Our Graduating Graduate Assistants – Allison Hennie

hennie_photoAs we move toward the end of this school year, our four graduate assistants Patricia Harris, Allison Hennie, Brooke Mundy, and Carolyn Trimble will “graduate” from Chucalissa.  Over the next few weeks we will feature the contributions of these individuals to the C.H. Nash Museum and their future plans.

To begin Allison Hennie has been a GA at Chucalissa for the last three semesters while completing the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program and her first semester of PhD studies in the Department of Earth Sciences.  Beginning the Fall Semester of 2014, Allison will serve as a Teaching Assistant in Earth Sciences.

Before and during her tenure as a Chucalissa GA, Allison used her training in architecture from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.A. in Applied Anthropology, coupled with her professional experience to coordinate several projects at Chucalissa including:

  • Designed and coordinated AmeriCorps build projects including the dormitory pergola, temple mound ghost house, and nature trail rain shelter.
  • Utilized Chucalissa as a living laboratory in which to experiment and consider a landscape literacy of the 40-acre earthwork complex.  (See her recent photo blog.)
  • Enhanced outdoor portions of the museum and envisioned the future of indoor museum spaces.
  • Created a series of graphic design elements to educate visitors about the Chucalissa site and the Museum’s offerings.

Allison credits the experience at Chucalissa as instrumental to her creating mission and vision statements for other museums and developing a focus for her PhD studies around the dual concepts of landscape literacy and the built environment.  She also reports that interaction with visitors at Chucalissa was a highlight of her GA experience.

Allison recently published an article in the journal Practicing Anthropology that reviews her evolving interests in museums, anthropology, and architecture.

We wish Allison the best in her future studies!

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Small Museums That Produce Big Results!

small museumRead the guest post of our Graduate Assistant, Brooke Mundy, on the American Association of State and Local History’s Small Museum Community Blog.  She writes about how being a graduate assistant at a small museum like the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa produces some big payoffs.

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Chucalissa Represented at Museum Advocacy Day

harris blogRead the guest post of our Graduate Assistant, Patricia Harris, on the American Association of State and Local History’s Small Museum Community Blog.  She writes about the importance of Museum Advocacy for the small museum community.

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Introducing the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab

old lab

Chucalissa Laboratory, July 2007

by Robert Connolly

In July of 2007 I began work as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  Over the previous 15 years I had worked as an archaeologist and educator.  I particularly enjoyed my classroom presentations with prehistoric artifacts that give students a hands-on experience with the cultural materials.  Before passing a projectile point or ceramic sherd around the classroom, I would always say:

“These artifacts have lasted for hundreds and in some cases thousands of years.  It is a real privilege that we can to handle them today.  I want you all to be very careful with these artifacts so that the next time I go into a classroom those students will have the same opportunity as you do today.”

After giving that brief introduction, I was always impressed with the care that students would hold and then pass the artifact to their classmate.  I am pleased to say that in all of those years of classroom presentations, no student dropped (or pocketed) a single artifact.

With those classroom visits in mind, when I came to the C.H. Nash Museum in 2007, I had a vision to create a similar hands-on experience.  At that time, there had not been much in the way of research or analysis of cultural materials at Chucalissa, as demonstrated by the photograph of the laboratory in 2007.  The unused portion of the museum seemed an ideal space to repurpose as a hands-on lab.

today lab

2008 Opening of the Hands-On Archaeology Lab

At Chucalissa we have an abundant “educational collection” of ceramic sherds, stone tools, and historic artifacts.  These materials are from the many thousands of artifacts left at the Museum by collectors for over 50 years.  Although the C.H. Nash Museum has not accepted such collections for many years, the accumulation of artifacts that these unknown donors collected from equally unknown plowed fields have little research value, but are of tremendous educational value.  The educational collections were the materials destined for our hands-on lab.

In December of 2008, one of our graduate assistants Jenn Graham (Dearman) and I initiated the project.  Over the next few months, the cluttered storage space was turned into the Hands-on Archaeology Lab.  I worked with Jenn and other students at the University of Memphis to create the displays.  For example, Anthropology graduate student Nora Bridges created the ethnobotany exhibit as part of her graduate work in a Native People’s of North America class I taught that semester.  The lab opened in April, 2008 to coincide with the Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Meeting held that year in Memphis.


Part of Traditional Dye Exhibit created by Jessica Hale, Anthropology Intern

Over the next few years, we added an exhibit or display to the hands-on lab every now and then.  For example, Department of Earth Sciences graduate student Emily Hassler completed a Museum Studies internship by creating three banner exhibits on lithic raw material trade and exchange.  Anthropology undergraduate Jessica Hale’s internship developed an exhibit on using natural dyes to color fabrics.  The list goes on . . .

Since the 2008 opening, the Hands-on Archaeology Lab has been a highlight for visitors, young and old alike.  As I always ask children when entering the lab “What do your parents usually tell you when you walk into a room like this?” and with few exceptions the response is “Don’t touch anything!”  I then let them know that in the Hands-on Lab they can touch everything, they just can’t take it home with them.  Like my classroom experiences in the past, particularly the younger visitors recognize how special the opportunity is and they treat the artifacts with great respect.

HD 08 lab2After five years of use, the exhibits are starting to look a bit shabby from wear.  We also have lots of new ideas we want to try out in the lab.  Over the past year we met with several focus groups of educators, visitors, community members, archaeologists, Native Americans, students, and others to get their input on the redesign of our facility.  Flowing from those discussions, we are very pleased to announce plans for the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab, named to honor the nearly 50 years of contributions by Ron Brister to the C.H. Nash Museum.  For a quick peek on what the lab will contain click here.  Watch for details soon on the plans the new Discovery Lab and how you can become involved!

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We say so long to Rachael Bogema


Hello all! My time as Administrative Associate at Chucalissa is quickly coming to a close, as I pack my bags and head over to Chattanooga, TN. Below are a few questions the staff had for me before I leave…..

How did you become interested in museums?

I have always loved museums, for their ability to teach through objects, their quiet, clean, cool space for contemplation, and their sense of discovery. I had never considered museums as a career, however, until I landed a job working as a part-time Curator of History at the Pink Palace Family of Museums. The position allowed me to explore what I love so much about museums and turn it into an academic path and eventual career. While finishing up my graduate program in Museum Studies I embarked upon an internship here at Chucalissa, and, over 4 years later, am still here!

What is the most challenging aspect of running a small museum?

The most challenging aspect of running a small museum is that there is no typical visitor, school group, situation, or daily routine, and sometimes things can get quite chaotic! This is also the most rewarding aspect of running a small museum- at the end of each day you really feel as though you accomplished something tangible, be that through interaction with a visitor, collaboration on a project, or small achievements towards an institutional goal.

What is the one thing that surprised you about working at Chucalissa?

That people still think this place is closed! But seriously, I am continually surprised at the number of lifelong Memphians who have never visited, or known the Museum existed, and am excited that they have finally made it our for a tour. I am also always surprised by the number of international visitors we host, and how knowledgeable they are regarding Native American history- I learn something from them every day!

 What was the funniest thing to happen to you during your time at Chucalissa?

I’m admittedly not a huge fan of nature, and I scare easily, so the funniest moments have always involved me scaring myself or unintentionally interacting with the vast wild life here at the Museum. Also, this.- link to Kiran’s blog, the “alligator” video

What is the one thing you have learned about yourself as a person from your time here at Chucalissa?

I have learned that even though I am only one person, and I certainly don’t have all of the answers, or even a few of the answers, my professional efforts can make a huge difference in the education and cultural perceptions of a visitor, and the relationship of a community.

Aside from anything you learned in the classroom, what would you say has been your biggest life lesson?

Elsie de Wolfe – “Be pretty if you can, be witty if you must, but be gracious if it kills you.”

I have truly enjoyed my time at Chucalissa, and will miss the staff, our visitors, and blog readers! I can always be contacted at Rachael.south@gmail.com, please say hello if ever coming through Chattanooga!

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A Simple Yet Effective Advocacy Opportunity

C.H. Nash Museum:

Check out Dr. Connolly’s blog on a great upcoming opportunity to promote your museum!

Originally posted on Archaeology, Museums & Outreach:

walker art

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has designated August 10 – 17 as Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum Week.  The AAM notes that this “work period” is an excellent opportunity to have legislators visit museums to see the role of U.S. cultural heritage institutions as a public resource for education and engagement.  This year, the AAM posted a 12-step guide for arranging the visits from the initial invite to thanking the official for their participation.  This advocacy event is a simple yet effective means for communicating with the individuals who vote on the funding for many of the programs that support our work.

For example, at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa we benefit directly from the Institute of Museum an Library Service (IMLS) programs, an agency that in the past few years has been considered by some as providing services that are not “core” to the Federal…

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Why an Art For Voice Camp?

art2by Penny Dodds

We are hardly ever asked in a museum, or given the time, to express our responses to the objects.  Historically, a museum is set up to either meditate on an object or learn from it.  I wonder what an African-American would paint after viewing a slave deed.  What colors would s/he use?  What shape would the deed become?  Still, the shape of a box?  Or, would it curl, explode?  Would other shapes and lines be added around it to tell a story of destruction?  How would a European-American express his/her reaction?  What would the painting look like if an immigrant migrant worker of today were to create his/her response?  And, if these artistic reactions were displayed to the greater community, what additional responses would arise?  Through this process, would it not be possible to discover more interpretations of our history?

This is the basis for the camp “Art for Voice” that is taking place this summer at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  The Museum’s mission includes interpreting the traditional cultures past and present at the archeological site where the Museum is located.  My intention is to offer children ages 7 to 17 the opportunity to view some of the objects in the collection and respond artistically to them.  We will then hold an exhibition of the work, selected by the artists themselves, to share with the community.  The Art For Voice Camp is a new type of program for the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  As an artist beginning a career as a museum professional, I find the idea of engaging the museum’s community with the objects in a way that empowers them to voice their inner reactions is an exciting risk.


I acknowledge several factors which contribute to the envisioning of this summer project and its potential success and continuation.  First, the leadership of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, values the community that the Museum serves. The staff is actively open to new ideas in order to create a strong, active relationship with the people who live near the Museum.  The leadership is there and is not so much invested in the concrete results of numbers, but in the continuation of risks, assessment, and consistency of follow-through on the Museum’s part.

Second, the Museum gives attention to the perceived needs of the community.  As a single mom who struggles financially for childcare and someone who has always perceived museums as elitist institutions, I used this lens to create a program that would serve the parents/guardians and their children in multiple ways.  We made the camp free so that cost would not be a barrier for parents if they wanted their children to come.  We are giving the children all the materials to take home so they may continue to use them.   The participants will view objects in the museum; taking them out of the context of “for knowledge only” and allowing them to respond individually.  In this way, the museum does not stay a place of power and definition but a place of multiple interpretations.

Third, as an artist, I decided to use artistic sketchbooks so that the children could see their efforts as a process – a story – and not feel the pressure to create “works of art” to hang on the wall;  but, rather, to create a keepsake of self-expression.  The framework of the classes will be on listening to their ideas of what a line tells them; on what different shapes make them feel; on the emotional connection each camper feels when looking at yellow, for example.  I am introducing them to the elements of creating a painting and letting them use these frameworks to bolster their own stories and artistic sensibilities.

And, lastly, we will host an exhibition for all the campers, their families, their friends, and the greater community.  This is where the children can learn that their intentions may not always be seen as artists; those that view their work may, again, interpret through their own lenses, the object, the artistic responses, and then the conversation goes on and on.  The voices they strengthen through expression; the power and excitement of entering a museum and being allowed to respond and share this response is, hopefully, a life skill they will continue to develop.  They may leave camp feeling confident that there is no “right way” but rather happiness in slowly appreciating their own way of creating art and responding to the objects we save that tell the stories of our shared past.

Penny Dodds is the instructor and coordinator for the Art For Voice Camp at the C.H. Nash Museum.  She is also a student in the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis.  She can be contacted at pdodds(a)memphis.edu

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