Southern Ute Museum embraces transition

Southern Ute Interim Museum Director, Linda Baker gives an explanation of proper archiving, storage and cataloguing techniques used for cultural items, and sacred artifacts at the Southern Ute Museum, Thursday, Sept. 7.
Cheyenne Caraway explains the process and specialization needed to create mounts in the work studio for exhibiting cultural artifacts.
Museum contract staffers, Cheyenne Caraway and Jed Smith, put the finishing touches on the recently added exhibit highlighting KSUT Public Radio in the museum’s permanent gallery, Wednesday, Sept. 6.
The Southern Ute Veterans Exhibit is one of the newest additions to the Southern Ute Museums permanent gallery.
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum

Southern Ute Interim Museum Director, Linda Baker is set to step down on Saturday, September 30, along with her staff, when their contracts expire at the end of the month. When the Southern Ute Indian Tribe took over the museum, it went from a non-profit entity to a Tribal Department under the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Permanent Fund. Tribal Council asked Baker to assist with the transition, which became effective May 6, 2016. With just a few weeks remaining in their contracts, the Southern Ute Museum staff reflects on their accomplishments over the past year and a half.

“On May 6, 2016 we brought in Mountain Lion. That took 15 days and 33 people to install,” Baker said. Mountain Lion is a travelling exhibit created by the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College, in partnership with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. Since May of 2016, the four core staff members have kept the museum open seven days a week, with the exception of a few major holidays.

Originally labeled as the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum, the transition was also an opportunity for the museum to stand on its own. “The museum is its own department, it will have its own Director eventually,” Baker said. “The museum is a pubic institution, where as the Culture Department serves tribal members ­— that would be the distinction for what makes the departments separate.”

The contracted staff completed a thorough inventory of the museum, documenting everything from cultural items to furniture, following the Tribe’s acquisition.

Between the four institutions that had loaned objects to the Southern Ute Museum originally, less then 50 items were returned back to the museums they came from following the transition to ownership under the Southern Ute Tribe. According to Baker, when her team completed the inventory, there were 1200 cultural items, not including the 3D objects, such as paintings. The exhibits, and overall inventory were not significantly affected by the transition.

“So what we decided to do going forward; is we wanted to use items owned or donate by Southern Ute tribal members, to showcase our own culture. Many of these items are now on display for the first time,” Baker said.

At the request of Southern Ute Chairman Clement J. Frost, the Southern Ute Museum installed a Ute Park/Ute Chief exhibit on the second floor. The exhibit is comprised of photographs and text displayed on large museum panels.

“Everything is being done in-house, from text panels, large photos, to the gravity and floating mounts, brochures, and advertisements — all in-house,” Baker said.

Cheyenne Caraway, Jed Smith, and Daniel Rohde have been under the same term contracts, working together as a team since early 2016. “We’ve literally cleaned, brushed, vacuumed exhibits and workspaces, we rewired, repaired and replaced electronics. We redefined the workspaces and ordered appropriate equipment prior to beginning installations in the permanent gallery,” Baker said.

Caraway, Smith, and Rohde began making custom mounts for the permanent gallery, again working entirely in-house. The team created the Southern Ute Veteran’s exhibit in the spring of 2017, per a JP Morgan donation stipulation tied to the museum’s permanent gallery.

“The staff is highly qualified. They were even asked to assist in the creation of custom mounts for the Ben Nighthorse Campbell jewelry exhibit at Fort Lewis College,” Baker said. Caraway and Smith both double majored in art and anthropology before working at the Center for Southwest Studies, together they have worked on approximately 30 exhibits.

“Some of the feedback we got regarding the gallery was to replace the exhibit about powwow — which is intertribal, not unique to the Southern Ute Tribe,” Baker explained. “I wanted to make something modern and uniquely Southern Ute, we came up with the idea of KSUT. So that case exhibit has been replaced, KSUT is contemporary. It is also ongoing. One license, two stations; that is unique in itself.”

With just a few weeks left in their contracts, the team is heading to Denver in an effort to secure a grant for the Museum’s library and archives section.

Linda Baker also lauded the business relationships created with the Ignacio Community Library and The Sky Ute Casino & Resort via Leisure West Tours. “We have conducted the ‘behind the scenes’ tours, showing visitors select cultural items. The process of the journey an item takes from the time it is first donated till it reaches the exhibit case,” Baker said. “We want to be hosts here, to introduce them to the museum, its architecture and exhibits…and welcome people to our reservation.”




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