Of Teeth, Trilobites, and Tellus

Elisabeth Peulausk

It was late in the summer when I realized that in order to graduate in December, I needed to find an internship. After attempting to contact all of the museums within drivable distance of my home Ryan Roney, the curator from the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, GA, was kind enough to contact me and say that I could follow him around for 150 hours. The focus of the Tellus is geology, paleontology and technology, which might sound like an odd fit for a student majoring in anthropology. My goal, however, is to eventually become a curator, and this internship exposed me to many of the different facets of what a career in curation would entail. These “real world” experiences have not dissuaded me in my choice of career at all, so you know that the internship must have been a good one.

            What I appreciated most about my internship at Tellus were the varied tasks and situations to which I was exposed. For example, I was able to be involved in taking down an exhibit and setting up a new one in its place. I attended several different kinds of meetings with museum personnel, spoke with professionals in various positions in the museum sector, took a tour with staff members around the rarely seen parts of the Tellus given by the museum’s director and attended educational talks in the theater during Mercury’s transit in November. We went to visit the Booth Western Art Museum and tour their collections storage and to the Bartow History Museum and accompanying archives both of which, like Tellus, are part of parent organization Georgia Museums Incorporated. When opening a drawer or a box in collections storage you might find a megalodon tooth to touch or a radioactive geological specimen in a container marked with a chili pepper to not touch. On any given day you might have an impromptu presentation on photographic techniques from one of the world’s foremost photographers of mineralogical specimens or take pictures of staff members during their comical attempt to dress a mannequin of one of the Wright brothers after his suit was dry cleaned.

Although most days are filled with opportunities to move around and experience new things, there are tasks that have to be completed that can be repetitive and sedentary and these come in the form of computer work. The program used by the Tellus, as well as many other museums, is called PastPerfect and every specimen in the collection has an entry. In order to make each piece in the collection searchable, each entry has to be correct and there has to be standardization regarding what information goes into which field. These tasks were a relatively small part of my activities at the Tellus, however, and it did allow me to learn how to use a collections management program – an essential skill for anyone wanting to pursue museum work.

Aside from the myriad of smaller duties in which I was involved, the main ongoing curatorial project is that of a collections review. Simply put, it is the process of going through the entire collection, which is made up of thousands of objects, and making sure that things are where they are supposed to be and can easily be found. Updates in nomenclature and location are made in PastPerfect, and some objects might be deaccessioned (removed from the collection) or moved to a special collection for use by those interested in doing research. Pulling objects out of storage is always an adventure, as you have no idea what they will look like until you locate them. Many of them are pretty cool! I never thought that I would have a favorite mineral, but the aesthetic properties and greenish-blue hue of dioptase is very pleasing.

            For anyone wanting to pursue work in a museum I would highly recommend an internship at the Tellus. It is a beautiful facility filled with delightful people who are very willing to help you learn the ins and outs of museum work. It was often said to me that, when looking for a job, there is no substitute for experience.

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