Whether you are scrolling online or roaming the halls of CU’s Museum of Natural History galleries, you may notice some happenings in the Anthropology section. Over the past several months, museum staff have been hard at work to rehouse the Joe Ben Wheat Textile Collection, one of our most well-known and researched collections at the museum.
Why does this collection matter so much? While at CU, anthropologist and curator, Joe Ben Wheat systematically collected Southwestern blankets, mantas, kilts, belts, rugs, and other weavings. He began his “Textile Survey” in 1972 and continued the study until his death in 1997. As a part of his research, Wheat focused on collecting pieces that represent different techniques, innovations in design, various styles, and other turning points in Southwestern weavings. Furthermore, Wheat only collected textiles with histories. That is information on when and where each textile was woven, who wove them, and who used and owned them. These textiles represent the enduring traditions of the Navajo, Pueblo, and Hispanic looms. Today, the collection is one of the best researched in the world.
With numbers in the hundreds, the collection has outgrown its space. Additionally, times have changed and storage methods have improved. Outdated, inappropriate storage methods can ultimately damage the textiles beyond repair. The museum has recognized this issue and, with the help of donated funding, Collections Manager Christina Cain was able to develop a plan to fix the space problem. I was brought on as a Museum and Field Studies graduate student to assist with the rehousing. Caitlin Smedley and Elise Tomasian are project assistants, who have an interest in exploring what it means to work in museum collections.
In the next couple of months, check in with this blog for new posts about the Textile Rehousing and object highlights. We will keep you posted about each step of the process and LOTS of photos of the stars of this whole project: the objects. Posts will be available at the bototm of this page.
- Emma Noffsinger, Graduate Student, Museum and Field Studies Program
Hi! I am Emma Noffsinger. I assist with the supervision of this project and am the author of this blog. I am new to CU and the Boulder area and have a background in Anthropology and Museums. During this project and my time in the Museum and Field studies program, I hope to explore how I can connect museum collections to communities.
To complete this project, I work with Caitlin. She recently graduated with her BA from the University of Colorado Boulder and has been working on this project since day one. Her impressive mount making skills and ability to learn fast is an invaluable asset to this project. She is fun and easy to work with adds to the enjoyment of this job.
The first half of the project could not have been completed without Elise. She is a junior at CU pursuing bachelor degrees in Anthropology and Religious Studies. She and Caitlin worked together over the summer of 2016 to rehousing the basket collection to make way for the textile project. Her fast thinking and her ability to learn quickly allowed the rehousing project to go quickly and efficiently. She was joy to work with and added an element of fun to the project.
Christina Cain, Anthropology Collection Manager at the CU Museum of Natural History, is the manager and supervisor of the project. She has been at the CU Museum for 8 years. Her background includes over 18 years of collections work in Art, History, and Anthropology collections. Her expertise in collections management makes her an incredible mentor to work under.
This blog will be published with the help from Reid Sweetkind and Claire Steffen, both graduate students in the Museum and Field Studies program. My classmates will act as advisors and editors in the publication of this blog.