How to dust a mastodon

PAGE 4 / Sunday, July 25, 2010
Tallahassee Democrat / TLH
How to dust a mastodon
By Amanda Personett
As you walk into
the Museum of Florida History and around
the first bend, standing before you in all
its skeletal splendor is
an honest-to-goodness
mastodon. The placard below the enormous creature tells
us: “When mastodons
lived, 65 million years
after the dinosaurs
became extinct, most of
Florida was underwater.”
It’s very difficult to
imagine such a massive
stretch of time.
If you stand there
long enough, looking at
the bones in the mastodon’s toes and the
massive rib cage, all
kinds of questions come
to mind. How did he
hold his head up with
those tusks attached to
his face? Is it just your
imagination or does his
tail really look like a
human spine?
And how do you dust
this guy?
“Sometimes I’m on a
ladder, sometimes on
a lift, sometimes with
a long pole and sometimes with a vacuum,” senior museum
registrar Kieran Orr
Orr has been working
at the museum since
1995 when she was a
history student at FSU.
In her current position,
she’s responsible for
much more than fossil
Involved in each exhibition from concept
to closing, Orr does
research, locates artifacts and visits other
museums to see them.
She helps design exhibits and completes tons
Museum of Florida
O Number of years of
Florida history represented: 500
O Number of pairs
of white cotton gloves
used by staff each
year: 125
O Number of times
each pair of cotton
gloves is washed: 10
O Number of objects
in museum’s entire
collection: 45,000
O Number of historical objects on display at any given time:
O Number of years
the museum has been
accredited: 24
O Percentage of
accredited museums
of all the museums in
US: 1
Special to the Democrat
Senior museum registrar Kieran Orr has been working at the museum since 1995 when she was a history student at FSU.
of paperwork. Orr estimates that each object
borrowed from another museum for exhibition requires 30 pieces
of paper — legal documents, insurance forms
and the like.
“There are about 500
artifacts loaned for
a single exhibit,” she
says. “To say it’s a lot of
paperwork is an understatement.”
Yet she still has time
to manage all aspects
of the museum’s collections, from legal and
ethical implications to
Sitting in her office
behind password-coded locks, Orr speaks of
maritime laws and sovereignty laws. She has
one interesting tidbit
after another:
“Did you know there
were 15 different cultures that lived in Florida before the Seminoles?”
“If gold goes down
with a military ship
— and the shipwreck’s
recovered — the gold
belongs to the country
of the ship’s origin.”
“We use special strips
inside the closed display cases to keep the
silver from tarnishing.
See this strip? I put it
in here years ago.” The
silver looks recently
“Can you imagine what the ships
that brought people to the New World
smelled like? Imagine
300 people living in a
500-square-foot apartment for three months
— without taking a
single bath. That’s the
modern equivalent.”
Orr’s last reference is
to the museum’s newest permanent exhibit,
slated for opening in its
initial phase in February. It will deal with
the human experience
of crossing the Atlantic
between 1513 and 1821.
“We’ll use our
team approach,” she
explains, “with a curator, a registrar, a historian, an artist/designer
and a publicist working
together to create an
overall plan, an education plan. We’ll then
design and fabricate
the displays — even
make our own mannequins (of unbleached
muslin) and craft our
own special mounts
and hooks.”
There’s a lot of buzz
about the museum’s
newest visiting exhibition, the Smithsonian
Institution’s “NASA/
ART: 50 Years of Exploration.” This collection
showcases art, science
and history through
the work of such wellknown artists as Annie
Liebovitz, William
Wegman, Andy Warhol, Jamie Wyeth and
Norman Rockwell. See
the TLH cover story for
more on that exhibit.
“To be part of an
institution that brings
so much to its community,” Orr says, “and to
help tell Florida’s story
from the 1500s to the
Space Age — that, for
me, is a challenge and
a dream come true.”
Sunday, July 25, 2010 / PAGE 5
TLH / Tallahassee Democrat
A graphic designer trapped
in a Nobel laureate’s body
We Buy Antique
Oriental Rugs
9 Miles West of Capital
Circle on US 90
(850) 539-8893
By Amanda Personett
01&/4"5t46/ 12-6
OSir Harold “Harry” Kroto, Nobel laureate and Francis
Eppes professor of
chemistry and biochemistry at FSU
“In school, I particularly enjoyed art,
geography, gymnastics and woodwork. My
art teacher, Mr. Higginson, tutored me at
lunch times or after
school. (But) for reasons
which I am not sure I
understand, I gravitated towards chemistry,
physics and mathematics.
“Art was really my
passion. I became art
editor of the student
magazine, specializing
in cover design and the
screen-printed advertising posters. As a
research student, I won
a Sunday Times book
jacket design competition. Later one of my
designs was featured in
‘Modern Publicity,’ an
international annual of
the best in professional
graphic design. I consider this to be one of
my best publications.
“I managed to do
enough chemistry —
between designing covers and posters, paint-
“Art was really my
passion. I became
art editor of the
student magazine,
specializing in
cover design and
the screen-printed
Special to the
ing murals and playing
the guitar — to get
a Ph.D. in 1964, and
some job offers.
“I remember thinking
I would give myself five
years to make a go of
research and teaching.
If it was not working
out, I would re-train to
do graphic design, my
first love.
“By 1974, I had carried out research which
was the start of my
role in the discovery
of C60 … . The discov-
ery in 1985 caused me
to shelve my dream of
setting up a studio specializing in scientific
graphic design.
“That was the downside of our discovery —
that I realized I might
never fulfill my graphics aspirations. But
the creation of the first
molecules with carbon/phosphorus double
bonds and the discovery of the carbon chains
in space seemed (to me)
like nice contributions.”
The Council on Culture & Arts
takes a weekly look at the fascinating world of the arts and culture in our community.
We tell stories of people who
feel they owe their non-arts related success to the arts. We publish arts and culture news. We
share “I-didn’t-know-that!” facts
about local arts and culture.
Send us your suggestions
for artist profiles, news items
(things like awards, honors and
Sir Harry’s “nice contributions” led to his
Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 with Robert
F. Curl Jr. and Richard
E. Smalley.
COCA reminds you
that our children need
an education that
includes the arts to
help them reach their
dreams. They deserve it.
ODo you have a story
about the arts’ influence
on your non-arts career? If
so, please e-mail [email protected]
competition successes), story
ideas or curious facts and numbers. E-mail Andrea Personett at
[email protected]
Visit COCA’s websites for more
information about COCA and the
arts in this part of the world —,,, www.