By Tish Johnston
Yosemite National Park Museum Intern
Despite the many clichés associated with Yosemite National Park for being breath-taking and awe inspiring, there are hardly any other ways to describe its majesty. Between the altitude and endless panoramas of granite monoliths and snowy peaks, your breath is truly taken away. Unlike the typical visitor who may have a week, or quite often only a weekend, to take in a fraction of Yosemite’s 748,436 acres, I get to spend 10 weeks living, working, and exploring here.
This summer I am an intern at the park’s museum in Yosemite Valley. My first two weeks have primarily involved working with the ethnographic collection of Southern Miwok and Mono Lake Paiute baskets. Using museum preservation methods to clean dozens of baskets with a vacuum and soft brush has been an exciting opportunity to learn new skills and read about the history of these tribes and their basketry practices. In my first week I attended a workshop hosted by the museum with conservators from UCLA/ Getty Conservation Program, members of an affiliated tribe, and other NPS summer interns where the various issues conservationists must address when working with Native American objects were discussed. For me an important takeaway from this dialogue was the relationship between the baskets and the natural environments they come from.
The traditional materials used in baskets from the Yosemite area are split willow shoots for the main body and bracken red fern root or redbud for the designs. These materials are native to the region, and unlike other visitors to the park, members of area tribes are able to collect plants from within the National Park for use in traditional practices such as basketry. Hiking and backpacking in the park I have seen many of these important plants, especially the redbud trees and shrubs. Coming into the office and working with dozens of baskets made sometime in the past century from these same organic materials is a special experience that connects the nature of Yosemite with the work of the museum. Using a gentle brush and specialized vacuum to reveal shiny redbud and bracken fern designs dulled by accumulated dust is a rewarding experience that is important to ensuring these baskets remain in good condition for years to come.
While I may have just started in Yosemite less than 3 weeks ago, my time here feels precious. I will be spending my remaining weeks working with the museum’s extensive basket collection and doing research for other projects connected to the mission of the National Park Service. Seeing connections between the work I do in the office and the outdoor adventures I have on the weekends is a unique opportunity this internship and this beautiful park allow me to enjoy.
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