Celebrating diversity, creating community

 Lisa Callahan and Patty Kirk from Moxie display a traditional Akah woman’s jacket from Laos.
Lisa Callahan and Patty Kirk from the downtown DeKalb business Moxie display
a traditional Akah woman’s jacket from Laos.

If a picture can tell a thousand words, than an object can tell a million.

And the Anthropology Museum at Northern Illinois University has more than 20,000 objects to choose from.

Which objects would you choose and which stories would you tell?

The museum decided to ask students, faculty and staff, community members, civic leaders and even the NIU mascot, Victor E. Huskie, to choose which objects should be part of a 50th anniversary exhibition and which stories should be told.

Titled “Curated by DeKalb: 50 Years of the Anthropology Museum,” the exhibition highlights the depth, richness and contemporary importance of the museum and NIU. It invites visitors to explore the breadth of human achievement and innovation that have been represented within the museum walls over the years.

The exhibition is now open and will run through May 2015. A special opening reception featuring refreshments and live music will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23, at the museum, located in Cole Hall on the NIU campus. The event is free and open to the public.

“The exhibit is about the people in the community, the cultural objects that inspire them and the connections that the Anthropology Museum can inspire,” says Jennifer Kirker-Priest, director of the Anthropology Museum.

A Khon mask presented as gift to NIU from Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand.
A Khon mask presented
as a gift to NIU
from Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand.

Highlights include:

  • The museum’s most recent acquisitions, two breathtaking Khon masks, presented as gifts from Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand in commemoration of her visit to NIU in September 2014. The masks were selected for the exhibition by Chris McCord, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “They tell us about the ancient tradition of the khon dance, a centuries-old part of the Thai royal court,” he says. “They symbolize the 50 years of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and its engagement with Thailand. Most compelling to me, they are of part of a unique moment in NIU’s history.”
  • A kolintang ensemble of suspended gongs, drums and other percussion instruments from the Philippines, selected by the NIU Orientation leaders. Orientation staff members must work together to make everything run smoothly during orientation, and they picked the kolintang because the instrument is made up of lots of pieces that work together to make beautiful music and sounds. A team of musicians is required to play the kolintang.
  • A traditional Akah woman’s jacket from Laos, which is plain on the front and highly decorated on the back. The staff at DeKalb business Moxie fell in love with it and selected the item for the exhibition. They said they were drawn to this jacket because it looks modern, yet is handcrafted and beautiful, like something vintage they would have in their store. Akha is one of dozens of Hill Tribes located in the mountains of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. The style of embroidery helps people know which Hill Tribe the wearer comes from.
  • A ceramic dog figurine from Latin American, where the animals are indigenous. The figurine was selected by – you guessed it – Victor E. Huskie.

“When you think about history, some of it is people and places, but a lot of it is things,” says Marc Strauss, one of the exhibition’s co-curators and a member of the NIU Board of Trustees. “The Anthropology Museum at NIU lets people see and touch history.”

Victor E. Huskie proved a little biased in his selection for the new exhibition: a ceramic dog from Latin America.
Victor E. Huskie proved a little biased in his selection for the new exhibition: a ceramic dog from Latin America.

In 2012, the museum was relocated from the Stevens Building to nearby Cole Hall, where a new state-of-the-art facility delivers invaluable engaged-learning experiences for students and community members alike. Now home to more than 20,000 ethnographic and archaeological objects, the museum planned its golden anniversary celebration to remember its history, strengthen the NIU campus and community relationships and spotlight the contemporary relevance of anthropology.

The museum specializes in cultures of Southeast Asia, New Guinea and the Southwest and Plains Native Americans, but also holds smaller collections from Africa, modern Greece, Mesoamerica and South America. Strengths include textiles, baskets and ceramics from throughout the world. With a dynamic schedule of exhibitions and programs, the Anthropology Museum is a cultural destination for residents and visitors to DeKalb.

“I think it’s important to understand that DeKalb County is a small part of the whole picture, and that there are other cultures, other ways of doing things, and how blessed we are to be here,” says Sue Breese, one of the exhibition’s community co-curators and director of the Douglas C. & Lynn M. Roberts Family Foundation.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free and all are welcome. For more information, call (815) 753-2520 or email AnthroMuseum@niu.edu.

Student-Orientation-Leaders
Orientation staff members picked the kolintang, made up of lots of pieces that work together to make beautiful music and sounds.
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