The museum behind the museum

by Jeff Tenuth, Science and Technology Collection Manager

I give a lot of tours at the Indiana State Museum. These are mostly “behind-the-scenes” tours, not gallery tours. Visitors can take themselves through the galleries, but behind-the-scenes tours offer much more.

When visitors come into the museum, they see galleries, attend programs, eat at the restaurants or shop at the museum store. They tend to think that’s all there is to a museum. But in reality, what they see is the end product. Most of the work for the galleries (and programs) is done behind the scenes and the public rarely sees any of it. Nor does the public see the actual size of our collection. The artifacts they see in galleries represent only one or two percent of our total collection. The larger the collection, the more of it is in storage. This is true in most museums. Take the Smithsonian for example. Their collection numbers well over 250 million artifacts. Imagine how big their galleries would have to be to show all of their collections. For a large museum like the Indiana State Museum, we show a few thousand artifacts at one time, but we have hundreds of thousands of artifacts in our collection. It’s simply impossible to put everything on exhibit — we would need galleries the size of football fields! That’s why it’s so important to show visitors and other guests what lies behind-the-scenes. I’ve never had a tour participant who didn’t walk away astonished at the size and breadth of our collection. Only then can the public see what a daunting task it is to care for the largest publicly held collection in the state. With a greater understanding of what the casual visitor doesn’t see, a tour guest usually comes away with a greater appreciation for the collection and what it takes to care for it.

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Another reason the public doesn’t see and doesn’t know about the size, diversity or location of the collection is intentional. We do that to maintain the security and environmental integrity of the collection. The collection is actually hidden in eight storage rooms in the Administration building, not the building where the galleries, restaurants and other public facilities are located. The eight storage rooms allow us to store the collection by type of material. Continue reading

Unparalleled Paisley Shawls

Written by Christine Atkinson, arts program developer at T.C. Steele State Historic Site


Unrolling the shawls to prepare them for hanging.

It’s finally here! The Unparalleled Paisley Shawls exhibit has been installed at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site. Site staff was on hand to help Indiana State Museum curators reveal these beautiful textile pieces. The day went smoothly, despite some hitches with the transport truck, and we were blessed with a glorious sunny day.

Everything had to be unloaded out of the truck and taken into the studio. First we had to hoist the rack over the balcony and then assemble it. Padding had to be laid to protect each shawl. We went through plans and decided the arrangement of each shawl. Then each shawl was unrolled and hung. Some of us hung the pieces in the studio while others worked on the display case. After the studio was finished we moved on into the house. In addition to the new shawls being placed in the home, there was also a textile rotation. So the site has all “new” textiles for visitors to see. They are all Steele pieces.

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to see 10 paisley shawls on display until June 2, 2010! Join us for a special textile presentation by Barbara Livesey on the history of the paisley shawl and the evolving technology on Nov. 7 at 1 p.m.


Mary Jane wants to move the shawl just a little more to the right!

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