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Exhibit Review: Leo C. Thorne Collection at the Uintah County Heritage Museum

Monday, April 25, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Carl Aldrich
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Exhibit Review: Leo C. Thorne Collection at the Uintah County Heritage Museum
By LeeAnn Denzer


Not long ago a Ute Tribal member exclaimed, “it feels alive!”  She was talking about our Fremont Indian and early Ute exhibit. What a perfect indicator that our project is a success. 

In 2014 we had a monumental task looming before us: we were moving to a new location. Our biggest fear was how we were going to move the Ute and Fremont Collection. The donors of the collection left the artifacts with a contractual agreement that the whole collection would be on display for 25 years without rotation. It also stipulated that the museum would be open year round. One last restriction was that it would not be handled except for dusting, and then only if the museum director supervised.

Thanks to our director, Sam Passey, a plan was created and then proposed to the donor. It was to be a joint project organized through the Utah Humanities Field Services Initiative. The museum staff would work with museum consultants. It was a two part plan. The first part was to secure the collection for moving. The second part was to stabilize the collection for exhibit. The donor agreed and so it began.

In 2014, the consultants came for a three-day workshop. We learned how to condition report, handle objects, and package artifacts for the move. The artifacts are incredibly valuable and need best museum practices when being handled. In 2015 the consultants and staff participated in 2 workshops. The consultants taught us how to develop safe exhibit strategies for each individual artifact. This included manufacturing mounts that would safely support the artifact and yet look nice on display. We found a pest problem which necessitated freezing the leather artifacts and a second workshop to clean and then prepare each item for display. The consultants spent a total of 11 days working with our museum staff.

We were interested in the practice of keeping all debris with the artifacts for research purposes. The leather project was also very interesting. Staff learned that leather has a memory and can be taught to take their original shapes. There were several artifacts that only the consultants handled because of the type of care they needed.

Our staff has benefited in so many ways from this project. Networking with museum professionals has been paramount to our success. “Artifacts that were dead,” the tribal member commented, “are now alive.” Having access to museum professionals through knowledge gained from participating in UMA has been a huge benefit to our museum. We formed friendships and our museum has truly gained a new appeal to the public.



Special thanks to Kimberleigh Collins-Peynaud, Laurel Casjens, Glenna Nielsen-Grimm, Megan van Frank; and to staff members Lana Fullbright, Sam Passey, and Linda Wilson.

  • The Uintah County Heritage Museum is located at 155 East Main in Vernal, Utah. Hours vary by season, but the museum is open year-round, Monday through Saturday (excluding holidays). 435-789-7399.

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