October 25, 2014

What do you collect? 10 unique visitor collections

Over the past four months, we've asked Burke Museum visitors to answer a simple question in our Imagine That exhibit: what do you collect?

"What do you collect?" tags hang in the Burke's Imagine That exhibit.
As the Washington state museum of natural history and culture, we collect to form a record of the life before us and to bring together people, objects and the stories that make them meaningful. We share a curiosity and passion for collecting with our visitors.

So far, more than 2,000 visitors have told us what they collect and why their collection is special. While we see several types of collections come up regularly—rocks, shells, money—some collections stood out as particularly unique.

Here is a sampling of 10 one-of-a-kind visitor collections shared with us so far:

1. Woodchips with holes

First name: Diane
What I collect: Woodchips with holes
My collection is special because... It began with a child giving me one, and then another, and another... and now I have hundreds!!

October 13, 2014

Seattle's ghost shorelines

By Peter Lape, Amir Sheikh, and Don Fels

Someday soon, Seattle’s downtown waterfront will look very different than it does today. The City of Seattle is replacing our crumbling seawall, and perhaps Bertha will resume digging the tunnel to replace the rickety, looming and loud Alaska Way Viaduct, scheduled to be torn down in 2016.

These changes create the potential to reconnect to the Elliot Bay shoreline, a main reason the city was established here in the first place. Planning continues for a re-imagined waterfront, and architects, designers, planners and politicians are starting to share their ideas with Seattlites.

An architectural rendering shows what a Pioneer Square beach at the foot of Washington Street could look like.
Photo: Courtesy of James Corner Field Operations and City of Seattle, Adapted from The Seattle Times’ September 12, 2014 article titled “Seattle’s new waterfront: What it might look like and why.”

October 10, 2014

A mammoth state symbol from Washington's prehistory

State symbols are designated to reflect the history and culture of a place. For instance, in Washington, we have a state tree that's common to our region (the Western Hemlock) and also a state bird (the Willow Goldfinch)—there's even a state dance (care to square dance, anyone?).

In the early 1990s, a group of elementary school students in Washington noticed an important piece of Washington's history that was not represented in the state symbols list: a remnant from prehistory Washington.

Prehistory is fascinating. Memorialized in the fossil record is evidence of massive floods, thousands of feet of solid ice and animals that we can now only imagine. Studying paleontology and learning what the planet looked like millions of years ago is akin to present-day detectives solving crimes with only a few clues and a wealth of scientific knowledge.

Mrs. Aebly's 2nd grade class in 1994.
Photo courtesy of Chris Pineo.

This topic captivated Chris Pineo and his classmates in Mrs. Sara Jane Aebly’s second grade class at Windsor Elementary School in Cheney, Washington. While learning about dinosaurs and paleontology, the students read about a class in Colorado that designated a state fossil and it inspired Chris and his classmates to seek out a fossil that represented Washington state.

September 26, 2014

Beautiful things: Still life photographs using Burke specimens & objects

When Dennis Wise and Malina Lopez wanted to use Burke Museum collections in their work, they weren’t interested in objects or specimens for the “usual” reasons.

Often, the people who use Burke collections are scientists and scholars. But for Wise and Lopez, a photographer and food stylist respectively, using Burke collections was all about getting creative and helping people see objects and specimens in new ways.

Natural history specimens make unexpected appearances in this beautiful series of still life
photographs. Keep reading for more images and the lists of specimens within them.

Photograph: Dennis Wise; styling: Malina Lopez

August 29, 2014

From billions to none: Remembering the passenger pigeon

Passenger pigeons. 
Photo credit: The Birds of America,
J.B. Chevaller, 1840-1844, n39_21150,
CC-BY-NC-2.0, via Flickr.
They flew in vast flocks, numbering in the billions—the sound from their flapping wings was deafening. John James Audubon once described a flock as one mile wide and 240 miles long that darkened the dome of the sky for three days as it passed overhead.

The passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America. At the time European settlers arrived, passenger pigeons accounted for nearly forty percent of the land birds of North America, primarily east of the Rocky Mountains. In 1857, the Ohio State Legislature dismissed the idea of protection for the passenger pigeon, proclaiming, “it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow, and no ordinary destruction can lessen them.”

But on September 1, 1914, the last passenger pigeon on Earth perished. In less than a century, the great species had gone extinct.

August 11, 2014

Explore the past and present near San Juan Island's American Camp

For the past 20 years, Julie Stein, executive director of the Burke Museum and a professor of Archaeology at the University of Washington, has led walking tours on the southern edge of San Juan Island in Washington’s Strait of Juan de Fuca within the Salish Sea. The people who come on these tours are curious about one thing: stories of people and place. And on Julie’s tour, those stories extend back thousands of years.

This year marked what may be Julie’s last tour, but if you didn’t get to go on one, you can still draw on your powers of observation and curiosity—as well as this DIY (do-it-yourself) tour guide—to enjoy a rich investigation into the past and present of San Juan Island.

Julie Stein, executive director of the Burke Museum, has offered archaeology-based walking tours on San Juan Island for the past 20 years, but the premise of her tours can be readily adapted by anyone—it all starts with questions. Photo credit: John Howell, Cedar River Group

July 15, 2014

Scientific illustration: What's the point? Reflections on the craft's ongoing value

By Nora Sherwood

More than 400 years ago, European explorers were traveling to distant corners of the globe and discovering unfamiliar landscapes, people, animals and plants. In a time when travel was prohibitively expensive for all but the most wealthy and too difficult for all but the most adventurous or desperate, scientific illustrators created images of these far-off places to show the people at home what those explorers found. A mostly European audience with an appetite for learning about all things exotic eagerly beheld images of South American flowers and bugs, African large mammals and birds of the Far East. Scientific illustration brought the distant world nearer, providing visuals to further trigger the imagination.

“Sable (Martes zibellina)” from The Cruise of the Marchesa with maps and woodcuts drawn by J. Keulemans, C. Whymper and others, Second edition, 1889, The British Library