Collection Highlights

133 Objects, 133 Years

The Milwaukee Public Museum curatorial staff have selected 133 of the most important, unique, or interesting objects and collections to highlight during our 133rd anniversary year. These items reflect the broad scope of the over 4 million-plus objects in the Museum's collections. Many of the items featured below are not on exhibit due to their fragile nature. One of the Museum's primary goals is to preserve objects for generations to come. As a virtual exhibit, we can share with people around the world our most rare and intriguing items without harm to them.

Tlingit Pole
62.) Tlingit Pole

In 1904, this mortuary totem pole was exhibited at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. It was apparently too fragile to journey back to Alaska, and therefore entered into the collection of the Milwaukee Public Museum. "Totem Poles" are appropriately called crest poles because they display family-owned symbols of a particular kinship group. Crests can be compared with the "Coats of Arms" of European noble families.

This pole is the type known in Tlingit as a Qadakedi (kaw-duh-KAY-dee), which literally means a "body or man's box," and is generally referred to as a "mortuary" pole. It was purchased from a Tlingit house-chief named Yennate (or Yun-nat) who lived at the village of Tuxekan on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. The pole was carved to honor the mother of Yennate (YEN-nah-tay) who was, like Yennate, a member of the Raven division of the Tlingits.

Reading the pole from top to bottom, the first two elements, a figure called “Diving Raven” and a bear, are a single element relating to how Raven, the Creator Being of the Tlingit, married Bear and then tricked him, causing his death. Beneath the Raven and Bear motif is a human figure representing the uncle of Yennate’s mother who was also Yennate’s great-uncle. This man was said to be a powerful shaman and may have been the great shaman of the Henya Tlingits called Shahowa or Skah-Owa (Fire Eater). This object is on exhibit near the down escalator on the 2nd floor.

Kwakiutl Masks
63.) Kwakiutl Masks

In the winter of 1914-1915, Dr. S.A. Barrett, the curator of Anthropology, traveled to Ft. Rupert, British Columbia to obtain a comprehensive collection of Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) material culture. Like many scholars at the time, Barrett believed that the native cultures of North America were disappearing and that it was crucial to save them before they vanished entirely. Performance masks, like this wolf mask, form perhaps the most significant elements of Barrett's highly regarded collection. You can see several of these masks on display in the Northwest Coast area on the 2nd floor.

Sami Collection
64.) Sami Collection

The Sami, sometimes called Lapps, are an indigenous European group who currently inhabit the northernmost regions of Finland, Sweden, Norway, and a small part of Russia. Our Sami collection of approximately 100 pieces is the largest in North America and possibly outside of Europe. The majority of the objects are utilitarian in nature, such as clothing and household objects, but there are some decorative pieces as well. The items were donated to the museum between the late 1800s and the 1990s. Learn more about this collection at

DuBay Site Collection
65.) DuBay Site Collection

The DuBay site was excavated in November 1941 by Dr. Philleo Nash prior to him becoming the Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin. Located about 12 miles north of Stevens Point, the site contained items from the John B. DuBay homestead. DuBay was a prominent frontiersman and fur trader in Wisconsin and Michigan in the mid to late 1800s. The excavation was one of the first archaeological studies of a mid-19th century historic site in the Midwest and the artifacts represent the only comprehensive historical archaeological collection at the MPM.

Riverside, Michigan Site Collection
66.) Riverside, Michigan Site Collection

The Riverside site is located in Menomonee, Michigan, just over the Wisconsin border in Upper Michigan. It is a cemetery and village site composed of about 52 burial pits with village material in among the pits. Riverside was first excavated in 1956 and 1957 by Albert Spaulding and again in 1961, '62, and '63 by a joint excavation by the Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) and Oshkosh Public Museum. The majority of the finds from the site are now housed at the MPM. Over 2600 items were recovered from the 1960s excavations. The site appears to be transitional from the Old Copper Culture to the Red Ocher Culture, signifiers for each culture being present at the site, radiocarbon dated to 1000-400 BC. Fragments of textiles from one of the burials are the earliest known fabrics from the Great Lakes region.

67.) Lizard

Darting through the forest on an island in the Caribbean, a previously unidentified species of lizard forages for ants and termites in rotten wood and leaves. Thanks to the efforts of two scientists, this tiny, colorfully spotted lizard finally has a name. But its future may not be as bright as its scales.

Bob Henderson, curator at the Milwaukee Public Museum and Robert Powell, biologist at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. officially named the new species of lizard, Gonatodes daudini, in the Dec. 2005 issue of the Caribbean Journal of Science (CJS). Unfortunately, this newly discovered lizard might soon be listed as an endangered species.

Measuring less than two inches long, Gonatodes daudini, a gecko apparently active by day, makes its home on Union Island (with an area of 8.1 square kilometers), the southernmost of the St. Vincent Grenadine Islands in the West Indies.

Because of its small geographic range, habitat requirements, and the fact that Union Island continues to be developed for tourism, G. daudini is likely vulnerable to extinction. Searches for additional populations of the colorful lizard on other islands in the Grenadines are ongoing.

Padi-Heru mummy
68.) Padi-Heru mummy

The Museum's two Egyptian mummies, Djed-Hor and Padi-Heru, were acquired in 1887 and have been on display fairly regularly since that time. Both mummies came from Akhmim, Egypt and they were CT-scanned in 1986 and again in 2006. Padi-Heru is Ptolemaic (possibly 200-100 BC) and is probably under 30 years of age. He was a priest of the Min temple in Akhmim. (Min was the Egyptian ithyphallic god of fertility.)

Both mummies are part of a long-term project attempting to locate mummies from Akhmim, which have been scattered in museums throughout the world. By finding and scanning these mummies, researchers can reconstruct information about a population from a single place and time. The mummies are currently on display in the Crossroads of Civilization exhibit.

Aztalan Site Collection
69.) Aztalan Site Collection

Aztalan, located on the Crawfish River in south-central Wisconsin near present-day Lake Mills, is approximately 50 miles west of Milwaukee. Occupied from about AD 1100-1250, Aztalan is the northernmost known outpost of the Mississippian culture. The site consists of large earthen temple mounds, houses, and an enormous stockade that enclosed 20 acres of the site.

The Milwaukee Public Museum's Aztalan collection is comprised of over 3600 archaeological artifacts. The majority of the collection comes from the excavations of 1919, 1920, and 1932 conducted by Museum Director Samuel A. Barrett. This collection is the largest assemblage of cultural remains from a single North American archaeological site in the Museum's collections. See select items in the Wisconsin Archaeology exhibit on the 2nd floor and on the Museum's website here.

Arkansas Ceramics Collection
70.) Arkansas Ceramics Collection

There are 256 complete ceramic vessels from Arkansas in the Milwaukee Public Museum's collections, most dating to the Middle (AD 1200-1400) and Upper (AD 1400-European contact) Mississippian periods. A large portion of the collection came from three donors, C.W. Riggs, G.E. Pilquist, and T.M.N. Lewis. The first two were artifact collectors and dealers; Riggs's material has no provenience other than "Arkansas," but Pilquist's items were collected from the Carden Bottoms area in west-central Arkansas. Lewis was an archaeologist at the University of Tennessee, but most of the ceramics were given to him by local farmers and thus again have no specific locality.

Cudahy-Massee African Collection
71.) Cudahy-Massee African Collection

The Cudahy-Massee collection resulted from an expedition led by Milwaukee Public Museum Director Dr. Samuel A. Barrett in 1928-1929 to Sudan and British East Africa (the colonies of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika, now Tanzania). The expedition was primarily sponsored by Burt A. Massee, a Chicago industrialist and Milwaukee native, and John Cudahy, a Milwaukee businessman.

The Cudahy-Massee collection consists of 1,406 bird specimens, 288 plant specimens, 1,056 insect specimens, 312 mammal specimens (representing 62 different species), and 1,976 ethnology artifacts (representing 10 native groups). Archival materials include photos and films as well as items used on the expedition such as firearms and camp stoves. Many of the mounted specimens and cultural items are currently on exhibit in the African Hall on the 3rd floor. Learn more about this collection here.