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Museums helping Museums

Posted By Dr. Jim Beard, Curator of Earth Sciences & Director of Research and Collections, VMNH, Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Updated: Monday, August 15, 2016

Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg has a large collection of artifacts and natural objects, many of them sent back from overseas by missionaries. These objects are the basis for the D. Ralph Hostetter Museum of Natural History, housed in the Science building on the EMU campus. The building is now being renovated and as part of this renovation, the museum is being redone in line with modern museum exhibit and collections practices.


Although they have knowledgeable faculty in natural sciences and anthropology, EMU has little expertise in collections management or exhibit design. Dr. Jim Yoder contacted VAM for help with this process. Dr.Yoder spoke with Christina in the VAM office, who linked him up with the folks at the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH). Dr. Joe Keiper of the VMNH serves on the VAM board as its director for nature, science, and planetaria.

VMNH maintains active collections and exhibit programs and, in particular is home to experienced curators and collections experts. A team of 4 VMNH specialists visited EMU in early May. Dr. Elizabeth Moore and Registrar Jill Harris focused on sorting and organizing the ethnographic collections. Dr. Jim Beard worked with the rock and mineral collections. Dr. Joe Keiper worked with Dr. Yoder in formulating a strategic plan for the new museum, strategizing about fundraising, and envisioning what the exhibits footprint might look like. Dr Yoder commented:


“Their expert advice and guidance on managing our collection and preparing for our upcoming renovation has been invaluable.  We are extremely excited to continue to develop our relationship with VMNH and their team of experts.” 


Two student interns, Aubrey Shelley and Eli Wenger learned about museum best practices as they helped the VMNH team with organizing the collections and selecting materials for possible display. Overall, it was a great networking experience for the VMNH and EMU team and, we like to think, a good example of the way that VAM, by bringing museum partners together, can help to grow and improve the Virginia museum community.


Captions: (top photo) Left to right: Dr. Elizabeth Moore, EMU intern Aubrey Shelley and VMNH Registrar Jill Harris sort through ethnographic material; (bottom photo) EMU intern Eli Wenger and VMNH team look over the Hostetter rock and mineral collection.

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