a drag performer from Birmingham, AL in the 1920s.

Josh Burford: And we’re not starting from scratch, because obviously there have been queer historians before, but because we’re new and because people know who we are now, at least on some level, we’re able to try different things that maybe people haven’t done before. So, we launched a digital project called, Drag Family Trees and so we’re having drag queens literally, physically map out their drag families for us, like their drag mothers and siblings are. And then at a certain point coalescing all that material together so that you cannot just see the evolution of an individual drag queen but all the connectivity between all of the deep south states. I mean there’s so much connectivity between Atlanta, Birmingham, Jackson, Mississippi and New Orleans, just in that I-20 corridor. And anytime we can get primary documents in the hands of undergraduates, I’m delighted.

Maigen Sullivan: So, we’re working with organizations and individuals who are involved in some sort of queer organizing or movement, to archive what they’re doing right now. So, we come in yearly with different organizations, different individuals, we say, “Okay, what do you got from this year,” so that we can create plans that we can go ahead and integrate, with things from the 1920’s, with things from the turn of the century, with stuff from the 2000’s, so that young folks can understand that you’re a part of history and that all of these actions that you take, add up and matter at some point. And I think that’s been really great to see as we’ve worked with folks.

Catherine Cooper: For people who want to get involved both now and when we’re allowed to meet in person again, what would you recommend?

Maigen Sullivan: The first thing is to follow us on the social medias, check out the website, email us at the contact Invisible History. If you’ve got questions, we do have a few ways for people to get involved. All of the archives that we work with are shutdown.

So, we can’t keep producing social media posts like we used to, so if folks have queer southern photos that they would like to share with us, we would love to get them, to feature them online. We’ve started a YouTube series, where we sit down and talk with different folks doing queer history work across the country or who are involved in queer organizing. So that’s available if folks want to just see what people are doing and ways that they can get involved outside of IHP. Just shoot us and email if you’re interested and we’ll figure things out.

Josh Burford: Something else that we want people to know about is that we’ve launched a new program called, Archiving at Home, which now has a tab on our website. You can click on it. Basically, it is a step by step explanation of the process; how you go from a closet full of materials to an archivable collection step by step. It explains both, what kind of materials we’re looking for, how you should be putting things together, etcetera. It also explains digital documents, so like what you can do for digitization. If you have digital clouds, how we preserve those.

People can download the PDF, they can start working on it and if folks live near us in Birmingham, Jefferson or Shelby county, you will actually physically take them boxes and so, they can have boxes on their front door safely and start putting stuff away, which we really appreciate.

Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time, goodbye everybody.

Catherine Cooper speaks with Josh Burford and Maigen Sullivan, the co-founders of the Invisible Histories Project. In this podcast they talk about the Invisible Histories Project and their work finding and preserving queer history in the South

Running a Small Museum during the Pandemic

Transcript

Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Allison Titman, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center in West Chester, Pennsylvania. In this podcast they talk about how the pandemic has affected small museums.

Catherine Cooper: Thank you for joining me today.

Allison Titman: Thanks for having me, it’s great to be here.

Catherine Cooper: I’d like to start with asking you to introduce yourself and the museum. Allison Titman: Sure. I’ve been at the museum a little under a year. It’s a really cool place and has about 35 helicopters on display outside and inside. When we’re open and not in the conditions of a pandemic, several of those helicopters are actually interactive because we want people to understand—as much as they can without taking flight—what it’s like to really sit at the controls and to pilot a craft like that. We also offer helicopter rides, have special events for holidays, do all the fun museum type activities that everybody else does.

Prior to being at this museum, I was actually at the American Alliance of Museums as an Accreditation Program Officer, where I worked with museums of all types and sizes as they prepared for, and then achieved, accreditation. And in case all of that isn’t enough work, I’ve also been involved with the Small Museum Association for about ten years. I am currently the President Emeritus of the Board.

Catherine Cooper: How is small museum defined in the United States?

Allison Titman: I would get that question all the time when I was the one fielding emails for SMA and my answer generally is, if you feel like your museum is small, then it is small. People throw around different definitions based on budget and staff size; it used to be under 250,000 dollars annual budget, now I hear more under half a million, something like less than five staff members or less than ten, but it’s really hard to define. So, what I say is a small museum is one that feels like it doesn’t usually have the resources it needs to meet its goals but figures out innovative ways to meet them anyway.

Catherine Cooper: You have mentioned that we are currently in pandemic times, how has that affected your museum?

Allison Titman: Well like every other museum, we’ve had to close. We closed on March 13th [2020] and are still closed, though we’ve just been notified that museums in our region will be able to open over the next few weeks. During that closure, myself and the one other full-time person transitioned to working from home. Unfortunately, I did have to furlough my six part-time staff members because without earned revenue, we just weren’t able to sustain our usual staffing levels. During the closure, we’ve been working to maintain operations in terms of finances and the essential tasks we have to do to keep the place running. I’m also trying to take advantage of this time to do some behind the scenes work on how we use technology and other systems to make sure that we’re streamlining our work as much as possible, so that when we go back, our lives are hopefully a little easier. I’m also, like every other museum, applying for all the various funding opportunities to help us get through this crisis. And I’ve had to work on a phased reopening plan, looking at what kinds of cleaning and disinfecting procedures and safety protocols we’re going to have to institute to open safely and then putting those on paper, so that our staff and our volunteers and our visitors all feel safe reentering the facility.

Catherine Cooper: Could you tell us any details about that plan, sort of how it fits in with the phased reopening of your region or museum practices that everyone has been discussing?

Allison Titman: Sure, so it’s a combination of information from my region, information from federal sources like the CDC, and then thinking about how our museum works and how to integrate those things into our operations. And I think all Directors and all operations staff members and other people with similar responsibilities have been cobbling together the same things. It’s challenging to take a set of CDC protocols on cleaning and disinfecting and then think about how that applies at my 30,000 square foot building, 15,000 square feet of which is a big gallery full of helicopters, but which also has a museum store, staff offices, two commercial tenants, a theater space, an archives, a library and I’m sure other people are grappling with the same things. Children with a helicopter in the display gallery. Image courtesy of the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center. Our most popular spaces are our kids’ helipad area and then our interactive helicopters. Both of those spaces are meant to be really heavily hands on. They’re supposed to engage all ages, but especially those learners who might not be reading yet but who can really experience things using their other senses. We use helicopters as a gateway to STEM education, and we feel like those hands-on experiences help to make that connection between helicopters and aviation to larger concepts for people of all ages. So, we have had to think through what spaces have to close because they’re just too high touch we can’t keep them open, versus what we can keep open if we make sure to clean more heavily, and to make sure that people understand really what the experience is going to be like in the new normal that we’re all having to deal with.

Catherine Cooper: From speaking with colleagues who work at other small museums, how similar or different have their pandemic experiences been from yours at the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center?

Allison Titman: My friends and colleagues have really had a variety of experiences. For me, I’ve been at the helicopter museum less than a year, so I was still in a phase of doing some organizational transformation in terms of our goals and our programming and what we were really trying to put in place to build on for the future. So, I have colleagues whose institutions are more settled who have solid programs in place, who have been able to make really impressive pivots into virtual programming. Friends are doing things like virtual story times, and turning an education program that was previously in person into a zoom-based experience. And then being able to reach out to institutions like local libraries that are looking for virtual programming and partner with them.

I used to be on the Board of the Greenbelt Museum in Greenbelt, Maryland and as they think about reopening, they’re seeing a phased approach, where the first thing they bring back is their walking tours of Greenbelt. That’s an outdoor experience that people can engage in more safely, whereas the museum itself is a house from the late 1930s that’s less than 1000 square feet. So, you can’t put too many people in there at one time at this point. So, people are really thinking through what kind of existing programming they have and how to pivot to make it fit our current conditions. And then we’re all dealing with some uncertainty around the future. Whether that’s financial uncertainty, whether it’s not knowing if visitors are going to come rushing back to our institutions when we reopen or whether it’s going to be a trickle at first. And then how people will respond as we have to make adjustments over time. If we can’t have our signature events or if we have to really reduce our capacity, will our audiences understand why and really work with us to follow the safety protocols we feel like we have to put in place.

Catherine Cooper: How can members of the public help small museums at this time?

Allison Titman: So, during the pandemic I got a new phone system at the museum because we had a traditional system where the phones rang to our desks, which didn’t work when we weren’t at our desks. So now the museum’s phone rings through to my cell phone, and I’m the frontline staff picking up all the calls. So, the first thing the public could do that would be really helpful is just to be understanding. I know that there are people who really want to get out of the house, and who really need a place to take their bored kids now that their summer breaks have started, but some museums just aren’t permitted to be open yet, and some are still putting their safety practices and protocols in place and aren’t ready.

So, members of the public should just keep an eye on museums’ Facebook pages, websites, anywhere they’re posting information to see when they’re reopening, if they’ve had to adjust their hours, if they’re asking people to buy tickets online in advance. It’s really helpful if people take a second to plan their visit and to look up the information before making a phone call or before just showing up. And then if the public really care about an institution, it’s great if there is a way for them to financially support that museum. If they can’t do that, can they share the museum’s Facebook post, or forward the emails, or tell their friends how long they’ve been a member of the museum and what a great experience that’s been? So, whether people have dollars or can just extend the museums reach, that’s all really helpful right now.

I think right now, we’re all trying to figure out what the future looks like. And we’re having to think about the short term because that’s where our heads are, that’s where we’re all working. Either our museums have just reopened their doors or they’re working towards that, decisions are having to be really immediate.

What I think is coming, and we’re starting to have to grapple with, are the longer-term implications of this pandemic and what the lessons we take away from it are. Visitor inside the Scorpion helicopter on display inside the main hangar. Image courtesy of the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center.

When I worked in accreditation in 2018, we were still seeing museums who had not rebounded to their pre-2008 recession levels. So, cataclysmic events like this affect museums for years and years and years. But on the bright side, these kinds of events give us a good opportunity to plan for the future. What can we put in place now or over the next year or two years, that will help us weather the next crisis? How do we build more sustainable institutions and how do we become more resilient? And I don’t say that lightly, I know it’s not easy. I know that small museums in particular, but all museums in general, tend to feel under resourced and to feel like it’s really today that they can handle and the future that has to wait. But I think that if we can learn from this crisis, that we have to plan and we have to put a strong foundation in place, we can at least take something positive out of what has been a fairly negative experience.

And if nothing else, at least it shows that we are all in this together. It really is museums across the globe that have had a hard time and it’s been wonderful to see people talking to each other. We might be stuck at home, but we have access to people across the country and across the world and our museum professional organizations have really stepped up to offer helpful resources. So, the American Alliance of Museums, AASLH, ASTC, all of the museum umbrella organizations and then the disciplines specific organizations, have really tried to help their members and the field at large. So hopefully, no one feels like their museum is struggling through this alone.

Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov until next time, goodbye everybody.

Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join Catherine Cooper as she speaks with Allison Titman, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center in West Chester, Pennsylvania. In this podcast they talk about how the pandemic has affected small museums.

Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i Hilo (Episode 98)

Transcript

Student Group: Chanting “Ua Ao Hawaiʻi”

Kevin. Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are bringing innovation to preservation. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation, Technology and Training. Today we join Jason Church as he talks with students from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. In this podcast, they talk about the Hawaiian studies program at University of Hawaii.

Student Group: Singing Hawaiian Song.

Jason Church: Introduce yourselves and tell me a little bit about the program.

Makoa: Aloha, mai kākou my name is Kekamamakoaaka’ilihou Kaleilani Caceres but I go by Makoa.

Emma: Aloha, ʻO wau ʻo Emma Kawaikahi Tanigawa, I just go by Emma.

CJ: Aloha, my name is Kenneth Clinton John Sweezey and I go by my middle initials, CJ.

Makoa: But to best explain Hawaiian studies, UH Hilo is really a place where the Hawaiian language is kind of revitalized, so a lot of our professors nowadays were the original folks who first made the first Hawaiian language text book. So, a lot of our focus is on revitalizing the Hawaiian language because it was almost a dead language at one point prior to the first Hawaiian renaissance in the 1970 -80s. But we learn a bunch of different things involving language and culture. So, we have this thing called Kumu Honua Mauli Ola, which is the foundation of what a Hawaiian identity consists of. So, that includes language, spirituality, body language and all sorts of things. Throughout all of our courses at UH Hilo, base all of the coursework on those foundational beliefs.

Jason Church: So, what kind of things do you study in the program?

Emma: Besides language, we also study things such as traditional uses of native Hawaiian plants, we study traditional mele, traditional hula, we also have a papa iʻa class which is a class about ocean animals, fishing, stuff like that.

Makoa: There’s two pathways; so, there’s continuing the culture, which a lot of those courses focus on the revitalization of language and prepping you to become a teacher. So, UH Hilo actually has the only teacher accreditation master’s course that’s completely done within Hawaiian language and that program is really meant to prepare some of our students to become teachers in the Hawaiian Immersion programs that the state provides. For those parents who put their children and want them to be educated primarily in the Hawaiian language. And the other pathway, monitoring the culture, that’s kind of where they try to connect the Hawaiian studies program to all the other disciplines. So, some of the classes that count towards that degree our marine science programs, a lot of anthropology programs, history classes and that kind of stuff.

Jason Church: So, what drew you three to the Hawaiian studies?

Emma: Okay so, when I joined the Hawaiian studies program, my main goal for myself, was actually to learn as much traditional knowledge as I could in order to help educate others that do not have this same opportunity regardless of age, regardless of gender, regardless of race, because I feel like even in public schools all across Hawaiʻi, they don’t really have a good strong foundation when it comes to Hawaiian studies being implemented within public schools. Developed, not only in schools but also in like all of Hawaiʻi and help it become our traditional knowledge, become more normalized.

CJ: I think that when I moved back home to Hilo, I went and lived with my grandfather, who I have never had a relationship with and he’s from Kalapana. Just learning from him, learning about that side of the family made me realize that I wanted to learn more about this place that I call my home or my second home.

Being back in school, especially in higher education in college has allowed me to really open many doors to learn about it.

Makoa: So the reason that I ended up joining the Hawaiian studies program, my parents met at UH Hilo and they were both in the Hawaiian studies program back in the late 90s.

When I was born, I was put into a Hawaiian Immersion preschool Aha Punana Leo o Kona and then as soon as I graduated from there, I went to kindergarten, from kindergarten through sixth grade, I was taught primarily in Hawaiian, in one of our Hawaiian Immersion schools, at Ke Kula Kaiapuni ʻo Waiau.

So, throughout my entire life, the Hawaiian language was all I knew and Hawaiian studies, wasn’t something that I needed to study to know, that was just my life was Hawaiian studies. Everything that I was taught from my parents, and everything at home is basically what I’m learning in class now. So, it makes it really easy for me.

The reason why I decided once I graduated high school, to jump back into it was because I felt my Hawaiian ideology that we have this thing called ʻO wau ma kuleana, which means to take care of your responsibilities. But to say that kuleana equals responsibility isn’t completely true. It’s more a part of who you are, it’s more a part of your identity, that you’re not your truest self unless you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing for the betterment of your community.

And so, learning about my past, learning about my language, learning about my culture, it takes me one step closer to who my ancestors meant for me to be and that was a vital person within our world community.

I think that what we learn at UH Hilo, which is really unique compared to other universities, is that in order to make our world a better place, we need to take ourselves back into the mindset that those of indigenous culture had, that that’s the future that we want. And that’s something that we’re learning here in Kalaupapa is that community and all of the foundational beliefs that are instilled within those communities, it is our duty, it is right to become those vital people in that community. And that’s what you learn at Ka Haka ʻUla or the Hawaiian studies program at UH Hilo.

Jason Church: So, every morning here at Kalaupapa, you guys have done what’s called…what you call piko?

Makoa: First think of the word piko, it means center. So, like our human body we have three different piko’s and each piko connects us to a different part of who we are. So, at the top of our head there’s a piko and that connects us to our ancestors. Our bellybutton, that connects us to our mothers and our genitalia, that connects us to our future generations. So, piko, if all of your piko’s are in alignment, then that means that you’re in balance.

So, every morning we hold piko, because we’re trying to re-center ourselves, we’re trying to focus all of our energies so that we can ensure that whatever kuleana whatever responsibilities we have, that we are in a place where we can take care of those responsibilities.

Emma: With that being said, that’s why we choose certain mele to perform every day and along with that, we also have, well it’s tradition that the kāne [men] get their mana’o and that following that a wahine will come and give her mana’o based off of what the kāne had previously said and build off of that for the day.

CJ: Even when we say the E hō mai which is like asking for knowledge, right, I really like that because that’s what we’re trying to gain right now, we’re trying to gain knowledge from you Jason, you know from your preservation work, we’re trying to gain knowledge from the kūpuna here, like Mikiʻala and stuff and from our professor Kumu Kai and from one another. You know, we’re learning the weʻre feeding off of one another, so I really appreciate it and I wish more of my classes incorporated that type of protocol or that type of ritual…

Emma: I think growing up on Oahu, no one in my family spoke the language. No one in my family danced hula. No one in my family sang or knew any Hawaiian mele. I feel like after entering the Hawaiian studies program, I’ve learned so much about what it means to be Hawaiian, what it means to be Kānaka Maoli. I’m just very grateful for that.

Now, I’m teaching my family all these mele, I’m teaching my family hula, I’m teaching my family about all these traditions that they didn’t have the privilege to learn growing up. So, not only am I reconnecting to my ancestors but I’m helping all my family reconnect to my ancestors.

Makoa: So, I would say, kind of building off of what they’re saying, being a student at UH Hilo, not just in the Hawaiian studies program, but being a student at UH Hilo, just in general.

We’re in a very unique circumstance because there’s a lot going on in our communities, in our local communities makes our learning a little more important, makes our learning a little more interesting.

So, for example, Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani which is the name of the Hawaiian studies program at UH Hilo, came as a result of basically a bunch of our elders rebelling against the state and making their own illegal schools where they taught their children in Hawaiian. The Hawaiian studies program came as a result of those struggles.

Being a student at UH Hilo, which is located on the big island, during a huge controversy such as the thirty-meter telescope being built on Maunakea, it kind of teaches you that knowledge that you learn in the classroom is most important outside of it. So, I feel like especially at Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani and especially being a political science major, learning all of these different strategies about how to advocate for indigenous rights, indigenous beliefs, indigenizing an educational system, that’s what makes being at UH Hilo awesome. Because we’re seeing the struggles that we’re learning about in classrooms happen live outside of our communities.

We can walk outside of our classroom, look up the road and see the mountain that, to us is sacred; a very large telescope is being proposed to be built up there and so I think that’s kind of the coolest thing that I’ve learned. I’m taking everything from one of my classes, bit by bit, and learning how to use that information to advocate on behalf of my people, our people, and I think that’s, yeah, that’s what makes me a UH Hilo student.

Student Group: Singing “Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī”

Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at www.ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time, goodbye everybody.

Jason Church talks with students from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. In this podcast, they talk about the Hawaiian studies program at University of Hawaii. Speakers: CJ Sweezey,Emma Tanigawa, Jason Church.

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