Deborah Shelton is the director of the Arizona Historical Society's Southern Arizona division. She's been with the AHS for almost 19 years and has been the director for about a year and a half. The Buckeye native is excited about the AHS' new exhibit, Treasures of the Arizona Historical Society: An Experience in Visual Collections. The exhibit was constructed with an eye toward Rio Nuevo's planned Arizona History Museum; Shelton says the exhibit's walls and fixtures were designed so that they could be moved there. The ongoing exhibit--which will feature various items with all of their storage/archival documentation (including curators' notes)--opens with a special, free event from noon to 3 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 30. The event will include refreshments and tours of the museum's actual storage areas. The AHS is located at 949 E. Second St.; free parking is available in the garage at Second Street and Euclid Avenue. For more information, call 628-5774.
How did you get the idea for this exhibit?
Well, it actually started about a year and a half or two years ago. We were talking about the treasures of the Arizona Historical Society--the things behind the scenes, the collections that people hardly ever see or only see in small numbers, in traditional exhibits. ... Under the leadership of Les Roe (the AHS head of exhibits and creative design), he, with the other senior staff, said we should think about ... visual storage, and so we did.
What percentage of the AHS' stuff is on display, usually?
I'd say about 15-20 percent is out at any given time (in all locations), in reference to a more traditional exhibit.
What are your goals for the public with Treasures of the Arizona Historical Society?
We want them first to say to themselves, "Oh, now I understand about the treasures I'd been hearing about that are behind the scenes being cared for in museum storage areas." We're hoping people will take an interest in a particular item and note the tag number on the object, so they can go over to the binders and look it up to see the information we have on it, the provenance and all the kinds of documents that museum professionals record on a particular item in that collection. I hope it will be a learning experience.
And how about your goals for the AHS?
Our goals are to keep progressing, to keep the exhibit fresh by changing out treasured objects over time. We want to continue building toward our new museum at Rio Nuevo, where we hope to expand and develop this idea of visual storage.
Are there any objects in the exhibit that you're especially excited about?
One of our most recent acquisitions is the bar from the Bird Cage Saloon in Tombstone. I feel people will be excited to see it across the board, particularly right now, with the 125th anniversary of the gunfight at the OK Corral happening in October. I believe it will get people coming into the museum and the research library, interested in the gunfight and that particular time in Tombstone.
Are there any items that will especially benefit from being part of a display like this, with all the archival documents about them available?
There are so many things. There's a Native American beaded collar that I didn't even know we had; it's so beautiful. There's a mailbag from a robbery. I don't know all the history, but people can go and look it up and find out more about it. Maybe we have a lot of information about it--the age of the bag, what the robbery was. ... It's something smaller and not so beautiful, but it could have a lot of information behind it.
How many items will be on display?
I think it's 200-plus items; I can't say for sure how far beyond 200 we'll go.
And new items will be rotated in, right?
We will be taking some items out, as selected by curators, and new things will be exchanged for the ones we've taken out ... probably every three to six months.
What percentage of the AHS' "treasures" will end up making it out and into the exhibit?
I would say probably 10 to 12 percent. ... Museum viewers will inform us as we learn about expanding our efforts in visible storage exhibits. We do want to use this as a learning environment for us and for our visitors, so that when we move to the new museum, we can develop visible storage in a bigger way.