Traveling Museum

Dr. Leland Gilsen

The Traveling Museum at Salem's World Beat Festival
Enter the (old 50 board)Virtual Museum
I developed a non-profit public education "Traveling Museum" of Oregon native history that I displayed at events around the state. The museum was an educational exhibit of replica artifacts mounted on plastic (Sentra) boards. The display boards are 1x2 feet in size. Before turning over to Patrick O'Grady there were 31 (reduced from 50). They included photos, text and drawings explaining the technologies represented on each board. The boards have themes and are grouped into larger areas such as hunting, fishing or domestic activities. You can see two of the slant boards on the adjacent photo. The exhibit also included loose items such as a Kalapuya bow, quiver with arrows, atlatls (dart throwers), darts, baskets, stone hammers, adzes, carved masks, bowls, & rattles, and other items.

Primary Museum Exhibits/Events

Winter Count, Phoenix area AZ

Frontier Heritage Fair, Eugene OR

Buckeye Gathering, Lake Concow CA

Between The Rivers, Chewelah WA

Echoes-In-Time, Champoeg State Park OR

Rabbitstick, Rexburg ID

For smaller events such as classrooms and retirement homes, I prepared a mini-exhibit containing roughly eight boards. In addition I brought along an atlatl and dart; stone knife; bow drill; bow and quiver; pitch sticks, sinew/tendons, and flint & steel fire kit. I used this for requests from retirement facilities and schools.

The exhibits covered 14,000+ years and the cultures found in the NW Coast, Columbia Plateau, Inter-Mountain, Great Basin and California ecological zones.

At the end of 2015 I gave the exhibits to Patrick O'Grady, University of Oregon, Museum of Natural and Cultural History, faculty member and director of their field school. He will continue to use the museum as a public educational tool.

Every time you see the word "Primitive", substitute any of the following words: appropriate, clever, wise, smart, cunning, astute, sensible, shrewd, etc.

"Appropriate technology" is the museum theme. Technology fit it's time and place. It made use of available resources. People of the past were just as smart (i.e. - "primitive") as people of today. In a thousand years in the future, people can look back on us and say "how primitive" in the wrong sense of the expression! This traveling museum explores human technological solutions through material culture (i.e. - artifacts) with a number of sub-themes.

People had to understand their environments to survive and prosper. They had to know the plants (flora) and their uses as well as the animals (fauna) and uses. This was technical knowledge.

Sauvie Island

For example, vine maple (Acer circinatum) is dense and hard but flexible when fresh. It was used for snowshoe frames, drum hoops, small implement handles, spoons, and dishes. Douglas maple (Acer glabrum) bark was used by the Saanich of southern Vancouver Island as an antidote for poisoning.

History of the Traveling Museum

The museum started while I was employed by Oregon State Parks (OPRD) in the Historic Preservation Office. There developed a need to train OPRD field in state laws protecting archaeological sites and artifacts as well as increase staff understanding of the nature of, and value of, cultural resources.

In the beginning, I simply developed a slide show presentation using Microsoft PowerPoint on state laws and regulations. Then I began adding reproduction artifacts so the field people could get a basic concept of representative projectile point chronologies.

My interest in lithics had an early start when I observed François Bordes making stone blades when I was a graduate student at the University of Arizona in the late 1960's. I had a replica Folsom point purchased from Don Crabtree in the early 1960's.

Soon I started tying the artifacts onto foam core boards with titles and a bit of descriptive text. Several Oregon flintknappers donated sample projectile points covering 10,000 years of stylistic changes. Many were done by John Fagan and Scott Byram. In 1980, at my own expense, I had Craig Ratzat make an atlatl and three darts and explored using the weapon system. Much later I commissioned Steve Allely, from Sisters Oregon, to make a reproduction Kalapuya bow with a compound arrow.

Scott Byram learned on his own from Napa Glass in California. The mountains along the east side of Napa Valley include one peak called Napa Glass Mountain containing obsidian. He took a class from Errett Callahan, then he worked with Alex Atkins, an Oregon knapper. Scott then mostly worked with Glass Buttes obsidian making large bifaces. He taught lithics classes, where knapping was one aspect of the work, as well as analysis with an on-site emphasis. The wealth blades Scott made for use in dances by Oregon and California tribes are his proudest accomplishments. He also taught a workshop for the Mohawk at Kanawake who were very quick learners.

I used the projectile points to make compound arrows and atlatl dart foreshafts, and mounted them onto foam core boards with information about time periods and changes in styles through time. I also began to add more boards covering different areas of material culture. I began to make replica/reproduction artifacts copied from the over 10,000 archaeological survey and excavation reports on file at my office.

I began to take the exhibits to State Park events outside the training process. At Willamette Mission State Park, one of the events included members of a black powder rendezvous group. I began interacting with some of them. I learned about the Society of Primitive Technology and their bulletins. I subscribed and purchased all of the initial bulletins. The publications had descriptions of how to make replica/reproduction artifacts. I used this knowledge to make more items.

The museum was about Oregon and its cultures, and this included the ecological zones of the Northwest Coast, Columbia Plateau, Inter-Mountain, Great Basin, and California cultures. So I made, or traded for, or purchased, representative reproduction/replica artifacts for all of those human adaptations.

The exhibits began to have a theme: Oregon prehistory, cultural adaptation, and technological solutions required by those adaptations. I began to emphasize the large range of human knowledge developed to allow those cultures to survive and thrive. I gained a dislike for the word "primitive", and emphasized the creative nature of past human adaptations.

As the exhibit grew in size, I quit the foam core boards, that had to be rebuilt after every event due to damage, heat/cold and moisture warping. I replaced them with a 1/4 inch thick PVC called Sintra that I bought in 4 x 8 sheets and had cut into 1 x 2 display boards. Sintra is a rigid board of expanded closed-cell polyvinyl chloride (PVC) extruded as a sheet with a low gloss matte finish. The text, photos, or drawings were placed under 1/8 inch Plexiglass clear acrylic sheets cut to size and mounted with small bolts for easy change, updating or replacement.

After I retired, I began wood carving and joined Salem's Capitol Carvers. I carved reproduction NW Coast masks, spindle whorls, and knife handles, among other items. I also carved soapstone artifacts such as smoking pipes, atlatl weights, paint pots, and oil lamps. I learned how to hand-make cordage, and made nets, handle wraps, and bags. I started growing fiber (cordage and basketry) plants as well as native food plants.

I divided the exhibits up into domestic, hunting, and fishing groups because I was storing them upright in cardboard boxes with a cardboard divider between each board. In addition, I made sub-groups based on raw material technologies: stone, bone, fiber, wood, shell, and leather.

The exhibits also included working examples such as a pump drill, the atlatl and darts, the bow and arrow, a toggling harpoon, bow fire drill, and a bull roarer. Loose exhibits too heavy or too cumbersome to fit onto display boards round out the exhibits.

I began working with Goode Jones and Dale Coleman who had founded Echoes-In-Time, workshops in early living skills. Both Goode and Dale contributed replica/reproduction artifacts to the museum.

While the current exhibits (31) boards is a large exhibit, they still reflect only a small percentage of the range of human knowledge and technologies used over the last 14,000 years. I hope other archaeologists in other states will follow my lead in developing similar teaching aids. As noted, the exhibits were turned over to Dr. Patrick O'Grady, University of Oregon at the end of 2015.