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Curators' Canyon research takes them to the edge

by Hyacinth Rucker | Mar 19, 2016

On a cold mid-November morning in 2015, curators James Nottage, Johanna Blume, Ashley Holland and Scott Shoemaker walked to the edge of the Grand Canyon to watch the sunrise. That moment—a chance to experience a natural wonder that has inspired millions through centuries—prefaced two days of intensive study with the National Park Service, uncovering items, histories and stories to present in the Eiteljorg’s The Grand Canyon exhibition.

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Curators at Moran Point, the Grand Canyon. Left to right, James Nottage, Johanna Blume, Ashley Holland and Scott Shoemaker.

The curators’ trip is just one example of the two years of preparation and planning that goes into each exhibit at the Eiteljorg. Previously, the museum conducted a survey of audience expectations and needs, and our curators reviewed collections at other museums and libraries, studied art and artifacts and conducted historical and other content research. Data gathered from these varied sources inform the development of our programs and exhibitions.

Digitization enables Eiteljorg exhibit teams to do extensive research remotely. But there’s no substitute for visiting art collections and historical sites first-hand. To develop The Grand Canyon, our staff studied books, documents, art and artifacts at institutions from California to New York before ultimately traveling to the south rim of the Canyon itself. Their travels included stops at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Heard Museum in Phoenix and the Museum of Northern Arizona to survey Native American baskets, pottery and other artifacts, along with paintings, photographs and manuscripts. The Cline Library at the University of Northern Arizona was a rich repository of photographs, documents and other references.

And through the cooperation of the National Park Service, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, we incorporated many special objects into The Grand Canyon exhibition.

For Scott Shoemaker, the Eiteljorg’s Thomas G. and Susan C. Hoback curator of Native American art, history and culture, the Canyon trip was a first-ever journey to the American landmark and an invaluable experience. “Even in-depth reading about the Grand Canyon does not do it justice,” he said. “Being there tied together the Canyon’s layers of history and the stories of the peoples who are a part of it. It helped me understand the breathtaking magnitude and beauty of the space. It really made the depth of time and place tangible.”

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