Saturday, September 6, 2014

Long Time No See!

Hello, readers!

It's been far too long since my last post. I basically dropped off the face of the earth. Since we last spoke with one another, I have taken on extra responsibilities around the museum in addition to my curatorial projects! On my non-curatorial days, I have been in the office taking RSVPs for the 2014 National Mining Hall of Fame induction banquet, and helping to coordinate this big event. It's only a week away! Yours truly will be attending, and I will definitely post some photos. The banquet is at the Westin in downtown Denver!

With both the banquet and my last day of work being less than two weeks away, my internship is really winding down. I've had some really neat adventures living out West, and have learned so much at the museum. This will probably be one of my final posts! I'll check back in after this huge event! Back to the grind . . .

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Personal Touch Makes a Whorl of Difference

The title is a pun, not a typo, so press on, my dedicated and curious readers! I know it's been almost a whole month since my last post (due in part to technical difficulties, and also a temporary lack of inspiration), but today’s blog post is something special. Trust me.

Have you ever come across something that you just can’t believe? Something that you look at multiple times just to make sure you’re really seeing it? Well, a couple of weeks ago, I had one of those experiences. But first, background information is probably a good idea (I know, I’m sorry, I totally teased you all just then. But hey, you’re even more curious now, right?).

One of my recent projects was to catalog and photograph a collection of artifacts from Cyprus that are currently on exhibit, and move them into a different display case afterwards. And here they are, awaiting their new display home:

This collection consists of mostly terracotta lamps and pitchers, but also a piece of rope used in a mine in Cyprus; a professor from the University of Cyprus has requested fragments from the rope so that she can have them radiocarbon dated!
 I was pumped to get my hands [literally] on this display re-design opportunity. The case these artifacts were in originally was very small and a bit outdated in terms of appearance. Also, the large pyramid-shaped case was hung so high above the display that housed all the other artifacts that I actually didn’t even see it until I took it down for cataloging. Here’s what the display looked like before I was let loose on it:

Pretty cramped, and nothing really stands out.

 We’ll come back to the display. Now for the exciting bit. As I was going over the artifacts and filling out condition reports for each of them, I saw something on one of the small terracotta pitchers. I did a double—no, triple-take. I put the pitcher down. Then I picked it back up. I tried to reason with myself, what are the odds? As I stepped into the curator’s office, I tried not to seem overly excited (I did not want to look like a young and naïve intern that jumped to a thrilling conclusion prematurely). Calmly sitting in her office, I presented her with what I thought I had found:

The pitcher in question . . .

What's that . . . ?
Wait, is that another one!?
Do you see what I think I see? Well, do you!? Fingerprints! More than one! I was relieved and totally psyched when I found out I wasn’t the only one who thought I had discovered something special. I expressed my amazement and nonchalantly left the office since I didn’t want to totally freak out in front of everyone, but let me tell you: THIS IS ONE OF THE COOLEST THINGS I HAVE EVER SEEN OR TOUCHED. EVER. And I have seen some pretty cool stuff.

This pitcher’s estimated date is 600-500 BCE (before common era), as in about 2,500 years ago! What we have here is something that connects us with humans through space and time, across countries and different languages, something that connects us as humans through art, invention, labor, trade so many things! Despite all the odds stacked against the survival of ancient artifacts, here it is. It’s cracked and damaged, but here it is. These fingerprints are, quite possibly, two thousand and five hundred years old. They might be from the very person who was involved with crafting this pitcher. And here I am, halfway across the world in a tiny mining town that actually qualifies in a Colorado guide book as a ghost town, working as a curatorial intern for $8.50 an hour, and this slice of history and culture is resting in my hands. I found a website and journal for the Society of Ancient Fingerprints, and a quote on their homepage sums this up well: "When a ceramics sherd or piece of clay has a preserved fingerprint it suddenly becomes personal. It is possible to actually hold the very same object someone held thousands of years ago." 

I’m no expert, and it's completely possible that a ceramics or terracotta expert could come in here and rain all over my parade. Maybe the fingerprints are from later, though I’m not sure how that would happen once the pitcher was completed. Terra cotta translates from Italian into baked earth, and once this piece was fired, I don’t know how fingerprints would have been made in it afterwards. My little discovery happened over two weeks ago, but can you tell that I’m still TOTALLY PUMPED about this!?

Phew, I think I got my heart racing a little bit back there. Anybody else feel that? So, deep breaths, let’s return to re-designing the display. The curator and I decided to use an old empty case in a different and more appropriate wing of the museum. I really wanted the display to look both visually dynamic and clean/organized at the same time. The goal was something simple, but not BORING, because these artifacts are too beautiful to be victimized by a boring visual display. I used some small stands that the museum had in the workshop to change things up a bit. I edited the new labels the curator typed up and discussed where we wanted to put them in relation to the objects on display. We are both extremely pleased with the final product, and I am absolutely over the moon that I got to do this.

After! Sorry about the photo quality, I took this with my iPhone.

The small pitcher on the clear stand is the one with the fingerprints. I just had to give it something a little special.

As Stephen King once wrote in one of his MANY books: " . . . I was being paid to do what I loved, and there's no gig on earth better than that . . . "

Sometimes I can't believe this is my job.

Also, rewinding just a little bit (okay, a lot) back to those educational kits that I made (see previous post): they were a hit! The lunch-and-learn we presented them at was a huge success and I had the opportunity to interact with some of the attendees after the lecture. This was at this historic park in Frisco, CO. Not only did we get newspaper coverage, but there were also about 70 people in attendance! For those of you with limited small-town experience, that’s a lot of people. We ran out of chairs and standing space, and unfortunately had to even turn some people away because the crowd number got too high for code! Getting to talk to people about the artifacts and sharing with them which of them were my favorite and why was a blast.  

My internship is about halfway over already, and I have had so many enriching experiences (cliché, I know, but whatever . . . it’s true). I’m so proud of the work I have done so far, and I am very happy that I had the guts to move all the way from DC/North Carolina to this tiny town 1,500 miles away. 

If I hadn’t, I probably never would have touched the fingerprints of a 2,500 year old person. And that's what makes this the greatest gig on earth for me.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

HGTV, Museum Intern Style

I think at the end of my passionate rant in my last post I mentioned something about refurbishing some old educational kits for the Diggers artifacts . . . Well here is a visual representation of the refurbishment process! This all took about a total of six days to complete. All of the supplies I used were already at the museum/in their workshop. I had to get a little crafty with some things. There were several stretches of time when I was literally watching paint dry for a little bit. I loved every second of this project! Before refurbishing the kits, I submitted a proposal to the curator about the goals of the kits as well as their design. I'm really proud of how they turned out. So, without further delay:

The artifacts! I cleaned them up a little bit to remove excess dirt (the rust on the pick axe head was a lost cause). There were many more artifacts. The ones pictured were selected from a group of the artifacts that the curator wanted to use; out of that group, these are the ones I selected.
Supplies! The original paint I wanted to use turned out to be solid and very strange-smelling... Naturally, I switched to plan B.

A close up of the kits to be refurbished. Through the foggy cover, you can make out fossils that were used in a previous lesson (ages ago).

Sanded and smooth!

Prettily primed and ready to be painted!

When deciding what color(s) to paint the kits, I really did not want to use white or something generic. I decided to use the museum's colors in their logo (after hunting in the paint closet in the museum's workshop, I found colors that come pretty darn close to the real deal). This would make them visually appealing, but wouldn't take away from the artifacts.

NMHFM's logo

Shout-out to Mom and Dad who demonstrated to me at an early age how to be awesome at using painter's tape. I hope I made my family proud.

Almost done with painting...

Ta-da! Complete with coat of sealant. I also cleaned the plexiglass covers.

Now for the artifacts. I got to use a label maker for the first time which was an exciting experience. Technology is pretty amazing. Yes, label makers impress me. After laying the artifacts out on a piece of foam fitted to the interior of the kits, I used a box cutter to make cut-outs under each of the artifacts that corresponded with their shapes. I laid all of this on top of another piece of foam inside the kits. These cut-outs help to keep the artifacts in place.

Kit #1

Kit #2

Before and after!
HGTV called. They wanted to recruit me for a new season of Love It or List It, but I told them I wasn't about that celebrity life. ;)

Like I said, I loved this project! It gave me the opportunity to combine curatorial skills with handy skills I picked up through time by painting my room when I was in high school, doing home projects with my parents, and working on designs in my interior design class in college. Everything is interdisciplinary and interconnected!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

National Geographic's Diggers in Leadville, CO!

Warning: The following blog post contains some strong personal opinions that do not necessarily directly reflect the opinions of the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. However, do not be mistaken. These personal opinions are also informed opinions.

Ever heard of the show Diggers on the National Geographic Channel? I know some of you have seen it, but for those of you who don't know what the show is about, here's a brief synopsis and a link to their Nat Geo show page:

"Hobbyist metal detectorists “King George” Wyant and his buddy Tim “The Ringmaster” Saylor travel the country looking for lost relics of history. Their enthusiasm is contagious, their humor quirky, and their vocabulary... one of a kind. “KG” and “Ringy” are kids at heart, driven not by money, but the thrill of not knowing what their next dig will unearth. They understand that every item has a story to tell, and Diggers brings history to life through graphics and historical context. They are invited by landowners, historians and archaeologists to go on a quest, and in their own way, a crusade, to unearth history that would have otherwise been forgotten."


"Two guys with metal detectors and mildly annoying/over-the-top mannerisms are invited by landowners, historians and archaeologists to look for artifacts on various properties and do really bad 'archaeology' during which the context of the found artifacts is destroyed in a matter of seconds."

Allow me to elaborate and clarify. I am not the only person who has this opinion. Plenty of archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists share my views on this show, and National Geographic has received plenty of grief about it. For people who just don't know what archaeologists do on a dig, what goes on in this show appears to be exciting and harmless fun. And though there is a section on their website (further down the site's page) about how archaeologists dig, and how to be a responsible metal-detectorist, it feels simply obligatory. I mean, honestly, how many people are going to go on to their website, scroll down past all the "cool" stuff and actually click on anything in the Awareness section?
What's really going on here? Unfortunately, the guys on this show end up encouraging looting/treasure hunting, which is NOT what archaeologists do. The Diggers do not openly encourage this kind of stuff, but to the average public audience watching TV, it is easily interpreted that way.

These are the basic steps of the archaeological process:

Survey--After archaeologists find a site they want to examine, they do a survey. One of the ways they do this is to walk as a group across the site in a straight line, looking for artifacts on the ground. If they spot artifacts on the surface, they flag them. THEY DO NOT MOVE IT. This is one of the very serious offenses the Diggers commit. Moving the artifact destroys the context.
Excavation--The site is often divided into a grid. When archaeologists dig, they dig slowly and methodically, taking care not to overlook anything and to document what is found in each layer. I'm talking maps, photos, notes, drawings. THEY DO NOT USE A GARDENING SHOVEL TO DIG INTO THE DIRT AND PROMPTLY YANK OUT AN ARTIFACT. Diggers, I'm looking at you. Context is everything; context refers to the relationship that artifacts have to each other and the situation in which they are found (soil layer, next to other artifacts, etc). You'd be surprised about how much this can tell an archaeologist. Please, please click the link above to see what I'm talking about in more detail. Long story short, once the object is moved, the context is ruined.
Object and Artifact--what is it, what is it made of, how is it used, etc

All of these steps are VERY important. For a more detailed explanation for all of the steps, click on "archaeological process" above. I can't go into all of it because then this post would be ridiculously, but justly, long.
So, now that I have given you a very brief overview of what good archaeology is, here is the reason I'm even writing about all of this! The Diggers episode, "Gold Rush", features three mines in the West. One of these is the Matchless Mine in Leadville, CO. 
The project I am currently working on is using the artifacts they found to create educational kits to be used as hands-on learning tools during a lecture given by the curator about the mine. I've submitted my proposal for it, and I am in the middle of refurbishing the old cases that the Matchless artifacts will go in. It'll all be done on Thursday, so keep an eye out for another post about my refurbishing process and to see the artifacts themselves! I'm really excited about the final product!
Mercifully, you'll only need to watch about the first five minutes to see them at the Matchless. Here's the link to the episode:

There's plenty I didn't mention for the sake of not making this post twice as long as it already is. Please leave comments on this post about your opinions on the matter! I'm interested to hear what you have to say! Do you think the show is harmless? What are these guys missing in the archaeological process that is important?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Very Hungry Intern: Hungry for More!

As you may have inferred by the title, this post has to do with hunger. There are many kinds of hunger: ambition, lust, starvation. I'd like to talk to you about my hunger. First and foremost, I am hungry. Literally. Ever since I moved to Leadville, I have felt almost constantly hungry. And I don't mean, "Oh, I could go for a little snack right now . . ."

I mean, "I just ate an hour ago and my stomach is growling like I haven't fed myself in 24 hours." I've been told this has something to do with the altitude. I'm not even really exercising! You've got to be able to breathe properly before you tackle that. All I do is walk three blocks to work in the morning, then three blocks back. And I EAT. All. The. Time. Please, make it stop.

Speaking of food, what do you guys normally pack your lunch in? Fancy insulated lunch box? Or, like me, maybe a plastic grocery bag (I know, I'm living the high life)? Well, here's my other hunger: the hunger for more museum stuff! Look what I found in one of the other collections I am cataloging:

This is a miner's lunch pail! Imagine lugging this thing around every day. It's got the number 20 on the lid (maybe the miner's ID number at work?) and the initials WP carved into the handle. Well, WP, I'll stick with my plastic grocery bag, thanks very much.

I don't know where this pail specifically came from, but I found this article online and thought that it was a cool connection to the Appalachians (don't get me wrong; the Rockies are incredible, but the Appalachians will always have my heart):

That's all for now! I'm going to go order some Chinese food from the only Chinese place in Leadville.

The Very Hungry Intern

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Around [Part of] the World in 10 Lamps, Episode 2

Welcome back, my intrepid adventurers! How was your siesta? Revitalizing, I hope. There are five more stops on this journey, and I'm not leaving any of you behind! If you're reading this and have absolutely no idea what I am talking about, it's because you missed the first half of this Lamp World adventure/exhibition. Scroll down to the previous entry, you scallywag! You've gotta earn your stripes before you get this far into the trip.


Did you see those guys trying to cut in on our expedition? Unbelievable. Anyways, where were we? Oh right, leaving Spain.

Here is our handy-dandy map again, for those of you who had one too many glasses of wine last night in Spain and forgot where we were:

Our first stop today is: Italy

Ahh, the [most recent of my] motherland[s] calls me home (don't be offended, Persia, Turkey, etc. You're beautiful too). Okay let's focus on this lamp:

First of all, how cute is this!? It's a little teapot-shaped oil lamp! Here are the known details provided by the NMHFM, Kurt Pralle (Collection Donor), and David Bunk (Appraiser): Possibly from Northern Italy, most likely a reproduction [no explanation as to why]; small brass oil lamp shaped like a tea pot with a hook at the top. Lid still opens. In good condition. Worth $20. Wait, what!? Yeah, you heard me: $20 (Mom, I'm looking at you, because I know this lamp is probably calling your name--and no, I will not abscond with it for you).
And that's about it. Next stop?

Our seventh stop on this trip is: Austria

This is a Sicilian Tunnel Lamp from Carinthia, Austria; the southern-most state, and therefore, close to Italy. The rooster on top is called a "Good Luck Cock" according to Pralle, and the lamp is appraised at $250. There are letters behind it, maybe the name of the maker, but only a few of the letters are legible.

Alrighty, let's hop on over to Germany

There were many German lamps in this collection, and many of them looked pretty similar. Here, we have a miner's closed frog lamp made of iron, appraised at $250. This one, however, stood out from the rest. The lock/fastener that allows the hinged lid to be opened was the only one of its kind in the collection (and it still works--I tried it)!

Getting tired? Too bad, no siesta today! We only have two more stops, come on. Next, we have: England

Appraised at $150, this is a safety lamp made of some kind of unspecified metal and glass around the wick chamber. The metal plate (right-most picture above) has "Klampet N C B" on it, and the glass (center picture above) has "MP British 58 x 60". The band around the middle has the number "235" on it. I am going to investigate more into the brand/maker/patent of this particular lamp, but you can click here to get a brief overview of safety lamps and why they were necessary (there's a good reason they are called SAFETY lamps)!

We have made it to our tenth and final stop on our tour. The only problem is that I don't know where this stop actually is. It's . . . somewhere. We aren't sure where this lamps is from, but here it is:

This lamp was pretty unique within the collection. According to the information provided by Pralle, it is a brass miner's open oil lamp with three indents for wicks ($100 appraisal; Bunk identifies it as a household lamp). The design and decor is what makes it more eye-catching than many of the other open tray oil lamps in the collection. I'd love to find out where and when this one came from since it appears so different from the others. Its scalloped edges make me think of a ramekin and I want to bake a mini peach cobbler in it.

Well that concludes our adventure (for now). I'm probably going to do a little more digging about these ten lamps when I get some time to. I don't know about you, but I'm tired! One last word on appraisals: we need to keep in mind that they were done back in 2007 by a man with experience in minerals and mining collectibles. It is, therefore, possible that at least some these lamps may be worth a little more than the original estimate, particularly many of those from Episode 1 of our trip. Now, let's all go home to our own beds. I know where to find you for our next excursion into the museum world :)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Around [Part of] the World in 10 Lamps

The group of lamps that I have been working with belongs to the Pralle collection (named after the donor, Kurt Pralle) at the NMHFM; they've been appraised by David Bunk. See the details in the picture below (this post gets pretty exciting, so keep going):

I have been cataloging the lamps in this collection that are currently housed in temporary storage. Here, there are fifty-five lamps and two miner’s parade picks (there are more objects from this collection that are presently on display in the museum). Open tray lamps, closed tray lamps, double container lamps, closed oil lamps, safety lamps, the list goes on. Also, it should be noted that there are a couple of non-miner’s lamps in this collection, as well as a few candle-holders; the more I looked into some of these lamps, the more I think that a decent amount of them probably weren't used in mines (click here to see typical miner's lamps). This portion of the Pralle collection that is in this storage area is likely to never be put on exhibition. This post was originally going to be an object spotlight on a single lamp in particular that sparked my interest a couple of days ago. However, the more lamps I cataloged, the more amazingly awesome lamps I found! And the more amazingly awesome lamps I found, the more it pained me to think that hardly anyone would ever see these historical objects that can speak to us. So, this post is now a mini online exhibition on ten of the coolest lamps out of the fifty-five (and bear with me . . . it was hard to even narrow it down to ten).

So, step into my office:
Looking at this picture, you might be thinking, “Yeah, alright, maybe there’s a couple interesting lamps in here, but I mean, they’re lamps and a lot of these look the same, they can’t be that cool,” right? WRONG.

Got your imaginary (or maybe not-so-imaginary) backpack of curiosity and exploration on!? Good. Let’s get started. I did say it was around PART of the world; on our adventure today, we will be traveling from the Middle East, to Europe, and even to Northern Africa! Some of the lamps I'm going to show you will come with little blurbs or musings. Others won't. I think you should have your own ideas about them! Some have a known origin, some don't. Provenance (place of origin, earliest known history, record of ownership) can be tricky. So, let's press on, shall we?

 Look, I even made you a map!

Let's make our first stop in the Middle East; this particular lamp, after all, was the one that caught my eye in the first place and it's still one of my personal favorites.

If you think this lamp is lame, we probably shouldn't be friends anymore. Maybe that's a little harsh . . . But seriously, check this thing out! First of all, it's beautifully ornate, which makes me a little skeptical as to whether it was really used in a mine. Mining is a rough-n-tough job; why would you want to bring this kind of craftsmanship down into the depths of the earth to be banged around, scratched, dropped, etc? I sure wouldn't! And I'm going to infer that it probably wasn't. Here's the basics: Small, brass oil lamp with lid (still opens), heavily decorated and ornate; serpentine/reptilian handle, lid with two-headed bird, feather or leaf-shaped design around base. In good condition.

Let's talk iconography. The serpentine handle is really cool. It sort of looks like Randall from Monsters, Inc.

Right?? No? Okay maybe only a little bit. The snake is a symbol that's found in cultures all over the place, with various meanings (both good and bad) within different belief systems. I can't go into all that now--comparative mythology, diverse global cultural and belief systems . . . it would fill many books; in fact, it does fill many books. Here's my very brief take on it: this serpentine creature is probably good. It's associate with the lamp, and therefore light, which is good (as opposed to being lost and scared in the dark). Plus, Middle Eastern cultures typically view lizards in a positive light.

I could talk about this all day and research it for the rest of my life, so let's move on and talk about what we see on the lid of this lamp (scroll back up to see it again to refresh your memory). Is it two birds? Or just a two-headed bird? The image of the double-headed eagle is old, and it has since spread to many cultures. However, a commonality in its symbolism is power. If you want, you can read more here. One final word on what the lamp is worth. It's appraised at $50. Surprised? Me too. I would pay WAY more money for it!

We gotta move on to the next lamp or I'll never shut up about this one.

Stop two on our tour of lamp world: Turkey

Or, at least, Kurt Pralle thinks it's from Turkey; we aren't entirely positive. A Google Images search of Turkish oil lamps yields mostly Aladdin's-Genie-in-a-Bottle-esque items . . . This lamp, as you can see, is most certainly not that. It's a man! Or maybe, this man is a genie. The world may never know. Here's the basics: small ceramic, closed oil lamp; appraised at $200.

Let's hop on over to Greece, shall we? 

This lamp is also guilty for tugging at my heartstrings. A lot. Here's the info the museum/I had on it prior to a little investigation: "Small ceramic closed oil lamp with Greek letters. Date and origin unknown," in good condition with some slight wear; appraised at $200. And here's where my nerdy brain comes in.
You can see the human figure with a spear, helmet, and shield, holding out their (her) hand to a snake. I had a feeling--a hunch, if you will. That person looks like a woman. The snake just so happens to be associated with a certain Greek goddess. The goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, just warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill. And here's why (seriously, click that link). "Αθηνά - AΘΗΝΑ". Guess what those Greek letters spell? ATHENA! Okay if this doesn't excite you, I don't know what else to say.

Now we have to take a little detour. Don't worry, we'll be back in Europe shortly. But first: Tunisia

Isn't this lamp sweet? It's another small ceramic oil lamp, appraised at $100, reportedly from Tunisia. Hmm. Who are these people depicted here? At first I thought, husband and wife, perhaps. A wedding gift? But then I used the power of Google. And looky what I found:

Hello, similarity! This is a Roman oil lamp depicting the busts of the Egyptian goddess Isis (left) and god Serapis (right; Greek for Osiris). But the lamp at the museum is from Tunisia? And this Roman lamp has images of Egyptian deities? Easily explained: the Roman Empire. Widespread cultural influences, conquest, trade, etc. Mystery solved.

On that note, back to Europe we go!! Our fifth stop: Spain
Do you like lions? Most people think lions are pretty cool, majestic, and beautiful. If you are one of those people, you should probably like this lamp. And if you're NOT one of those people, well, again, we probably shouldn't be friends.

All of these lamps thus far can serve as a testament as to how much cultures influence each other, especially when connected through trade and conquest. I'd love to get some date estimates on these! If you know anyone who specializes in this kind of stuff/any related field, hook us up. This marks the halfway point of our Lamp World adventure! It's been a thrilling ride so far, and I'm sure some of you are getting a bit fatigued and homesick. Why don't we all have a little siesta here in majestic Spain? Go ahead and rest, see the sights, have a drink or two, watch the sunset; I'll come back for you in the morning!

(The exhibition will be continued tomorrow, so check back here to finish our adventure! Five more stops in Lamp World!)