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How to move a museum: The Burke, and treasured objects from its rarely seen vaults at the UW, get a new home

Alaria Longstaff, right, hands Lauren Banquer a ceramic figurine from Mexico as they unpack and shelve objects in the new Burke Museum’s ethnology collection. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

The Burke Museum is shifting its assortment, together with seldom-seen objects, to its new $99 million home, which is scheduled to open in the fall.

From a easy distance viewpoint, it’s a fast jaunt between the loading docks of the previous Burke Museum of Pure Historical past and Tradition and the new one — perhaps 400 ft, give or take a few steps.

For those who have been operating from one to the different in your underwear throughout a snowstorm on a dare, you’d head down the ramp from the previous loading dock, south alongside the bottom of that constructing, make a U-turn at a hole in the fence, run north up the bottom of the new constructing, grasp a fast left, then burst by means of the door.

You’d get goose bumps, however nothing life-threatening.

If, on the different hand, you’d walked the similar path in a current procession of Burke employees members, hand-carrying 2,000-year-old glass from Cyprus (shuffling very slowly, the soles of everybody’s footwear barely leaving the floor, eyes forged downward whereas a spotter hollered out close by rocks and different stumbling hazards), or rigorously rolled a cart of 66-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex bones, the stroll would appear for much longer — and extra aggravating.

“We may need a forklift for our T. rex skull,” Meredith Riven, the Burke’s collections supervisor of vertebrate paleontology, stated throughout a current go to to the museum. “We know it rolls well on the rack it’s on — the only concern is controlling it. The move from the old building to the new one is slightly downhill, which is good, but we don’t want anyone to get run over by a dinosaur.”

The $99 million “new Burke” (owned by Washington state, situated on the College of Washington campus, principally paid for by state funds and personal donations) broke floor in Might 2016. The dozens of shovel-wielders posing for PR pictures included scientists, state senators, tribal leaders and a pack of youngsters with pink toy scoopers. It plans to open someday this fall.

In the meantime, the museum had roughly 16 million objects to shepherd from its previous vaults to the new home.

Lauren Banquer, left. and Alaria Longstaff wheel a crate with ceramics from Mexico down a loading ramp from the old Burke Museum to the new one. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)Lauren Banquer, left. and Alaria Longstaff wheel a crate with ceramics from Mexico down a loading ramp from the old Burke Museum to the new one. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Lauren Banquer, left. and Alaria Longstaff wheel a crate with ceramics from Mexico down a loading ramp from the previous Burke Museum to the new one. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Occasions)

The new constructing, designed by Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig (a agency recognized for its work with artwork museums and different valuable collections), ran with the Burke’s motto “museum inside-out”: extra transparency, permitting guests to stroll previous wall-sized home windows and peep at the hundreds of thousands of objects not on official show, plus 12 labs the place museum staff will have a tendency to fossils and different specimens.

“Now probably less than 1 percent of the collection is visible to the public at any given time,” Kathy Dougherty, a supervisor of the Burke’s ethnography and archaeology assortment, stated as she walked by way of the previous Burke’s concrete, bunkerlike storage rooms. The move offered a behind-the-scenes look at a few of the Burke’s rarely seen objects. (None might be seen by the public now, however the museum estimates that when it reopens, guests shall be in a position to glimpse two-thirds of its complete holdings on any given day.)

Burke ethnology collections manager Kathy Dougherty, left, and recent museology graduate Alaria Longstaff inspect a sword and scabbard from the Philippines that has made the move to the new museum’s storage rooms. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)Burke ethnology collections manager Kathy Dougherty, left, and recent museology graduate Alaria Longstaff inspect a sword and scabbard from the Philippines that has made the move to the new museum’s storage rooms. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Burke ethnology collections supervisor Kathy Dougherty, left, and current museology graduate Alaria Longstaff examine a sword and scabbard from the Philippines that has made the move to the new museum’s storage rooms. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Occasions)

“Up there,” she stated, gesturing to a loft, “we’ve got dog sleds, a birch-bark canoe, so many things.” A gorgeously hanging, carved-wood transformation masks of a sculpin (a spiny, bottom-dwelling fish) utilized in Kwakwaka’wakw dances rested on a board, nestled amongst cardboard packing containers, ready to be carried to a recent home.

A current tour of the previous and new cabinets (plus a go to to some semisecret storage areas in different campus buildings) was like a childhood, after-hours-at-the-museum fantasy. Amongst the objects seen: a surprisingly delicate-looking Hmong searching rifle from Vietnam; shiny, psychedelic-patterned cowry shells (malacologist Melissa Frey referred to as them “the eye candy of the shell collection”); iridescent blue butterflies (the Burke has the world’s largest assortment of Washington state butterflies, plus specimens from round the globe); a grey whale cranium; a sperm whale cranium; an beautiful Haida bowl made by steaming open the horn of a mountain sheep, so translucent it appeared to glow; lengthy pageant rockets from Laos, considered one of which required six individuals to carry it from the previous vault to the new constructing.

In the ethnology assortment, current museology graduate Alaria Longstaff gingerly picked up a sword scabbard from the Filipino island Mindanao: two items of wooden lashed along with fiber so, in the warmth of hand-to-hand fight, a sword might slice immediately by way of it, shaving off the probably deadly microseconds required to yank a sword out of a extra sturdy, European-style scabbard. “This,” she stated admiringly, “is a brilliant offensive innovation.”

The collections had distinct scents: the Japanese space, with its previous wooden masks, smelled like an vintage store; the baskets smelled like candy grass.

When the new museum opens, guests can be allowed to see extra of the Burke’s tens of millions of objects — a profit to the museum, in addition to the public. They could see issues that aren’t on heavy rotation in show instances, and level out particulars even the Burke didn’t know: new details about the place an object got here from; or who made it; or whether or not one thing that drifted into the assortment half a century in the past is, in reality, culturally delicate and ought to face east, or stay hidden, or solely be touched by males (reminiscent of some whaling harpoons) or ladies (comparable to consuming tubes related to feminine puberty ceremonies), and even be repatriated.

The museum has returned some objects over the years, stated tribal cultural liaison Polly Olsen (Yakama). It has been allowed to retain others that ought to solely be seen and studied by choose guests from related cultural teams. Some work of sacred dances, for instance, keep in storage coated by shrouds to maintain them away from uninitiated eyes.

“Not all information is available to everyone,” Olsen stated, explaining that the faddishness for Native American practices can typically be a cultural-appropriation hazard. She declined to give particular particulars about objects in the assortment, however used the basic instance of indigenous ceremonial meals, like lamprey, a jawless fish. “If people had access to our knowledge of traditional foods, they would then commercialize it and overharvest when these foods are for our practices. Our living practices are primary. People gain a little bit of knowledge and then they think they own it, without asking for permission or understanding from the tribes.”

That care about who will get to look at what can precipitate long-term advantages.

Ethnology collections supervisor Rebecca Andrews recalled a go to a number of years in the past, when a native lady and her son got here to see a few of her grandfather’s wooden carvings. “She asked if her son could hold his great-grandfather’s carvings, so of course we said yes,” Andrews stated. “The mother was crying, taking photos.”

Two years in the past, Andrews obtained a name from the boy, now a younger man. “He said: ‘You probably don’t remember me, but I’m the boy who came to see his great-grandfather’s carvings. Now I’m a carver.” She smiled at the reminiscence: “And that is what we do.”

Like several massive relocation challenge, the Burke move exhumed a few surprises: a papier-mâché Dia de los Muertos statue that had been hiding on an higher shelf, some spears, stone pestles from Klickitat County, a field filled with fossilized crinoids (flowery marine animals generally referred to as “sea lilies”), a staggeringly complete assortment of dogwinkle (a type of sea snail) shells, a mannequin of an archaeopteryx (a roughly raven-sized dinosaur with wings) sporting a tiny sweater.

Now it stands prominently, frozen in midstride, on a laboratory shelf in the new Burke. (“An archaeopteryx is supposed to have feathers,” stated Ruth Martin, a paleontology analysis affiliate who had been working close to a assortment of slides of plankton microfossils. “I guess it was cold, so somebody knitted it a sweater!”)

Whereas shifting the collections from the previous Burke Museum to its new constructing, considered one of the volunteers discovered this mannequin of an archaeopteryx, an early birdlike dinosaur, up on a storage shelf. “An archaeopteryx is supposed to have feathers,” stated paleontology analysis affiliate Ruth Martin. “I guess it was cold, so somebody knitted it a sweater.” (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Occasions)Whereas shifting the collections from the previous Burke Museum to its new constructing, one in every of the volunteers discovered this mannequin of an archaeopteryx, an early birdlike dinosaur, up on a storage shelf. “An archaeopteryx is supposed to have feathers,” stated paleontology analysis affiliate Ruth Martin. “I guess it was cold, so somebody knitted it a sweater.” (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Occasions)

Whereas shifting the collections from the previous Burke Museum to its new constructing, one in every of the volunteers discovered this mannequin of an archaeopteryx, an early birdlike dinosaur, up on a storage shelf. “An archaeopteryx is supposed to have feathers,” stated paleontology analysis affiliate Ruth Martin. “I guess it was cold, so somebody knitted it a sweater.” (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Occasions)

Each object in the move, together with workplace provides like file folders and pencils, wanted to undergo quarantine to ensure that museum-ravaging bugs (silverfish, guide lice, others) didn’t hitch a experience and maintain chewing their method by means of previous papers, leather-based, fur and baskets. Close to the loading dock of the museum, some shipping-container-sized freezers hummed away, annihilating tiny bugs.

Up a few flights of stairs in the new museum, Jeff Bradley — the extremely energetic mammalogy collections supervisor, sporting a white onerous hat — stored his favourite surprises to himself.

“The coolest thing I found? I don’t want to admit it,” he stated. “Principally proof of my co-workers from many years in the past — somebody had been sitting at a desk, smoking whereas engaged on specimens, and used certainly one of the shells for an ashtray! They need to give it a label: ‘archaeological tool used by museum employee 30 years ago.’ “

Principally, Bradley stated, the chaos of the move tended to make objects — the extra modern ones — vanish. “I’ve had to stash some computer equipment,” he stated with a sly grin. “When it comes to ornithology, birds aren’t the only ones who like to disappear mice. You know what I’m saying?”