Ask a Curator Day 2017

Thank you submitting your questions to #AskACurator Day on Wednesday, September 13!

Below, we have all your questions and answers compiled for your reference at any time.


Do you know where the statue from the Germania building is?
The Germania Statue has been a missing Milwaukee art piece for many years. It is believed to have been scrapped during WWII, though there is no direct evidence of this. The anti-German sentiment and zeal of some, and the need for metals by the Government, likely outweighed the need for art or history.

What items would people most be surprised to find are in the Museum's collection?
History Collections run the gambit of human experience. It may surprise people to know we have over 900 typewriters, a painting by Dutch master Pieter Bruegel the Younger, one of the only known original military Ferguson rifles, rare English cameo glass, a 40,000 piece American/European coin collection, an early pattern U.S. Life Saving medal awarded to Milwaukeean Anton Oleson, the Meunier Centennial rifle, Solomon Juneau's sash and musket, the intricate and ornate Uihlein Doll House, a large collection of WWI posters, American duck & goose decoys, a collection of 19th/20th century buttons, a collection of American school girl samplers, etc.!

Is there a database by artifact containing info of where that specific item came from (i.e. who donated it)?
Database info differs by department and scientific discipline. The Museum is in the process of creating and populating a collections database. Presently the information about history collections and individual objects are kept in paper files, index files, and massive ledger books. There is a lot of personal information in those records that is private. The History Dept. hopes to have data access for some large collections or certain objects soon. We have 130+ years of collections and info to go through.

What is baby corn? Is it true to its name or a different species?
True to name, it's the regular maize plant harvested early.

How do you cope with evolving digital formats & storage mediums?
This is a priority here at MPM. We review formats every two years and if it is not current, it is changed. We do this while always backing up and archiving our data.

Do you get nervous handling rare artifacts?
No, because we always plan appropriately.

What's an amazing object from your collection?
We have gynandromorph butterflies that display both male and female features!

What is the best part of being a curator?
Everyday is different; you never know what you'll get.

Do you have carnivorous plants in the collection? Live or specimens?
Yes, most are specimens. Live are for education.

What is the best artifact in MPM that you would take with you to survive on a desert island?
Sara our Registrar says she would take one of the antique books from our library, such as Huck Fin!

How much time do you spend working with other curators or experts outside of MPM?
It depends on the project. Being a curator doesn't mean having all the answers, it's knowing where to find them.

What's the most lethal object in your collections? Asking for a friend...
A 13" French mortar shell from WWI. Tell your friend it's deactivated.

What's an object in your collection that I simply have to see? (That is, after I survive the flight there from Sweden!)
Our Japanese Friendship Doll given specifically to Wisconsin from Japan, so that we may learn about their culture!

How did you decide on your area(s) of focus/expertise? And how do you find new topics to research?
Jen chose moths in particular after an exciting lecture. Find new topics by engaging with researchers and the community!

What advice do you have for aspiring curators who want to get in this line of work? 
Be creative & curious. Stay active in research and connected to the community. Never stop asking questions or discovering.

How does a bumblebee fly?
Despite urban legends about defying physics, recent research shows bees use a high wingbeat frequency, hovering to obtain nectar or navigate. Aerodynamically, it's different than most other insects.

Do you have a favorite song/artist/genre/station you listen to while working?
Our Collections Digitization Manager's favorite station is a mix of early punk and new wave music!

What is an interesting artifact that you have in your collections that is not on display in an exhibit?
We have a few extinct animals in our collections, such as the Tasmanian Tiger, Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, and an Auk.

How do you transport artifacts?
A box in a box in a box! The object is mounted, padded with thick foam, and shipped as "fine art."

What is one of the most unique or rare artifact in your collections?
We have a trackway that shows evidence of animals walking for the first time on Wisconsin land 500 million years ago!

How do you keep collections safe in long-term storage?
Objects are stored in a stable, controlled environment with restricted access and extensive data records.

How has MPM supported recent academic research?
Our collections have been used for info in a new book on amphibians and reptiles of Wisconsin; tiger moth, fish, & bamboo species research; and our Native American collections are used daily.

What is a secret trick or "hidden gem" you can find in an MPM exhibit?
There is a 90-pound piece of copper found in the glacier cave which you are able to touch!

How do you decide what objects are worthy of being added to collections & what is garbage?
One person's trash is another's treasure! Each collection has a plan and the object must fit within in. We try to fill gaps and avoid duplicates.

How long has the "snake button" been around?
It has been around since the early 1970s!

How many artifacts are on display compared to how many are in storage?
Only 4% are on display.

Has anyone ever been injured while working with collections?
Not to our knowledge! :)

Is there an artifact that fills you with awe?
The Cephalopods of Silurian Reef are so detailed, they still look alive!

What is the oldest object in your collection?
Trenton meteorite - 4.6 billion years old!

What is the biggest misconception about being a curator?
People thinking that all you do is create exhibits, when in reality that's only a small part of it.


Meet the Curators!

Ellen Censky, Ph.D. - Senior Vice President and Academic Dean
Alyssa Caywood - Collections Digitization Project Manager
Julia Colby - Zoology Collection Manager
Patricia Coorough-Burke - Curator of Geology Collections/Senior Collections Manager
Sara Podejko - Registrar
Al Muchka - Curator of History Collections/Senior Collections Manager
Dawn Scher Thomae - Curator of Anthropology Collections/Senior Collections Manager
Christopher Tyrrell, Ph.D. - Research Curator, Botany
Jennifer Zaspel, Ph.D. - Research Curator, Zoology and Director of Puelicher Butterfly Wing


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