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50 States of Preservation: Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, Arizona

March 6, 2017
Navajo Dinosaur pictorial rug
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This Navajo Dinosaur pictorial rug was woven by Louise Nez and purchased at MNA’s 1991 Navajo Arts & Crafts Show (https://musnaz.org/heritage/). All of the dinosaurs have been identified to species by MNA’s paleontologists.

Courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona.

This feature is part of a series we call “50 States of Preservation,” in which we are touring small and mid-sized museums, libraries, historical societies, and other repositories across the country to show how they are helping to preserve the nation’s cultural heritage.  Read other entries in the series here

Navajo woven Germantown Eyedazzler textile
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This Navajo woven Germantown Eyedazzler textile uses colorful yarns commercially produced in Germantown, Pennsylvania (E2850). It dates to around 1885-1900 and was donated to MNA by Walter G. Bimson.  MNA’s Navajo textile collection includes over 900 textiles. A downloadable pdf on the collection is available at http://musnaz.org/collections/our-collections/anthropology/ethnographic-holdings/.

Courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona.
Hopi katsina doll
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This Hopi Hemis Kachin-mana katsina doll dates to 1920-40 and was received as a bequest from Pauline Annon (E11866). MNA’s Hopi and Zuni katsina doll collection includes over 1400 dolls.

Courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona.

Inside the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) in Flagstaff, rays from the rising sun are cast onto the interior wall to mark the path between summer and winter solstices.  The building captures dramatic views of the San Francisco Peaks and uses native Coconino sandstone and plants for its walls and landscapes.  Staff from the museum consulted with local Native American tribes to integrate the natural landscape, address any concerns they had about its contents, and incorporate particular features they wanted, such as the orientation of the building’s entrance to the east.  Founded in 1928 by a zoologist and an artist, the MNA seeks to foster an appreciation of the history and culture of the Colorado Plateau, which extends across the states of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.  Over the last 15 years, with the support of seven NEH awards through the Division of Preservation and Access, the MNA has been able to preserve its large holdings of Native American cultural objects, artworks, and archives, which are viewed by 80,000 visitors each year.

The Easton Collection Center (ECC)
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The Easton Collection Center (ECC) is a privately funded, award winning, platinum LEED- certified storage facility that opened in 2009. Developed and designed in consultation with local tribes, more information is available at https://musnaz.org/collections/easton-collection-center/.

Courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona.
Easton Collection Center (ECC) solar equinox and viewing window
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Easton Collection Center (ECC) solar equinox and viewing window.  The Easton Collection Center is a privately funded, award winning, platinum LEED-certified storage facility that opened in 2009. Developed and designed in consultation with local tribes, more information is available at https://musnaz.org/collections/easton-collection-center/.

Courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona.

“The first NEH Preservation Assistance grant was transformative for MNA,” said MNA Collections Director Elaine Hughes, and “really set us on the path to making short- and long-term improvements.”  That 2002 award allowed the MNA to hire conservator Jude Southward to help develop the museum’s first preservation plan, enabling great strides in preservation and paving the way for construction of the Easton Collection Center.  Subsequent NEH awards funded tangible improvements in storing and preserving the collections: in 2004, to purchase a large, museum-quality storage cabinet to prevent harmful tarnishing of Hopi jewelry; in 2010, to rehouse and move the large katsina doll collection and the museum’s archival records; in 2012, to purchase four locking, fire-proof file cabinets to prevent loss of critical documents and archival materials; and in 2014, to rehouse acetate photographic negatives, which were rapidly disintegrating in their previous home.

MNA's Native American jewelry collection includes over 3,200 pieces.
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MNA’s Native American jewelry collection includes over 3,200 pieces. Improving their storage initially started with one case purchased through an NEH Preservation Assistance Grant. Additional NEH funds purchased more cases and allowed for the move of the jewelry collection to the ECC.

Courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona.
Katsina doll case
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Travel mounts were constructed with archival supplies provided by an NEH Preservation Assistance Grant. These mounts transitioned into storage mounts after the dolls were moved to the ECC, but are still used as travel mounts when dolls are loaned to other institutions.

Courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona.

The MNA’s collection of 650,000 objects tells the story of the Colorado Plateau’s people and natural environment.  For example, nearly 1,000 Hopi and Zuni katsina dolls date from the 19th century to the present, and include the work of many well-known carvers.  More than 5,000 prehistoric ceramics range from 500 CE to the mid-1600s and represent cultures including the Mogollon and the Anasazi.  Thousands of manuscripts document the museum’s holdings, and more than 100,000 photographs, including early images of Navajo and Hopi peoples, allow tribal members and the public to view the region’s history and to understand better techniques and design elements used to create pottery, basketry, and painting.  Along with tens of thousands of natural history specimens and object history documentation, donor correspondence, and many other materials, the Museum of Northern Arizona preserves the region’s human and natural history for visitors, researchers, and tribes.

Hopi wicker basket
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This Hopi wicker plaque with Crow Bride Kachina motif in natural dyes was woven by Nettie Masongyumptewa of Oraibi, Arizona, in 1949 (C993). MNA’s Native American basketry collection includes over 1200 baskets.

Courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona.
Conservator and Hopi weaver working on a piece
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This images shows Austin Lomatewama, Hopi weaving instructor for Hopitutuqaiki, the Hopi School (http://www.hopischool.net/), and Cara Varnell, textile conservator, discussing a belt loom in 2007.  This IMLS project focused on the development of textile storage techniques to facilitate tribal access by traditional cultural practitioners. Use of MNA collections in this manner has been occurring annually since 2005.

Courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona.

The NEH grants allowed MNA to move their collections from substandard storage, where the materials were at an imminent risk of deterioration, and to plan for long-term preservation of these irreplaceable collections.  “If not for funding provided by NEH and Institute of Museum and Library Services for our preservation efforts, the collections we care for would be in very dire conditions,” explained Hughes.  “No matter the size of the grant, we are grateful for all of the support we’ve received.”

Hopi ceramics in visible storage cabinets
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Purchased with NEH support, this is a view of Hopi ceramics in visible storage cabinets in the ECC. MNA’s ethnographic ceramics collection includes over 2,300 Native American ceramic pieces. 

Courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona.
Prehistoric pottery rehousing
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This image shows Carmen Li, MNA’s NEH-supported Move Coordinator and professional conservator, assessing  a storage mount created by a move volunteer for a prehistoric jar dating to around AD 1100. Funding for archival supplies for these mounts was provided by an NEH Preservation Assistance Grant.

Courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona.

In every state, NEH supports organizations that preserve humanities collections.  Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions (PAGs) fund projects that help safeguard photographs, letters, documents, prints, moving images, sound recordings, maps, drawings, artworks, textiles, furniture, and artifacts, making them available for future generations.  These collections help researchers, educators, and members of the public better understand the complex stories of the various cities, towns, and tribal groups that make up our nation.  Since 2000, NEH has made nearly 2,000 Preservation Assistance Grants to small and mid-sized organizations to preserve and care for their humanities collections.  In all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, PAG awards have funded preservation assessments, purchase of shelving, environmental monitoring equipment, and preservation supplies, and training for staff.  Organizations in all states and U.S. territories are eligible to apply, and the program encourages applications from those new to NEH.  The next application deadline Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions is May 2, 2017.  If you have any questions about this grant program, please contact us at preservation@neh.gov or 202-606-8570.  

Funding information

Museum of Northern Arizona received support through Preservation/Access Projects, PA-24324-02 and PA-50431-04; Stabilization Grants PZ-50119-07; Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections PF-50204-11; and Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions, PG-51047-10, PG-51650-12, and PG-52334-14.