FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BEARS AND BEAVERS AND BISON—OH MY!
In a town where everyone wants to direct, here’s your big break.
You Are Invited to Help Curate an Exhibition . . .
Encounters: The Fur Trade
June 12, 2005, through October 8, 2006



Museum of the American West
234 Museum Drive, Los Angeles 90042
Contact, Jay Aldritch
323.221.2164, Fax: 323.224.8223

E-mail, <jaldrich@autry-museum.org>
Web site, <http://www.autrynationalcenter.org>
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed major holidays
Admission: Adults, $7.50; Seniors and Students, $5; Youths 7-17, $3; Children under 6 years, free



“Top Hat,” 1840’s-1850’s, beaver/leather/cardboard/paper/silk, 6 3/4 x 12 x 10 1/2”.

Los Angeles – This summer an exciting new exhibition opens at the Museum of the American West. In Encounters: The Fur Trade, opening June 12, 2005, the Autry National Center brings together the collections of the Museum of the American West and the Southwest Museum of the American Indian. Each museum contributes to the story of trade and diplomacy, family life and work, in some of the earliest encounters between Natives and newcomers on the American continent. Rare Plains beadwork, silver jewelry from Montreal, and Haida carvings of European ship captains will be displayed.

But the installation isn’t quite completed. The Fur Trade is the second in a three-part series of exhibitions that are designed to gather visitor input and comments that will inform a new permanent gallery named Encounters. Visitors to The Fur Trade will encounter a dynamic, changing exhibition that presents a fascinating topic but also solicits feedback on object selection, text length, visual environment, storyline, and other details. This unusual and innovative approach to evaluating the museum’s work continues a multiyear project to reinterpret the museum’s permanent galleries.

The first step will be the installation of two new galleries, Encounters and Journeys, which will tell the story of the West through the 1860s. The Encounters Gallery will explore the first meetings between Indians and Europeans from 1492 through the following 350 years, when diverse peoples, plants, animals, and even microbes from different continents were thrown together. In the region’s unique landscape, people from the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa traded goods and ideas, fought and stole from each other, created mixed families and cultures, and transformed the land. Along the way, they told new stories to make sense of the changes. From these encounters, in this place, the complicated and fascinating West of our day emerged.

This year’s installment is designed to test some of our plans for the Encounters Gallery. The Fur Trade sweeps from the Great Lakes to the Pacific, and from the Great Plains to the desert. Before 1850, existing Indian trade networks across the continent were linked to the markets of the United States, Europe, and Asia. But the trade also transformed the people of the West. Encounters: The Fur Trade explores stories of the merchants and hunters who met in trading posts and villages across the continent. Through trade, the many people of the West learned each other’s languages and cultures. They married into each other’s families. Some people made great profits, while others fell hopelessly into debt. Trade linked individuals, families, and communities in the West, and blended cultures. This installment follows the first test installation on the Spanish and Mexican North. The final installation will explore the American frontier.

One of the keystones of this experimental gallery is the presence of a specially trained exhibition evaluator. Evaluating a museum exhibition while it is in the various stages of development is standard practice. But working this closely with museum visitors to create the best possible exhibitions that address their interests and concerns is a hallmark of the Autry National Center’s evolving role as a model institution dedicated to visitor engagement and participation. Here, then, is the visitor’s chance to play the role of museum curator or educator.

The Fur Trade will have a few highlighted areas to encourage visitor exploration and comments. Stepping inside the gallery, visitors will first encounter a multimedia presentation that brings the first contacts to life. A visual time line with related objects bisects the gallery and highlights pivotal moments, starting with the great trading cultures of the Mississippi before contact and ending with the creation of the Métis, or mixed-race, culture in Western fur-trading communities. Since the inception of this project, attention has been carefully paid to the physical and intellectual accessibility of both the space and content. A number of sections include family-friendly text and hands-on replicas as well as a full-size replica of an American and Lakota trading post from the 1840s. Working with a panel of advisors, museum staff has paid close attention to the needs of visitors with special visual, hearing, or mobility requirements. One section of the gallery will include a Learning Laboratory with floor plans, photographs, sample stories, computer kiosks, and other pieces that guests can explore and comment on. The evaluator will work with visitors to test the success of each of these unique exhibition elements.

Please stop by this year to explore and test out our experiments—have fun, and be sure to tell us what you think!

About the Museum of the American West
The Museum of the American West provides rich learning opportunities for all people by exploring the myths and realities of the American West and its diverse populations. The museum enhances our understanding of the present by collecting, preserving, and interpreting objects and art, making connections between people today and those who have shaped the past.

The museum receives approximately 374,000 visitors annually and each year provides free guided tours and educational activities for more than 40,000 area schoolchildren. It is located in Griffith Park at 4700 Western Heritage Way, across from the Los Angeles Zoo, where the 5 and 134 freeways meet. Admission is $7.50 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and $3 for children. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and on major holidays except Thanksgiving and Christmas. On Thursdays, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Parking is free. Find out more about Encounters: The Fur Trade by visiting the Museum of the American West’s website at <http://www.autrynationalcenter.org> .



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