MICHIGAN STATE MUSEUM Shows Culture, History

Written by RJ Wolcott, Lansing State Journal

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — What they see is barely a glimpse of the collection of historical artifacts and relics maintained by museum staff and students.

A Civil War soldier’s uniform, a chair made from animal horns and a multitude of other items may never see the exhibit floor because they are too fragile or don’t fit with other items on display.

The Lansing State Journal (http://on.lsj.com/2n5Sbc2 ) reports that the collections, dating back to the museum’s founding in 1857, span multiple buildings scattered across campus. More than 100,000 items in MSU’s cultural collection — housing everything from wreaths of human hair to what was once the world’s largest hairball — is preserved within temperature-controlled rooms inside an unassuming building next to Spartan Stadium. Drawers filled with animal pelts and bones are stored on the third floor of the museum, while archaeological pieces are kept inside McDonel Hall.

Prior to the 1990s, much of the collection was stored beneath the stadium’s stands, subjected to cold temperatures and moist conditions.

Mary Worrall, curator of cultural heritage at the museum, unfurled one of the more than 1,000 quilts in MSU’s collection. Prior to obtaining the right to vote, women used quilts as political expression. The quilt Worrall laid out dates back to the temperance movement of the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Many of MSU’s quilts are currently on display at the MSU Museum as part of the Quilted Conversations Exhibit, which runs until July 9. The distinction between what visitors see in displays and all of what MSU has is important, Worrall said.

“Exhibits have storylines; collections are for preservation and research,” she said.

More than a dozen staff and students work with items in the collection. Everything from digitizing photos and artwork to researching information on a piece of the first computer is done by staff, said Shirley Wajda, curator of history at the museum. Digitized collections can be found at museum.msu.edu/?q=database.

Limited space and resources challenge researchers to evaluate each piece offered up by the public. More than 11,000 people have donated items that are now part of the collection.

“I try to look at items and think, does this fit in further, does it lend complexity, can I teach it, can I exhibit it and do we have room for it?”

The museum isn’t aiming to collect every odd object it can. It’s about trying to understand the lives of previous generations and preserving as much of their story as possible, Wajda said, whether that’s through clothing, vacuum cleaners or bejeweled musical instruments.

Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com

michigan state museum shows culture history