Public peers behind scenes at museum's open house

By Charles Ratliff

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Arizona State Museum held its annual Spring Open House on Saturday, opening not only its doors to main exhibits but the doors to the research and archival labs for a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of how archeological history is preserved.

"We hold collections for the community and future generations so that we might keep our cultural heritage intact," said Nancy Parezo, curator of ethnology and collections host.

ASM has been holding the open house annually for the past 20 years, said Diane Dittemore, ethnographic collections curator.

ASM recently completed the "Paths of Life" exhibit, a circular walkway displaying different stages of life among ancient Native Americans in the Southwest.

"It took us seven years to complete from beginning to end," Dittemore said.

"Part of the concept of the 'Paths of Life' is to have tribal consultants participate in the planning phases," said Dianna Repp, an exhibit intern.

Dittemore said an official Native American advisory council was formed to consult with ASM on the exhibit, and ASM brought in interns from the different tribes to help in the casting of molds of the lifelike models on display in the different phases of the exhibit.

"They had a lot of input as to how 'Paths of Life' took shape," Dittemore said. "They helped us with things we really never could have done without the participation of the tribes."

ASM's open house helped make the public aware of new exhibits and displays.

"I didn't even know this existed," said Sylvia Allison, a former administrative assistant for the UA journalism department. "I like the way they put things out for you to touch."

Allison said she visited the Heard Museum in Phoenix and felt the new improvements and exhibits at ASM place them above Heard in comparison.

One of the improvements ASM proudly displayed to the public was the addition of storage cabinets specifically designed for textile artifacts recently acquired through a special grant from the National Science Foundation, Parezo said.

Parezo explained that the specialized metal cabinets the ASM acquired (one of which is the largest in the country, she said) all have drawers that pull out to reveal artifacts carefully tucked away for preservation. Their doors are specially sealed and have tiny inset windows to allow researchers the ability to control the level of humidity inside the containers.

And, as old as the museum buildings are, Parezo said climate control is one of ASM's primary concerns. Wildly fluctuating humidity levels can wreak havoc on ancient artifacts, she said.

Humidity expounds the problem of corrosion in pottery containing high levels of salt as they sit on the shelves, Dittemore said. The pottery in the basement of the south building, however, comes from a different part of the country and contains little or no salt within the clay material.

To prevent important artifacts from corroding as they sit on the shelves, Parezo said ASM is trying to acquire more of the specialized cabinets and that with space inside the museum dwindling as collections continue to grow new cabinets would greatly improve the value of the space ASM has.

As it is, Parezo said they work with what they have, not with what they have not.

"You do the best with the space you got," she said.

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