"You'll see some new pieces and you can see the changes as they happen, like a behind-the-scenes look at how museums prepare these exhibits.”
The US national mammal is taking center stage in its homeland this week as the McPherson Museum opens the Kauffman Museum’s Bison Exhibit.
“It’s so interactive,” said McPherson Museum Director Anna Ruxlow. “There’s plenty of hands-on areas in the exhibit, like a section on the impact of bison on music. You can push a button and it will play ‘Home on the Range,’ or ‘Buffalo Gals.’ They also look at current companies and businesses that have bison in their title, like the Buffalo Bills football team, so they not only address the early days with massive hunting and conservation, but also how they’ve impacted our time.”
The bison exhibit is open at the McPherson Museum, 1111 E. Kansas Ave., now through Jan. 14, 2017. Ruxlow explained that the exhibit itself has almost as extensive a history as the bison.
“This exhibit has been around for 5 to 8 years, and when the president named the bison as the national mammal of the U.S. this year, the exhibit was shown in Washington, D.C. The museum wanted to put this exhibit back out on the road, but since it had traveled for so many years, they needed to fix up a few parts and replace some things first. We have the perfect exhibit hall for them to set it up and fix those elements, so they let us show it here for free if they can use the space to make those repairs,” Ruxlow said. “So some parts may be off display while they’re replacing them, but there are photos or maybe an empty spot. That means if you come back next month, you’ll see some new pieces and you can see the changes as they happen, like a behind-the-scenes look at how museums prepare these exhibits.”
To kick off the exhibit, the museum is hosting a Buffalo and More event on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the museum. Activities include Keven Hiebert’s “The Mercantile on the Plains” presentation at 10 a.m., Dianna Henry’s “The Wisdom of Corn” discussion and artifacts from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., prairie crafts from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Robert Button’s wood carving demonstrations from 1 to 4 p.m., and Fort Larned Ranger Ellen Jones will give a presentation at 2 p.m.
Though the day, visitors can explore an exhibit prepared by some of McPherson’s youngest curators.
“Paul Carver’s fifth grade class from Eisenhower Elementary School has an exhibit about the Wichita Indians, who used to live in this area. This was their next subject in social studies, so Paul thought acting as curators and exhibit developers would be a neat way to learn that material,” Ruxlow said. “Brett Whitenack and I gave a presentation on the Native Americans and asked them to do the exhibit and they were just in disbelief because they thought we were joking. So they made some artifacts to display and researched the exhibits, so it really showed them the process just like what we do here for our own exhibits.”
For teachers like Carver, real-life applications connect students to their projects, which might lead them to some interesting discoveries.
“We approached the task by developing links between what the students enjoyed or were curious about and paralleled them to what that would have looked like historically,” Carver said. “For example, we had one student who loves playing games in his free time, so we wanted to explore what type of games Native Americans played historically. Similarly, we had students who were interested in fashion, art, as well as many other things. I was most surprised by the variety of connections students made from their own lives, to those of Native American culture.
“I was pleased that the connections weren't surface level, but the students really approached this in a thoughtful and deep way that showed me they were thinking about the project in a way that told me they were processing Native American culture and doing so in a respectful way,” Carver continued. “Projects like this go beyond the textbook. It allows students to use their interests, creativity and skills to learn on a deeper level.”
On the other hand, museum directors like Ruxlow are more than happy to include young curators in the process.
“They’re the future. We may have sparked an interest with those kids, so there might be a museum director, a curator or a registrar in that class. Plus, they learned more about the history of the area they live in. Who was here before the Swedes and Germans came to Kansas? The Wichita Indians, and the bison of course,” Ruxlow laughed. “We hope the community continues to support us so we can use what we have here instead of leaving it empty. There’s something new every few months, so everyone needs to come check out what we have to offer, especially if you haven’t been here recently.”
For more information, visit http://www.mcphersonmuseum.com/ or call 620-241-8464.