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November 26, 2002

Anthropology Museum offers glimpses of history


For a woman whose job often takes her into the past, Terri Castaneda is looking into the future. The anthropology professor and museum director is trying to improve the campus Anthropology Museum, making it a fascinating and educational place for not only CSUS students but for all of Northern California.

"I want to bring the community onto campus," she says. The museum already draws several elementary schools, but Castaneda says she wants to see more visitors.

The museum, open on the first floor of Mendocino Hall since the University completed the building in 1990, owns several collections including artifacts from the Pacific Islands and South America as well as American Indian basketry and beadwork. There are usually several anthropology students holding internships in the museum.

Three interns curated the most recent exhibit, "Sewing What You Reap: An Ethnobotanical Exhibit Featuring California and Northwest Coast Basketry" which closes this month. Castaneda says this will be the last exhibit for the semester because there is an enormous amount of time and work that goes into the creation of displays. "You have to create a concept, design the drawings and then build it," Castaneda says.

The museum consists of a workroom, collection facility and gallery. The gallery is what the public would consider as the "museum," Castaneda says. That's the floor space designated for the displays and it consists of 1,000 square feet. Castaneda says she wants to create a more workable space. She and others have been toying with the idea of creating some sort of courtyard or reception area immediately outside the museum's doors. "You can refigure gallery space. There are so many ways to reinvent the space," Castaneda says.

She says she would also like to invite traveling exhibits to the University. Pooling resources with other CSU anthropology museums is another option Castaneda has considered. The size of the exhibit could be a hindrance, but Castaneda says sharing the collections with the Robert Else and Library galleries is a possibility. Each could take a specific angle of the exhibit, she says.

Castaneda has also observed the changes in museum design and has worked to incorporate some of the trends. Museums were once artifact-driven. Then, there was a trend toward dioramas - areas behind glass dipicting some type of scene, such as such as miners panning for gold. Castaneda says that after the diorama trend, "Museums moved to totally immersive environments, placing the visitor right in the center of say, the Kalahari."

Castaneda says that although museums are still somewhat in the immersive trend, "There's a return to artifacts. There's also a new desire to interact with past. Interactive exhibits are very popular," she says. "Sewing What You Reap," for example, allows visitors to touch materials used for the baskets and to examine pollen grains or plant fibers through a microscope.

The most important thing, Castaneda emphasizes, is that the exhibits are of interest to students, faculty and the public.

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