Right now during a pandemic shutdown, people don’t have to actually visit the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology on The University of New Mexico campus to “visit” the museum. Like most museums, the Maxwell is closed right now because of concerns about COVID-19. But the museum staff is still working behind closed doors to keep the Maxwell a viable, valuable resource.
Following the maxim “You learn something new every day,” the museum has been presenting special features in an email every week to highlight treasures in the collection, educational resources perfect for at-home learning, research highlights, moments in Maxwell history, and a chance to ask the Maxwell staff a question about themselves, the museum, or the collection. The Maxwell website is also updated with the new content.
Maxwell director Carla Sinopoli first had the idea to do the posts when she was struck by how many school classrooms from kindergarten to high school visited the museum but would not have the opportunity with the campus pandemic shutdown.
“So my initial thought was that we should find a way to provide educational content to those audiences. But as we discussed this further, the staff and I saw this as an opportunity to serve all of our audiences as well as to work together on a joint project even as we were working apart at home,” Sinopoli said.
As she looked at other social media and museum websites, Sinopoli observed that many people (including herself) were turning to what museums offer – interesting educational content, exposure to fascinating and beautiful objects, and ideas for hands-on activities– while they are socially isolated. While not the same as being there, social media was a way to maintain the social interactions that museums foster even as they are physically closed.
“What I see is that they are an effective way to keep Maxwell Museum supporters engaged while the Museum is closed. We’ve added the Monday Missive by Carla that highlights Museum activities. We are serving our education mission digitally to a wide range of audiences. Also, all posts to social media are linked to the Maxwell website so that folks can learn more,” said Mary Beth Hermans, the Maxwell’s manager of public programs.
Object Monday lets website visitors examine pieces in the museum collection, how they were made, and what they were used for, along with videos for more information.
For instance, the Maxwell is recognized for its extensive Southwestern textile holdings, in particular its Navajo collection. So a recent Object Monday was about the Two Grey Hills style rugs made by Navajo weavers who began to develop the style around 1910-1915. Information about the featured rug included a biography about the weaver, Daisy Taugelchee, a video featuring a Two Grey Hills weaver, and book suggestions for further reading.
Sinopoli said Object Monday is a collaboration of collection staff who, with the help of students including Hibben Fellows, identify objects, research provenance, and write descriptions of the material and cultural associations. They also provide images of the object.
“Object Monday brings out collections objects that are not accessible on a daily basis to the general public,” Sinopoli noted.
Education Tuesdays provide great resources for home schooling and keeping children occupied. Among the many activities available, kids can learn
“Education Tuesday focuses on families with K-12 children and each week curator of Education Amy Grochowski and her team create learning activities that can be done at home,” Sinopoli said.
Learn more about the history of UNM and the Maxwell on History Thursdays.
On Fridays, Maxwell staff answers questions from readers. One of the most popular questions, Hermans noted, is: What is the oldest artifact in your collection? The answer, she revealed, is a collection of Paleolithic, or Stone Age, hand tools. One of the items is a bifacial handaxe, considered to be a “Swiss Army knife” for its many uses, including scraping hides, cutting wood, digging roots, and even thrown like a Frisbee for hunting.
The daily features don’t have a collective name but Sinopoli is open to suggestions.
“A lot of museums are using such names as “[your name here] at Home.” While Maxwell@Home could work, we plan to maintain a strong online presence long after this crisis is over, so that we can continue to serve current audiences and reach new ones,” she said.
Sinopoli said the Maxwell staff continue to work while the museum is closed to the public.
“Staff in the Office of Contract Archaeology are preparing research reports and planning future projects. Our Collection staff and Archivist are working on updating collection information as we further expand our database. And we continue to plan for future exhibitions when we can again welcome visitors into our galleries,” she enumerated.
Reader contributions welcome
The pandemic shutdown also prompted a rapidly-changing online exhibition called Covid-19: Conceptions of Sickness and Wellness. The exhibition takes a broad anthropological and historical look at sickness and wellness across New Mexico and beyond, and asks visitors to contribute their stories and experiences of living through this unique period of a global pandemic. Maxwell staffer Devorah Romanek curates the exhibition.
Readers can contribute their own COVID-19 pandemic experience to the exhibition.
“In this section of the exhibition we present short stories of people living through this pandemic in real-time. We invite you to offer your own story as well,” Romanek said, adding, “We continue to have contributions rolling in. Recently, scholars from Greece, Portugal and France made contributions, as well as Maxwell staff and former Maxwell director Dave Phillips.”
Anyone who would like to share a story can send an email with the short story (150 words or less) and one or two images to Romanek. As many stories as possible will be published, and by sending a story and images via email authors are granting permission to publish.
“We feel that everyone can learn something from the posts and we are increasing our reach to new audiences with every shared post,” Hermans said.
“We are always looking for new ‘Ask the Maxwell’ question and new ideas on how we can serve our audiences. Please follow us on social media (Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, Twitter, YouTube), share our posts with your friends, and send us your questions and suggestions,” Sinopoli said.
Requests to receive the Monday Missive email with all the Maxwell news can be sent to Hermans.