By Kerstin Heinrich
Anthropology 2020 (minor in Theater & Performance Studies)
Yellowstone National Park Heritage and Research Center
I might be the first person in the history of Yellowstone National Park (YNP) to call Evan in the Copy Center and ask if he had construction paper. His answer was obviously no, but he asked if colored cardstock would do. I told him we would be up in Mammoth in 30 minutes.
You know when you have a terrible idea but become super attached to it? This was that. Andrea (the Research Library Intern) had an idea to make a kindergarten-style banner to go with the exhibit that we had just finished assembling. It was absurd, and we loved it. After a ludicrous amount of arts-and-crafts time, we had completed two banners that read “Youth in Yellowstone” and had strung it between our two large display cases.
In a period of controversial Visitor Use practices, we decided our three-case exhibit should be dedicated to how children experience the park, both as residents and as tourists. We combined aspects of the park that are marketed towards children, the lives of the children of rangers and superintendents, correspondence between YNP and Yogi Bear, and the stories of the Native American children that first lived in the park to highlight the range of experiences the Yellowstone wonderland provides.
It is rare for people to witness the magic of Yellowstone without directly visiting the park. However, a last minute decision by the Heritage and Research Center’s (HRC) permanent staff allowed me to be a part of bringing the park to the people. It was decided that I would join our Museum Technician and one of our Research Librarians on set for National Geographic’s Yellowstone LIVE!. I was brought along to act as security for the 40+ objects that we were asked to bring to the live production set out in West Yellowstone.
We had spent weeks pulling objects from exhibits and preparing display boxes and methods of transport for each collection item, and even though the production only ended up using two of the objects that we transported, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of something that was broadcast around the world. It was a chance to show the citizens of the public what they help to preserve and protect through the National Park Service.
I am frequently asked on tours of the facility if there will ever be a day when our 450,000+ museum collection will be on display for public viewing. In those moments I am forced to explain how difficult it is to preserve for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of future generations while also exposing collection items to light, pests, humidity, and dirt. But over the course of my ten weeks at the HRC, I have started to contemplate the balance between keeping something safe and letting other people see it. How we, not only as museum curators, but as people, can share what we hold sacred without fear of danger; how we can highlight our own range of experiences, and put them on display.
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