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Museum Mondays: Researching the journey—and meanings—of objects

March 17, 2013

031813 Museum Mondays 

Thousands of arrows sail through the sky, targeting the samurai who brave the projectile storm. So begins a description by Rachel Smith’13 of a scene from the 1348 Battle of Shijōnawate depicted on the Japanese ukiyo-e (woodblock print) triptych she researched in Introduction to Collections Management. This print, along with 10 other impressive objects from the College’s museums, are currently on display in the Shaw Gallery (second floor) of the Logan Museum of Anthropology.

Have you ever wondered how the thousands of objects curated by the college’s museums made their way to Beloit, how they were made or used, or the significance of these objects to the people who made them? These are just a few of the questions students investigated as part of their object study research project.

Students challenge the accuracy of museum records, adding new layers of understanding, and investigate the origins, composition, and meaning of a diverse range of objects. A magician-priest’s sword and sheath from Sumatra, a Sioux Indian boy’s beaded vest depicting riders on horseback holding American flags, and a grand palace door panel with sculptural carvings depicting Yoruba life in Nigeria are just a few of the items researched by students and on display in the Object Investigations exhibition.

Object research presents opportunities for students to combine critical thinking skills, traditional research skills, and detailed visual examination to raise questions and explore new ways of investigating the answers. What can a particular encrustation on an archaeological object tell us about its original context or use? What’s the relationship between the Logan Museum of Anthropology and a woman compiling a dictionary of the Hopi language? Did you know that Marcel Duchamp—the famous Dadaist and Surrealist artist—had a sister, Suzanne Duchamp, who was also a talented Dada artist and that three of her paintings are curated by the Wright Museum of Art? The new exhibit presents a window through which visitors can begin to learn about rich resources ripe for investigation and discovery in the campus museums.