By Danica Sveda (AA, ’10)
In November 2019, Patti Wood Finkle museums director at Casper College, and Valerie Innella Maiers, art instructor, traveled to London for professional development. They had a full schedule to meet with other museum professionals and network ideas. Their first stop was with Dr. Alice Stevenson, past curator at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, and now a current lecturer in museum studies in the Anthropology Department at the University College London whose collection is similar in size to the Tate Geological Museum. They discussed capstone projects for museum studies students as an excellent way to connect the Casper College students with peers in other majors, instructors, and administrators from around campus. Capstone projects are also a valuable addition to their resumes.
Next, the pair met with Alice Bednarova a family educator at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Bednarova highlighted a popular program at the museum, their family-focused backpacks that guests can check out. The backpacks contain guided activities while they explore. The materials provided cater to multiple learning styles and intelligence types which helps to engage all visitors. Finkle is planning on bringing the backpack idea to Casper College museums starting with the Werner. Museum studies students have already gotten to work and have developed ideas for the backpacks. Unfortunately, COVID had paused the backpack project but when the conditions allow, they will be available for use.
Their next meeting was with the past curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology, Dr. Helen Chatterjeea. The Grant is a small museum similar in size to the Werner. Dr. Chatterjee spoke about the history of the Grant and how it ended up in its current location which had the reputation of being a ‘dark, boring’ space. Museum staff rearranged, brightened the area, and began using the space not only as a museum but as classroom space allowing for a more dynamic and interactive experience. They developed trainings to teach other professors how to use the museum with object-based learning in their own classrooms.
Both Finkle and Innella had specific goals in mind when they planned their trip. They both wanted to enhance their programs and offerings to students (both college and K-12). The ability to connect with professionals from around the world was invigorating. Finkle discovered that the professionals at the University College of London have similar problems as do small Wyoming museums. They too worry about their students, have to work with administrators and adapt as their settings and student’s needs change. Finkle said, “I enjoyed chatting with our peers in London and think that we had a wonderful exchange of ideas and resources.”
After arriving back in the US, the trip continued to pay off. There was a call for presentations from the International Council of Museums’ (ICOM) International Committee for Museums and Collections of Natural History and the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) who were having a joint conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. Symposium topics ranged from data-driven collections concerns, how to store digital data, and how to store specific, niche collections. One symposium of particular interest was on the history of collections and research conducted by the museums into their own history. Innella-Maiers had been researching the Werner Wildlife Museum’s history for months, even before the trip to London. She had written articles on the subject for both Footprints and the Werner Museum publication The Howl as well as conducting extensive research in the Western History Center archives on both Mr. Werner and the early days of the museum. Finkle had also done research on the history of the collections in the Werner and Tate and where the material had come from in 2013-2014. Seeing the symposia topic, Finkle proposed that she and Innella-Maiers present it. By incorporating what they learned in London and extending the topic to include the broader natural history-oriented audience they were successful in their submission. It being an international conference made the presentation even more nerve-wracking.
Like all things, 2020 the coronavirus threw a wrench in their plans to travel to Edinburg, but they did present “The Werner Wildlife Museum: 50 Years and Counting” to an international audience of over 200 peers via Zoom in May 2020. The talk was well received and inspired an excellent conversation between the participants and the presenters. The questions being asked prompted new ideas for Finkle and Innella-Maiers. A few viewers even suggested a few ideas that the Werner board was already pursuing, reinforcing the idea that the board was on the right path.
The symposium was represented by presenters from Germany, South America, and Italy. The Wyoming duo were the only presenters in our Symposia from the US and one of the few attendees (if not the only ones) from Wyoming at the conference.
After the presentation Juilee Decker, the Editor for Collections: A Journal for Museum & Archives Professionals emailed the pair and asked if they would like to submit their presentation as a journal article. Decker stated in her email, “The journal’s emphasis is collections — broadly defined— and what particularly struck me was the way in which you characterized the collections as a way of thinking about the college’s history, as well as the educational aspects.”
Finkle and Innella-Maiers worked on the journal article over the summer and submitted it in September 2020. Finkle said, “I have never been invited to submit to a peer-reviewed, professional journal, and was very excited about this opportunity.” The pair is still awaiting the outcome of the submission.
Additionally, the pair presented a modified version of the original presentation at the Werner Wildlife Museum in the fall entitled the “History of Museum Collecting: From Wondercabinets to the Werner”. They covered the history of collecting, modern collections concerns, the history of the Werner, the museum’s ties to CC, and lessons from their time in London.
Finkle said of the grand adventure, “The connections that this project has created are valuable, both to us as individuals and to the college. We have met and interacted with colleagues from around the globe, and learned quite a bit about the Werner Wildlife Museum along the way.”
UPDATE- Their article titled “Humanistic Constructs: Creating Agency in a Natural History Museum” can be read in the journal titled Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals