Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture – Seattle, University of Washington
Having cut my teeth at the University of QLD Anthropology Museum, and being surrounded by other great campus museums, I knew I’d need to stop in and check out the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington in Seattle. Universities benefit greatly for research and student use of campus museums – when I was studying, I got a chance to work in the gallery and collections, as well as putting together exhibitions. And the benefit of the museums being open to the public means greater reach of your exhibitions and materials.
After meandering through the campus from the bus stop, I was greeted by some beautiful totem poles and wooden carvings, plus a lush ethnobotanical garden. Ah, the things you can get away with in a climate like Seattle’s. It’s a beautiful and welcoming front to the museum.
Heading inside to the small lobby/main hall of the museum, I paid my entrance fee (a modest $10USD), and beelined straight for the Pacific Voices exhibition. My familiarity with ethnographic collections lies with Pacific materials, having studied & worked in Museums in Australia – so it was like a little trip home in a sense.
Grouped broadly into cultural/geographic groups, you start with Hawaii and wind your way through the gallery. The displays have a great range of artifacts and both historic and recent information about the cultures they are from. I loved the section of Hawaii that had a section on hula – you could listen to recordings, and they had this great card from a local Seattlite on how to do hula.
I really enjoyed this exhibition, the content and the way they tried to engage visitors, especially school groups. I’m biased, because I love South Pacific material culture especially, but everything was beautiful. I loved the puppets case, and – of course – the stuff on North West Pacific First Nations culture.
Upstairs there was also a great exhibition tying together NW Pacific art and objects from the collection with new pieces of art that inspired local native artists in Washington state. It was intriguing to see the influences of the collection material on the new forms of art. These were my favourites:
The bulk of the rest of the exhibition space was dedicated to natural history, in some part detailing research at UW, but also on the natural history of Washington state, following through a linear narrative. It was great for someone like me, who’d never been to that part of the continent, but I assume it’s invaluable for school students on visits also. Lots of stuff about glaciers, volcanos, shifting sea levels, and how that all shaped the landscape and ecology of the area. Lots of fossils and specimens, but I particularly enjoyed these artifacts. The gorgeous patterns of the tree slices and the colour of the stone tool had me enamoured.
If you find yourself in the U District of Seattle with a morning or afternoon to spare, I encourage you to visit the Burke Museum. If you’d like to punctuate your wandering of the galleries and gawking at the displays with a bite to eat or some coffee, there’s a cafe on the premises. Take the time to enjoy visiting a small museum that subsists on donations and admission fees.