Making a Museum: Always Growing

By Kalyse Houston, 2022 Clay Preservation Scholar, Prairie View A&M University

This is Part 3 in a series. Read Part 1 and Part 2 of Kalyse's reflections from this summer.

Throughout my time within this internship, I’ve learned a lot about the foundations of what makes a museum and the preparation that goes into it. As my internship ends and the San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site moves forward in the installation process of its newest attraction, something quite simple but monumental dawned on me. As history is an ongoing process, so are museums. History is continuously being made and new stories are begging to be told. And as these stories beckon to be told, institutions and their storytellers will continue to tell them.

To finish off the temporary exhibit I've been working on, I added a deep green fabric to the museum case. This color is beautiful enough to add to the exhibit, but not too much to take away from the exhibit pieces. Next, there will be glass shelves added and then the artifacts will be carefully and strategically placed. The placing of these pieces is important—if one is placed above another on these glass shelves, a shadow won’t cast on the artifact below. After that, an exhibit label is skillfully crafted to simply but effectively convey to all audiences the history behind the pieces. And just like that, the exhibit is complete and ready for your viewing pleasure!

Although this is a temporary exhibit, there is so much more to be told in the future of this museum. San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site is located at 220 2nd St. in San Felipe, and is on Facebook and Instagram.

Log cabin inside a museum with exhibits on either side

Concluding Reflection from San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site

Working with Kalyse this summer on her internship, site staff were focused on how to update a label for a dough bowl that was made by enslaved laborers. Kalyse brought an important and compelling new perspective to our thoughts and helped staff focus on how to celebrate the existence of objects made by enslaved people while concentrating on the humanity of the makers. The exhibit installation is still ongoing, and the efforts to write the label focused staff on several things: how to engage audiences about the meaning behind objects that survive to tell stories; creating a moment to reflect on the connecting universal aspects of culture and humanity that are represented by such objects; and how to give audiences a chance to contemplate by making comparisons to their own lives. As Kalyse’s internship ended, our draft for the dough bowl reads: “Handmade dough bowl, early 19th century; believed made by enslaved workers. Objects like this, surviving for well over 100 years, reflect the pride of craftsmanship and the ability and desire of all people to contribute to a shared cultural experience. Have you ever made anything that you can imagine surviving 200 years and perhaps finding its way to a future museum exhibit?”

The dough bowl is one of several items that will be staged in a new exhibition case inside the Peiper cabin at San Felipe de Austin. This new installation will be in place this fall.

Large, oval-shaped wooden bowl

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