Alumna Melanie Anderson created a new superhero in collaboration with Jonathan Dombrosky, a recent grad from the Department of Anthropology at The University of New Mexico. Catfish Cleo made her debut last month as an Archaeology Superhero in educational resources for kids on the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology website. The 10-minute video features research on Maxwell collections of ancestral fish and human impact on the environment. 

Melanie Anderson
Melanie Anderson

Anderson graduated in December 2020 with a BA in Anthropology with a concentration in Archaeology and is headed to pursue her master’s degree in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies at the University of Iceland this fall. Dombrosky graduated with his Ph.D. this month. He has conducted research about fish and fishing Ancestral Pueblo archaeological sites along the Middle Rio Grande basin of central New Mexico.

Anderson took a class in the Fall 2020 semester, Exhibition Design and Development from the Museum Studies department, which was taught by Maxwell Museum Curator of Exhibitions Devorah Romanek. The final project was to make an online exhibition that had the potential for publication.

Students in Romanek’s class were paired up with various collections and curators from the Maxwell to create an exhibition. Anderson was connected with Dombrosky and his research with Rio Grande fishbone specimens.

“Amongst all of these potential themes we talked about, he emphasized the importance of fish in American Southwestern archaeology and how many people would not expect fish to be as valuable to this area of study as they are. With this heavy emphasis, I thought of the idea to make the Rio Grande fish superheroes. This theme also allowed me to lower the age of the target audience for this exhibition,” Anderson explained.

Studying ancient fishing
Jonathan Dombrosky

“When I was put in touch with Melanie, I knew she would have to find something that she found interesting about my dissertation research. There’s a lot of information there and it can be overwhelming. So, I presented her with a bunch of different topics and she gravitated to the idea of fish as superheroes and to design the online exhibition for kids,” Dombrosky said. “I thought it was a novel idea ̶ not something I would have thought about at all ̶ and she completely ran with it. I think that Melanie was able to find a thread and an audience that mattered to her really shows in the final piece. Her passion for the topic and self-motivation are the reasons her online exhibition is among the first to be posted from the class.”

After Anderson completed the project and graduated, Romanek asked if she would work with the museum to publish it.

During the pandemic shutdown, the Maxwell staff shifted to preparing virtual exhibits to bring the museum to online visitors and keep the museum a viable, valuable resource. The museum has been presenting special features in a weekly email throughout the last year to highlight treasures in the collection, research, moments in Maxwell history, a chance to ask the Maxwell staff questions about themselves, the museum, or the collection, and educational resources for children.

For the exhibition, Anderson designed, wrote, produced, and developed the video, including narration, writing out the panels, creating a document to accompany the exhibition, and creating Catfish Cleo. As the project’s curator, Dombrosky provided his research and answered questions pertaining to it, assembled and provided the fish bone specimen that are in the exhibition, contributed feedback on the final edits, and provided assistance with technical details. Maxwell Museum collections manager Karen Price took fish bone specimen photographs and archivist Diane Tyink provided pictures.  

All visitors, though especially K-12 viewers, can join superhero Catfish Cleo as she explores the Rio Grande, Archaeology, fish bones, how humans impact the environment, and how they can take care of the earth. A complementary guide for children offers eco-friendly craft projects, information on helping the planet Earth, and resources for kids interested in Archaeology and becoming an archaeologist.

“This was an amazing, fun, and informative project. It was such a bright spot in the time of COVID to have been able to teach the class for Museum Studies and to pair up students either with other students, graduate and post-graduate, and/or Maxwell curators and get so much creative synergy going, and harness that energy to create for some wonderful online exhibitions,” Romanek enthused. 

Currently, there are no plans to make this specific exhibition a series, Romanek said, adding, “However, a number of the online exhibitions that students of my Museum Studies class created are being further developed, and a number of them will be coming out over the next some months. Two more video exhibitions will be published in the coming weeks and will focus on the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology’s photo archives, and the photographs of Charles Fletcher Lummis, and John Collier, Jr., so stay tuned!” 

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