Behind-the-scenes tours hosted at Nevada State Museum
April 28, 2017
Typically in a museum, there are only so many sections to observe what's displayed behind walls and walls of plexiglass.
While that's enjoyable, little do visitors know there are more hidden treasures in vaults below the first floor, such as the Nevada State Museum on Carson Street.
Scheduled for the last Friday of each month, the museum offers tours, a chance for visitors to take a rare look at collections that haven't been displayed in a while — or have yet to.
"We fully understand this is a public collection to visitors," said Eugene Hattori, curator of anthropology. "We share our collections with other museums and researchers."
The tours are offered by the museum's natural history and anthropology departments for small groups — up to six in natural history and 10 in anthropology. Although both are different topics worth exploring, the two tours have one thing in common that's emphasized: future expansion of exhibits.
Natural History Tour
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Tourists of the natural history group have an opportunity to explore behind closed doors and corridors containing a variety of specimens, such as a desert long-eared bat, which once devoured scorpions.
Tour guide George Baumgardner, curator of natural history, warns his audience if they're uncomfortable with taxidermy, it's not for the faint of heart. However, if you like to touch things — such as the horns of a bighorn or artificial bear poop, for fun — the natural history tour is perfect for curious minds.
"This exhibit is in a state of flux," he said. "But I engage people with the stories behind the exhibits. It's to inspire and engage people to appreciate it because there are things that people do not know about in this state."
Stories include how the creatures were obtained, preserved and made available for exhibits and education. That includes the story behind Gus, a taxidermy beaver on display, whom one mother and daughter recognized after he went missing from his dam nearby their home.
According to Baumgardner, many of the taxidermies in storage date back to the 1970s and are created by locals, mainly from Fallon.
"The current state of the exhibit is not what I want it to be," he said. "But when we expand, I also don't want to barrage people with a load of information. These are rare models that require permitting to obtain and I want to make it for the visitors by featuring more natural scenes, in which people may relate to."
The expansion includes a Discovery Room reserved for students and classes, which is currently under development. The Discovery Room contains not only the artificial latex bear poop, but real stuffed models of rodents for educational purposes and will soon have microscopes available for use.
Last but not least, Baumgardner takes the group to the catacombs of the museum — located in the basement — to observe rare butterflies, plants, bats, and other specimens that aren't usually seen.
"You can beat people over the head with information," he said. "But you have to provide different levels of engagement and support the mission of natural history with scientific research and learning."
In a vault located in a corridor, hidden in the back of the museum's gift shop, are where more than 2,000 historic Native American baskets and crafts are kept in a climate-controlled environment.
The evolution of these items can be observed at this seated tour led by Hattori, focusing on local basketry created by women of the Washoe Tribe and collected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, during the arts and crafts movement.
Many were used for cooking stews and soups, in which stains from ingredients could still be seen at the bottom of the craft. There are also weaved projects used for functional purposes, such as a duck decoy.
Some of the most symbolic displays of the exhibits show the oldest basket, which goes back to 10,000 years, followed by a modern, colorful bead-weaved basket created during today's time, Hattori said.
"There are several audiences interested in western and local Native American culture," he said. "These baskets were made to appeal and sell to consumers."
The crowned jewel of the anthropology tour is the collection 14 major baskets, woven in Carson City and Lake Tahoe between 1896 and 1925, by famed Washoe weaver Dat-so-la-lee.
Many of her baskets fluctuated in price, ranging from $1,000 to $6,000, defining the life and death of the Native American arts and crafts movement before the Great Depression.
Dat-so-la-lee's last basket — which she weaved in 1925, the year she died — is also on display along with her birdshot mini baskets, concealed in glass boxes.
Baskets from other Nevada and California tribes are also featured during the presentation.
Hattori said the museum plans to rotate baskets with current displays of exhibits in the museum.
The behind-the-scene tours are held the last Friday of each month, except when state holidays or other considerations conflict. There's no additional cost for the tour beyond regular museum admission of $8 for adults, ages 17 and younger are free.
Two tours in both natural history and anthropology are held, the first at 10 a.m. and the second at 1:30 p.m.
Reservations are required and tour group size is restricted. To confirm tour dates and make reservations, call Holly Payson in the education program at 775-687-4810, extension 222.
Private tours also can be arranged through both tours by calling Baumgardner at 775-687-4810, extension 236, or Hattori at 775-687-4810, extension 230.