Museum collection a gold mine of Canyon treasures
Morans and more
GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - The largest ancient pot ever to be found in the Grand Canyon. The skull of an ancient ground sloth. Wreckage from the TWA/United plane crash over the Canyon. Paintings by Thomas Moran and Gunnar Widforss. These are only a few of the items found within the Grand Canyon's museum collection.
According to Colleen Hyde, Museum Specialist with the Grand Canyon National Park, the pot was found at the Grand Canyon, but likely wasn't made there.
"It is Sinagua. The clay comes from Verde Valley, halfway between here and Phoenix. That clay is found only there, so we know where it was made. They made the pot down there and then brought it up here," Hyde said.
Besides the skull of the ground sloth, skin and hair from the giant creature can also be found in the collection.
"They were quite large. There were two types that were found here in northern Arizona. The smaller of the two had a shoulder height of around six feet. The larger one had a shoulder height of around 12 feet," Hyde said. "They were very, very large, very small brain capacity. Thinking was not essential for this guy."
There are well over a million items in the park's impressive museum collection.
The collection covers areas from archeology, archived data, paleontology, biology, cultural history and more. Though there is no official museum for the public to view these items, they are available at the museum collection for visitors, Hyde said.
"We are a repository for the parks cultural and natural history," Hyde said. "If it has anything to do with Grand Canyon we can accept into our collection. That's pretty broad, so we have everything from early postcards and souvenirs to reports that are printed today. We don't necessarily wait for something to be 50-years-old or older to be put in the collection, because we know that if we do we won't necessarily be able to find it. So we look for things that are current also."
Every item in the collection is catalogued and entered into a database, Hyde said. The database is used by the National Park Service nationwide. Each item is catalogued with a unique number, complete with an intensive description of the piece in question.
"If somebody were to contact me and say 'I'm interested in John Wesley Powell.' I could print off a finding aid or e-mail that finding aid to tell them everything we've got on John Wesley Powell and then we can arrange for them to come in and do some research here."
The museum collection is open by appointment Monday through Friday, though Hyde said she realizes appointments may not always be possible.
"With only two of us working here it's always handy if we know who is coming on any given day," she said.
Those who visit the collection often make up large groups. A group of 15 visitors from Desert Botanical Garden from Phoenix made their way to the facility April 29. A group of 23 visitors toured the collection two days before. On the prior weekend over 30 visitors took the tour.
"We always ask that people let us know when they're coming if they can at all, just so there is somebody here to help them," Hyde said. "If people drop in we do our best to help them."
Collection administrators do not assign values to any of the items in the Grand Canyon National Park's collection.
"The park service is not allowed to actually assign a value to anything that is possibly being donated to us, because we don't want to say that's worth $5,000 and then find out it's really worth $50,000," Hyde said. "If somebody wants to donate something we cannot appraise it ourselves or assign a value. Everything in here is priceless. There's some stuff that you can still go out and buy on the market today obviously, but when you've got a Moran or a split twig, or a sloth skull, those cannot be replaced. How do you put a price on them?"
Grand Canyon National Park officials are currently working to create a number of museums that would house items found in the museum collection. These museums include a proposed art museum and a river running exhibit.
"The park is working to establish a variety of museums. We are a research and storage facility. We are not an exhibit facility. Our goal here is to store the items and maintain them for history's sake, so people can come here and do research, but as I said this is not a museum itself," Hyde said. "We make our research and materials available for any museums or exhibits that may come up, if it's appropriate."
Park service officials are currently working with the Grand Canyon Association (GCA) to create a permanent art museum that would be open to the public. Some proceeds from the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art will go toward that goal. The celebration will hold its second annual art event in September of this year. Art that could displayed at the proposed museum include two paintings from Thomas Moran, art created through the Artist in Residence program, modern pieces and more.
"We have two original Moran paintings and a couple of prints, including one chromolithograph, we have a couple of Gunnar Widforss paintings, one of those is currently on display at the Museum of Northern Arizona," Hyde said. "We have Robert Williams, we have Ralph Love, we have Mary Ogden Abbott - a wide variety of artists that have been influenced by Grand Canyon, but we don't have a lot of paintings just because, for years, we didn't have a space to store them or a space to exhibit them. GCA has taken on acquiring some new pieces, but we have a lot of the older pieces."
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