Tuzigoot Museum unveils a new look

7-year restoration project nears completion

VVN/Jon Pelletier<br>
Russell Varineau, formerly of the Arizona State Museum, came out of retirement to lend his expertise as a museum designer during the Tuzigoot restoration.

VVN/Jon Pelletier<br> Russell Varineau, formerly of the Arizona State Museum, came out of retirement to lend his expertise as a museum designer during the Tuzigoot restoration.

CLARKDALE - The National Park Service oversees the preservation of 42 million artifacts from America's attic.

Collectively they tell the nation's story -- from the prehistoric to the historic, including the natural world.

It is a challenging task by any measure, but made even more challenging because the story they tell has a tendency to change with the times.

At face value, history appears static. What's done is done. But history doesn't work that way. As our view of the present changes, so does our view of the past.

That being the case, those whose role it is to archive, curate and interpret history's leftovers must evolve with the times.

It is a concept the National Park Service understands and the reason they are constantly renovating something, somewhere within their 360-museum inventory.

Beginning last November, it was Tuzigoot's turn.

Getting started

When Tuzigoot (known as Vesoar Ruin at the time) was excavated in 1933-1934, an agreement was made between the United Verde Copper Company, owners of the property, and the Archaeological Committee of the Yavapai County Chamber of Commerce, the ones managing the project.

It called for splitting any and all artifacts between the copper company, the Smoki Museum in Prescott, and the Arizona State Museum in Tucson.

As a result, a large portion of the hoard left the valley. But a sizable chunk stayed, thanks to United Verde.

The company specified in the agreement that their portion was to be "repaired and cataloged at the expense of the United Verde Copper Company and shall be displayed in Clarkdale, Arizona, at all times."

That collection became the basis for the Tuzigoot Museum.

New building

Much of the repair and cataloging took place in the Wingfield Dry Goods Store in downtown Clarkdale as the excavation work was taking place.

But by late 1935, with funding from the Works Projects Administration and the donation of additional land from the new owners of the United Verde mine, Phelps Dodge Corporation, a new museum was built adjacent to and below the Sinagua ruin.

Built in a style not unlike Tuzigoot itself, with stone walls and a viga-supported roof, the building has served its purpose since it first opened in 1936.

The museum itself has been revamped in one fashion or another several times since 1936. It was completely overhauled in the early 1960s.

However, as was earlier stated, things continue to change in the museum world, especially when a museum's collection includes Native American artifacts.

New world

In the 1990s, a new law, the Native Americans Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, forced a quantum shift in how the National Park Service museums did business.

"What everyone was doing wasn't necessarily wrong at the time, it was just different practices then. The law required all federal repositories look over their collections for any affiliation their items may have with funerary objects," says Sue Fischer, exhibit specialist for NPS.

With the remains of over 400 individuals unearthed during the Tuzigoot excavation, it was no surprise to anyone when several of the artifacts on display were determined to have come from burials.

The display cases eventually thinned as several UFOs (unidentified funerary objects) were sent back to their rightful kin.

New business model

As the repatriation of those items was going on, new research and collaborative work with several Arizona tribes also brought on a reinterpretation of the story the artifacts told.

In 2004, NPS Superintendent Kathy Davis decided it was time for a major overhaul.

"Since the last time the museum was renovated there has been new research and new interpretation of the information. We didn't want to drastically change the atmosphere, but we felt it was important to present the new findings and incorporate the Native American viewpoint into the display," Davis says.

It was also time to assess the building itself and, perhaps most importantly, take a look at new and better practices for preservation.

"It was supposed to have been a refreshing of the displays and some of the artifacts. But after we started looking into the building we decided we needed some infrastructure upgrades including all new electrical, sprinkler system and security system," Fischer says.

New look, old stuff

Fischer started developing the exhibits 2005. She collaborated with several tribes that have claims to the Verde Valley, in developing the story of Tuzigoot.

She also worked with graphic designers, architects and craftsmen of all sorts, including a team of preservation and restoration experts at the Arizona State Museum and the NPS Western Archaeological and Conservation Center.

"It is an artifact-rich exhibit," says Gwen Gallenstein, NPS museum curator out of Flagstaff. "I don't know how many artifacts exactly are on display but there are dozens of items that have never been displayed, including some items donated from the Coconino National Forest."

One of the priorities of everyone involved was to keep the old display cases, which Park Service apocrypha attributes their construction to local high school students. The solid walnut cases were reworked to make them more visible to the visitor yet more preservation-friendly to the objects beneath the glass.

Several of the ollas, the huge storage vessels, were sent to the WAC Canter where they were disassembled, cleaned of old glues and fillers and reconstructed using new epoxies and leaving more to the imagination.

And additional artifacts, including jewelry, fabrics, stone tools and items from the archaic period, were brought out of storage or donated by other institutions to round out the collection and better tell Tuzigoot's story.

The result of the nearly half-million-dollar overhaul is an open-air display, that is much friendlier to both the artifacts and the visitors and one that, like Tuzigoot itself, will stand the test of time.

Fischer says it is her sincere hope that the public approves of its the new look.

"It has been interesting and scary. I have heard opinions go both ways between changing it and keeping it the same. We have tried to achieve a balance. We have tried to keep its historic feel," Fischer says.

"The Tuzigoot Museum is one of a handful of historic museums left in the Park Service inventory. That alone makes it unique and special. We hope the new displays make it even better."

What: Reopening of Tuzigoot NM Museum

Where: Tuzigoot NM, Clarkdale

When: Friday, June 3, to Sunday, June 5, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

How Much: Free

Contact: (928) 634-5564

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