Do You Believe in Magic?

“It’s important to remember that we all have MAGIC inside us.” -J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series

Any day now, I expect Hagrid to knock on my door and say, “Yer a wizard, Laura.” Because only with magical powers could I have gotten the museum ready in time for the opening.


On the evening of Tuesday, October 6th, the Schingoethe Center of Aurora University officially opened its doors to the public after being closed for two years. About 250 people attended the opening, which was more than we had anticipated. In total for the week, we saw over 800 people come through our doors.

People were impressed with the new space, making me feel incredibly proud to have been a part of this endeavor. I was glad all our hard work had paid off!

Though, of course, visitors were only seeing the finished product…They didn’t have a clue how much work went into it all. They didn’t know about our blunders – or exactly how many times we rewrote that one introduction panel. But maybe that’s for the best! As far as they know, we’re magic…

POOF! It’s a museum.

Museum Branch V Edited

This building, finished in June 2015, houses the new Schingoethe Center of Aurora University.


Leveling one of our new display cases.


Children enjoying our World of the Kachina exhibit in the new Marlin Johnston Family Gallery.


Two visitors checking out Wendell Minor’s America, a traveling exhibit on loan from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.

But sigh…No matter how hard you’ve worked, you’ll always have your critics.

Those who had been to the museum previously were expecting to see the museum just as it was before, with its kid-friendly environment and plethora of hands-on activities. But with the construction of this new building, the director decided to update a few things, including the museum’s mission statement. The museum is still dedicated to representing Native American cultures, of course, but now the museum is less ethnographic, less “kid-centric,” and more art-focused, targeting high school and college students.

Teachers especially were, uh, alarmed by the changes. “Does this mean you won’t be doing any more school tours?” “Where did the wigwam go?” (The museum used to have a life-sized wigwam, and it was pretty cool, but there’s just no room for it in the new space.)

I’ve actually had a few people tell me they were “disappointed” with the changes we’d made. Guess you can’t make everybody happy!



As disheartening as it was to hear comments like those, we also heard a good amount of praise for the new museum. Many alums, who remembered the museum when it was in a damp, dark basement in Dunham Hall, were pleased and told me they looked forward to visiting again in the future.

To be fair, I can’t say I’m exactly thrilled about the museum becoming more art-focused either (art just isn’t my thing), but I think it’s a change that we’ll all just have to adjust to.

And I can’t wait to see what the coming year has in store for us!

…and by the way, J.K. Rowling, I’m still waiting on that Hogwarts letter.

In the meantime…Accio, sleep!


Unpacking a Museum: Part 2

Well, the museum re-opens in less than two months now…

Malfoy panicking

But nobody panic! We have it all under control.

Our 5000+ artifacts came in three shipments over the course of one month, with our final shipment of artifacts arriving just last Thursday. As you may recall from my previous post, I was put in charge of the collection’s return. I gotta admit…the entire operation has gone over a whole lot better than I expected!

The system we put in place is pretty simple.

We had six people helping out (including myself), and we divided ourselves into three teams of two. Two teams unpacked the artifacts, noting if objects were missing or damaged, while one team re-shelved the artifacts. I was a member of the re-shelving team. I purposefully stationed myself at the finishing phase of the operation so that I could catch any mistakes and remedy them.

Of course, no project is without its challenges!

So far, the most frustrating thing about this project has been the actual re-shelving of artifacts.

Why? Well, when our storage units were taken apart for temporary storage, it seems nobody marked where the shelves went. This means that when the storage units were re-installed, the shelves were not necessarily put back at the correct height. So when we went to put some of the objects back on their shelves, they did not always fit…

Can We Panic Now

MRW all of our kachinas are too tall for their shelves.

Every time this happened, we had to stop everything we were doing just to readjust the offending shelf. This slowed down the process immensely, as you can imagine.

Live and learn, I guess! The important thing is that all the artifacts make their way back to their shelves. If I can do that, I’ve done my job!


A batch of artifacts waiting to go home!

As a matter of fact, I have learned a lot over the course of this project. The biggest takeaway for me has been the realization that being “the boss” is a lot harder than it looks. As someone who has never felt 100% comfortable handing out orders, I found managing a group of volunteers to be a bit tough. I was constantly second guessing myself. “Did I explain that well enough?” “Was I too harsh?” “Did I remember to thank them?”

It can be difficult to keep your eye on things when you have other responsibilities to attend to! In addition to supervising the artifact deliveries, it is also my job to develop exhibits, complete condition reports, and do a number of other things in preparation for our October 6th opening.

But, if truth be told, I am just happy doing what I love: museum work. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.


“It is a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together.”

Unpacking a Museum


My shiny new badge! How official!

I began working as the Graduate Fellow for the Schingoethe Museum of Aurora University (formerly the Schingoethe Center for Native American Cultures) during the second week in June. Hard to believe it’s been a month already. I guess time flies when you’re busy getting a whole museum up and running again!

Two years ago (when I was working as a student worker for the Schingoethe), the museum closed temporarily in anticipation of the construction of a new building. It’s funny, really…I helped pack up the museum’s collection then, and now, I’m in charge of the entire unpacking operation.

What a daunting task!

Over 5,000 objects must go back on their shelves. In addition, many of our former exhibits are getting total makeovers (because, hey, why not? When opportunity knocks, right?). We’re also planning a couple new exhibits for our public opening in October, including a traveling exhibit from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.

Therefore, my time over the past few weeks has been split between exhibit research, label writing, and most importantly, preparing the new museum for the return of artifacts.

The building was almost completely empty when I arrived. We had no furniture, no computers – nothing.


It’s a rare thing to see a vault completely empty! Hopefully it won’t look like this for long.

Nothing but empty shelves, that is! One of my first tasks was to clean and line all of these shelves and drawers with ethafoam. It took the Curatorial Assistant and I almost 3 days to sterilize and line all 388 shelves, but this tedious task was worth it, because it meant the museum was ready for its first shipment of artifacts. Yay!

The first artifacts to return were the ones on loan to the Anthropology Museum at Northern Illinois University. (The Schingoethe loaned out 55 items to keep its name “out there” while it was closed.) These all had to be conditioned again before returning to their home locations.

Ah, collections work! Handling artifacts! How I’ve missed it.

As more and more items started to pour in, our storage vaults began to resemble something akin to a hoarder’s basement. Boxes were stacked in the corners of the vaults, random artifacts on their way to being accessioned were laid out on the work table, and objects without locations were put off to the side for the time being.


MRW I look around and see all the boxes piling in…


In the coming week, we will begin unpacking the artifacts in earnest. I will be in charge of the whole process – overseeing volunteers and making sure everything goes in its proper place.

Problems are bound to arise, but I am up for the challenge.

I say, “Bring it on!”