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Thousands of pieces of history: Logan Museum has treasures in the basement

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Posted: Saturday, July 13, 2013 10:00 am

There’s a skinny man whose head doesn’t belong to his body underneath the Logan Museum of Anthropology on the Beloit College campus.

Thankfully the man is only “Flaco,” a sculpture from Veracruz, Mexico that is one of the more than approximately 300,000 artifacts residing in storage at the facility.

CT scans revealed a few years ago the beloved artifact is actually composed of pieces from different sculptures.

His story is unique, but not unheard of in a museum with such vast collections as the Logan has. There are many mysterious artifacts.

“We have a collection of over 400,000 artifacts and usually have about 15 to 20 percent of our collection on display,” said Nicolette Meister, Curator of Collections at the Logan Museum.

The Logan Museum was founded in 1893 with a gift from Frank G. Logan. From the very beginning the museum has focused on having a hands-on approach to its collection.

Meister says that only having a small fraction of any museum’s collection showcased is very common, and Beloit College actually has more pieces on display than many others.

A large storage unit called “The Cube” allows for thousands of pieces of ceramics and basketry to be shown, but down in the basement there are artifacts that almost never see the light of day.

“There are many phenomenal pieces with unique stories down in the basement,” Meister said. “It’s sad in some ways that we can’t bring them out all the time.”

Everything from beaded rugs that were showcased at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair to wood and stone statues, tools and masks can be found in white metal cabinets and drawers, only seen under buzzing florescent lights.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate student Barbara McClendon and Beloit College senior Emily Starck are two of the very few who have the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes at the museum every day.

McClendon currently is working with Bronze and Iron Age artifacts through doing research about their origin and digitally cataloging them. Each day she is amazed by the artifacts she handles, all of which are thousands of years old.

“We have an excellent collection of lake dweller and Celtic Iron Age pieces,” she said. “A lot of the items came to the museum in the 1890s, so there is a lot to be done to get the records up to what we’d like them to be.”

From ornate pins to deer antler tool heads, McClendon has plenty of artifacts to keep her intrigued, and there is still much to be done.

Starck, a native of Waukesha, is doing some sleuthing of her own at the Logan Museum this summer. She is trying to learn more about a female Tau tau.

Tau taus are a type of statue from Indonesia that are placed at the graves of Toraja people. She wants to learn where the Tau tau came from and discover how she ended up tucked in a space between two cabinets many years later.

“I really hope I can find out about her,” Starck said.

Although McClendon, Starck and visiting curator of archaeology Sara Pfannkuche may not find the answers to all their questions, they’re excited by the opportunity to sift through the usually unseen.

“There is still a lot of artifacts to go through,” Pfannkuche said, noting that she currently is researching pieces from northern Wisconsin.

Logan Museum director Bill Green says that while the museum has much of its collection stored, visitors can still enjoy seeing items upstairs. “The Cube” stays the same, but other exhibits rotate.

Three of the current exhibits on display are “Casimira’s Quandary,” “Beloit College Sons and Daughters in War and Peace” and “The Sacred Lives of Objects.”

The museum itself even has an interesting history, as it was built in 1869 to honor Beloit College and members of the community who died during the Civil War.

“The Logan is a teaching museum and it has an educational mission for Beloit College, but also to the broader community,” Green said. “Admission to the museum is free and we always welcome visitors.”

For more information on the Logan Museum’s hours, collections and to browse its ever-growing digital database, visit www.beloit.edu/bcdc/logan.

The Beloit College campus is also home to the Wright Museum of Art, which has a variety of collections and offers free admission. For more information, visit www.beloit.edu/wright.

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