If you want to see the only dinosaur ever found in the state of Washington, or a type specimen of a 27 million year old whale before glimpsing aspects of cultures from around the Pacific Rim, the Burke Museum is for you.
The first thing I saw was a sign of what is and isn’t allowed in the museum. This could have been quite an unwelcoming entrance experience, but they had made it personal to the museum. Yes you weren’t allowed food or back packs (which they would store for you), but they did allow photography . . . and dinosaurs. I love it when museums show signs of thinking about their signage rather than a generic and boring sign. By adding something unusual I’m convinced more people will engage with it.
My favourite case runs along the back wall of the entrance hall. It portrays the diversity of the collection, ranging from wold cultures to minerals and natural history. The colours and diversity within this case was beautiful, from shocking green bird plumage to a mask made from a bear. I was really intrigued how the displayed colourful clutches of eggs, gathered in groups of four they appear to be suspended on a stick topped with a circle. I couldn’t work out if they were balanced or somehow glued, but the effect was clever.
It was good to see a designated ‘discovery space’ right in the centre of the Life and Times of Washington State Gallery. This gives children the opportunity to engage right in the middle of the museum space rather than in a classroom environment. It looks like it is also used for school groups.
The Pacific Voices Gallery was clever in displaying lots of amazing object from different cultures, these were supported by audio stories and images. There were often drawers below the displays which allowed hands-on interactions. It was a maze of a gallery, with so much information about so many different cultures in one space the divides between different areas were occasionally tricky to define, but I imagine it to be a gallery that you can visit and see a new thing every time.
Galleries like this can bring up repatriation requests, there was one interesting story linked to a large carved seal that had sat on a rooftop, but was stolen on a totem pole hunting mission and eventually ended up in the Burke Museum. The museum intend to right wrongs, organising to get the seal back to its original owners. The display of the seal itself is brilliant as behind it there is a blown up black and white photograph which clearly shows it in its original situ.
The current exhibition ‘Wild Nearby’ (running until Feb 5 2017) was very well done. I really like it when museum support stories and information within exhibitions with their own collections and that is exactly what is done here. The simple yet effective manner in which stone tools were displayed is one I must remember. It looks like they are sat on fabric wrapped plastazote and held into place with pieces of metal with one end stuck into the plastazote to stabilise and the other slightly hooked around the object to hold it in place. Obviously conservation approved metal would have to be selected as to not cause any lasting marks on the items. The addition of hands-on stations was also great and allowed engagement with interpretation.
The museum itself is guarded by some giant and impressive totems. There are panels that explain their meanings, as well as showing photos of the examples that these huge replicas have been created to look like. This is an example where replicas work really well, especially displayed alongside photographs of the real items in situ.
The Burke Museum is staying open while redevelopment is taking place, I would love to come back and compare the museum as it is now to what it becomes.