Museum Techniques Class Projects Populate W.H. Over Museum

Museum Class photo. History students Diane Haiar (center) and Natalie Barclay (right) worked with W.H. Over Museum volunteer and professor emeritus Evelyn Schlenker to mount an exhibit featuring items from a 1930s beauty parlor in Clay County.

VERMILLION, S.D. – Taking the knowledge they learned in the classroom to the field, 14 students in the USD’s Museum Techniques course assisted with five projects at the W.H. Over Museum located on the Vermillion campus.

These exhibits were the students’ final project in the class. Matt Sayre, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of anthropology and sociology said getting hands-on experience in preparing materials for display in a museum energized the class. “As soon as we got into preparing our materials for the exhibits the class really took off,” he said.

The W.H. Over Museum showcases materials relating to the natural and cultural history of South Dakota. Also displayed at the museum are items from far flung lands, including an Egyptian mummy that was part of a curio exhibit in Nebraska in the early part of the last century. Examining and documenting the mummy’s bones was one project taken on by students.

Another project included a reproduction—using a 3-D printer from USD’s Department of Biomedical Engineering—of the skeleton of Homo naledi, a species related to humans discovered in South Africa in 2013. Students also curated exhibits on World War I and the Dust Bowl and assisted museum volunteers in assembling donated items from a Clay County beauty parlor in business during the 1930s.

History sophomores Natalie Barclay and Diane Haiar worked with W.H. Over volunteer Evelyn Schlenker on the beauty parlor exhibit, which features items donated from the family of Wanetta Hansen, who ran her business in Irene, South Dakota, before marrying and joining her husband to manage a farm nearby.

During their last class meeting, Barclay and Haiar finalized the exhibit in the museum by mounting a newly printed sign on the wall and by ironing the white cotton dress worn by a mannequin hairdresser. This course not only exposed the students to new experiences—it was the first time either had touched an iron—but gave them insight on how to best present items such as the standing hair dryer, the medusa-like permanent wave machine and photos of the finger-wave hairstyle that was popular at the time. With the aid of a couple of mannequins, visitors feel as if they are standing in a 1930s beauty shop.

“Some museums take a formalist approach to exhibits,” Haiar said. “In this exhibit, we took a contextualized approach. It seems like you are looking into a window.”

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