Dialogue Blog: Camp Favorites

by Katy Creagh, School Programs Developer, and Eric Todd, Gallery Programming Manager

041113_katy_ericKATY: Eric, I am so excited! My job has changed and I am now the Indiana State Museum Summer Camp Director. Now, I know you have a special place in your heart for Summer Camps, so I thought it might be fun to discuss our Top 5 favorite things about camp.

ERIC: If there are two things I love, they are camp and lists. So sure, I’ll play along. 

KATY: Great, I’ll go first.  At number five, I have recess. You get to spend time outside playing games and enjoying the summer weather. It has all the perks of recess when you were in elementary school.

ERIC: You may have just stolen one of mine, but that is fine. My fifth favorite thing about summer camp is the free camp t-shirt. Every time I get one, that’s one more day before I have to do laundry.

KATY: Are you sure it’s just one more day? For number four, I went with looking for fossils. That includes microfossils in Diggin’ Indiana and Exploring Nature Camps and then sifting dirt in Paleontology II. It’s something I’ve never experienced before coming to the museum, and it’s fun to think that I’m doing the same work that REAL scientists and paleontologists do.

ERIC: That is cool, I agree. My number four is making things. You might call them crafts, but it’s really more than that. By summer’s end my desk is always filled with awesome new decorations that also serve as reminders of the fun I had.

KATY: Perfect transition, my number three is also crafty—weaving. You get to try weaving in two different camps (Indiana Artists and History Alive!) and make my favorite, “mug rugs.”

ERIC: I would normally give you a hard time about “mug rugs,” but I do have one at my desk that I use daily. My number three choice is a repeat of one of yours, but you’ll notice I placed it a bit higher on my list. Recess, lunch break and snack time. I have so much fun in those moments! I loved recess as a kid, but now I really appreciate it. And, if my boss is reading this, Susan — what are your thoughts on instituting museum recess?

KATY: I’d vote “yes” for that one. Alright, now we’re getting down to the big ones. At number two on my list, I have all things crafting. See how high it is on my list compared to yours? From the end of the week presentations to making a mosaic in Diggin’ Indiana camp … I love all the projects and crafts we get to make.  

ERIC: I am shocked that is not your number one, frankly, especially with the new Indiana Fashion Runway Camp which I imagine will let you craft around the clock. My number two is behind-the-scenes tours. As you know, even as museum employees we don’t have access to everything in the museum, but during camp, we get to go places and see things that most visitors — and staff — never see.

KATY: Nice choice. But now the big one. My number one favorite thing about summer camp at the Indiana State Museum is … the campers! Spending time with old friends and making new ones — I get to play games and learn new things about Indiana and don’t have to sit at my desk all day … I get to hang out with cool people all day which is way better.

ERIC: Great minds think alike — my number one choice is also the people. I always meet the coolest people in summer camp. From wildlife experts (with their animals) to Abraham Lincoln himself, you never know who you’ll see stopping by an Indiana State Museum camp. Oh, and the campers and counselors are pretty cool, too!

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Coaxing artifacts into giving up their ghosts

by Meghan Smith, Conservation Specialist

In 200 years, what kinds of everyday objects will illustrate our lives for archaeologists and historians? Perhaps iPads or cell phones will be the most compelling emblems of 2012. But looking back two centuries, things were undoubtedly simpler.

This month, our state historic site at New Harmony unveils a new exhibition featuring objects from the daily lives of its early citizens. Most of the artifacts come from archaeological digs, and look a bit worse for wear after spending so many years in the dirt. Metal objects, in particular, tend to suffer; environmental factors like oxygen and water cause damage. When they come out of the ground, these metal artifacts are covered with a hard crust made up of corrosion and matrix (which is a fancy term for the dirt around the object). While the damage can never be completely reversed, some of the crust can be removed so that the object underneath is a lot more recognizable.

But getting the corrosion and matrix to give up the ghost isn’t easy. When the objects for this exhibition first came to our lab, some of them were barely recognizable. “Wait, that’s a fork?” I asked, pointing to a lumpy-looking thing. “Yup,” said Bill Wepler, our archaeological curator. “It’s in there somewhere.” That fork and the accompanying knife, pictured below, were the most challenging artifacts we worked on for the exhibition.

Image of the knife and fork prior to treatment.

Removing the matrix and reducing the warty corrosion layer while preserving  the underlying object is tricky, time-consuming work. The unsightly corroded metal surface often detaches along with stable surface layers below, so we have to get as close as possible without actually removing any of the desirable surface of the object. Most of the work is done with scalpels, pin vises and brushes. Magnification and powerful lights are necessary in order to see in as much detail as possible. Still, as careful as we might be, things happen. Minute cracks in the object will cause one area to weaken while a nearby spot is worked on. Wicking adhesive solution into the crack helps stabilize the object, but bits will inevitably fall off. When they do, we carefully re-adhere them to the object.

During treatment, the fork’s bone handle came apart. Not to worry, fork: there is an adhesive treatment in your future.

Once we’ve removed as much of the matrix and corrosion as possible, the last step is to apply a thin layer of consolidant to the whole surface of the object.  The consolidant used is a specially formulated acrylic coating that stops any more corrosion from building up because of exposure to moisture; it also helps prevent any more pieces coming loose.

So, after a lot of hours spent peering through a magnifier and picking away bits of dirt and rock, the knife and fork look a lot more recognizable! You’d never mistake them for something out of your own cutlery drawer, but that’s part of their history. They’ve been indelibly marked by many years spent in the Indiana soil.

The finished product, on display in Community House No. 2.

And now the knife and fork, along with dozens of other archaeological objects, are on display at the New Harmony State Historic Site! It’s a beautiful place to spend a day or two, so head on down to discover another chapter in Indiana’s story.

42,000 Years Old!

by Chuck Smith,  Marketing Graphic Artist

When I was young, my dream of being an archaeologist or paleontologist was a close second to an artistic profession. After graduating, I became a full time graphic designer at the Indiana State Museum. I didn’t think it got any better than creating art for Indiana’s #1 place for science and culture, but I was wrong. For the past couple of years, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a few days on the Megenity Cave dig with other museum professionals searching for ancient bones and tools. 

Today is my first full day back in Indianapolis after three days in the cave and I still cannot believe how exciting the trip was. After only five minutes of digging on Day 2, I made my first real discovery! The hope of finding something special sometimes makes your mind turn every little piece of mud into a bone or rock into an arrowhead, but I knew right away that it wasn’t my imagination this time (or ‘bone fever’ as they call it). Something truly awesome had appeared on my shovel. I whipped off some dirt, held it up for a better look and realized that I had found a peccary jaw which I would later learn dates back between 35,000 and 42,000 years!

The digging and time spent with colleges and friends always makes for a great time, but experiencing the magic of unearthing something like this has made for a day that I‘ll never forget.

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When creativity meets summer

By Katy Creagh, Art and Culture Program Developer

As an artist, I was always creating something when I was on summer break from elementary school. From trying to make my own pottery using clay in my backyard to making handmade birthday cards for my friends, expressing myself artistically — even if I didn’t realize it at the time — was my favorite summertime activity.

Because my creativity took over my mother’s dining room on more than one occasion, my parents put me in art classes. I LOVED it! I also LOVED arts and crafts time when I attended camp, vacation Bible school and any other summer activity my parents signed me up to attend.  And once I was old enough to sign myself up, I studied art in college and graduate school just so I could continue expressing myself and keep having as much fun as I did in my dining room back home.

If you know a child who enjoys making art and expressing their creativity as much as I did when I was little (and now that I’m all grown-up), make sure to sign them up for Indiana Artists Camp! As director of the camp, I can guarantee that the campers will have a week full of art making, creative experiences and fun activities. Learning about sculpture, making their own pottery and painting en plein air (painting outside) will be among the activities sure to captivate campers all week long. And to add an Indiana twist, we’ll be gaining our inspiration from some of the best Indiana has to offer in the field of visual arts.

Although I’m partial to art, you should know that the Indiana State Museum has six other fun filled Summer Camps as well. From Archaeology to Crime Scene Indiana State Museum, Paleontology I and II to Exploring Nature and History Alive, there is a topic to interest anyone. So, even though I’m busy preparing for Indiana Artists Camp, I am confident painting with a broad brush and promising your child will enjoy their summer if they come spend it with us at the Indiana State Museum.

Searching for context

by Jeff Tenuth, Science and Technology Collection Manager

[Continued from What is this stuff?]

Digging at New Harmony's Dormitory #2

What do archaeological artifacts tells us? What do they mean? These are the most important questions a museum historian can ask. The reason is because if we don’t relate the past to the present, then our artifacts just amount to a lot of stuff without any real meaning. Without the relationship between the past and the present, then the past exists in isolation, without context and without meaning. In the case of New Harmony’s Dormitory #2, we’ve found thousands of artifacts that reflect the daily lives of people who lived and worked there between 1817 and 1940. This is why these artifacts are so important — because they tell us about people. What we find is that people then were just like people now — they worked, they played and they lived their lives with an eye on a better future for their families.

So who were these people and what were they like? The first settlement at New Harmony was founded in 1814 by George Rapp and his group of Lutheran separatists who had first lived in Harmonie, Pennsylvania, the previous decade. Believing that Jesus Christ would return in their lifetimes, their goal was to live a pure life that would prepare them for the Second Coming. With self-sufficiency necessary to survive in the wilderness, the Rappites bought 7,000 acres of land along the lower Wabash River and set about the task of creating a religious based utopian community. They established orchards, vineyards, farms and began to build the town that still exists today. Within the town they established a sawmill, a brickyard and various shops and businesses to serve the needs of their growing population.

Dormitory #2

One of the buildings the Rappites (or Harmonists, as they are sometimes called) built was a community building called Dormitory #2.  Dormitory #2 is the focus of our decade long archaeological dig. Built between 1817 and 1822, it was framed in heavy wood timbers and then finished out with bricks fired on the property. Dormitory #2 served as a community building for the Harmonists while also sleeping between 40 and 60 people on the first floor. As this was a celibate community, there was little concern with men sleeping in the same building as women. Discouraged with the lack of adequate trade with eastern cities, the Harmonists sold their community to Robert Owen in 1825 and returned to Pennsylvania.

Robert Owen was a Welsh social reformer and an early advocate of socialism and the community movement. His main goal was to continue the development of a utopian community with education as the basis rather than religion. During the next century, the building was used for many purposes. Its first use was as a school and Masonic lodge, both established in 1825. In 1826, the famous “Boatload of Knowledge” arrived and headquartered in the building. Organized by Robert Owen and William Maclure, scientists and educators traveled down the Ohio River to New Harmony in the winter of 1825 with the idea of organizing a utopian socialist community based on an educated population that placed the needs of the community ahead of the needs of the individual. The community failed for a variety of reasons and, in the late 1820s, Robert Owen deeded the entire town to William Maclure.

Maclure continued to use the building as a school but also set up a print shop, one of many that would exist in the building over the next several decades. At about the same time, a blacksmith shop, a carpenter shop and a shoe store were also established. By the 1830s, the building began to be used as a hotel and a rooming house. Prince Maximilian Neuwied, the German explorer and scientist, and a group of scientists even set up a laboratory in the building in 1832. Throughout the rest of the 19th century, various businesses moved in and out, constantly providing an array of shops and services for the town, including everything from taverns to churches to schools. Other businesses included a telegraph office, a post office and a Knights of Pythias Hall. Prominent local officials and businessmen also lived in the building from time to time before the building was sold to the state in 1940. Since that time, the state has used the building for a variety of purposes. Currently, we are renovating Dormitory #2 to accommodate a climate control system and an elevator. When the renovations are complete, there is no reason why the building won’t be around to welcome visitors for the next 200 years or more!

Uncovering the truth

by Jeff Tenuth, Science and Technology Collection Manager

I’ve always loved history. As a little boy, I would read history books and go to museums with my parents because I wanted to see cool things and I wanted to learn about the past. Even then I realized that the past must have something to do with the present. I went to college, got two degrees in history and learned how to be a professional historian. It’s no surprise then that I ended up spending the last 27 years working in museums. But it is a little odd, or so I’m told, that I would end up being the Science and Technology Collection Manager at the Indiana State Museum. Many scientists and historians don’t think they have much in common; but they actually do because they both seek the truth. They just do it in different ways. Nor are the differences that big. If this sounds simplistic, well, it is.

To me it is simple because we all seek the same truth. Whether we’re talking about 50 years ago, 5,000 years ago, or five million years ago, both scientists and historians want to know what happened and why. One of the reasons we do it differently is because scientists, especially archaeologists, use the human made remains of the past such as buildings, pottery or personal adornments. Historians use primarily the writings of the past. So our source material is different, but there is nothing wrong in using each other’s raw material if we’re both going in the same direction. That is what I try to do here at the Indiana State Museum.

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Digging up treasure

by Mike Linderman, Site Manager at Angel Mounds State Historic Site and Western Regional Supervisor

A profile of the floor of one of the Mississippian houses, with the fire pit in bright orange.

The sounds of shovels and trowels can be heard at Angel Mounds State Historic Site! Students from IUPUI are peeling back the surface of the site to reveal the remnants of the culture that lived here 900 years ago. Under the direction of the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology at IU, these students are spending the next six weeks on the grounds, following in the footsteps of 72 years of archaeological work here. Due to the recent river flooding, they are currently plagued with mosquitoes and gnats of all sizes. This week, they are being lulled into a false sense of what lies ahead with the southern Indiana summer weather. Highs have been around 60 for the week, but we are sure the 90s and high humidity are not far away. More to follow over the next six weeks …

A piece of painted Mississippian pottery sticking out of the wall trench.