Spurlock: 100 years of 40,000 artifacts

“By nature, (human beings) are nearly alike; by practice they become different” – Confucius.

Suspended in the entryway of the University of Illinois’ own Spurlock Museum, these words tell the story of what the museum is trying to accomplish 100 years after it originally opened on the top floor of Lincoln Hall.

“What we try to do here is emphasize the common humanity of all the peoples of the world,” said Wayne Pitard, museum director. “We like to get people interested in the practices by which they have dealt with all these issues differently throughout cultures both through time and space.”

After employing a huge crew of undergraduates to assist with moving 40,000 artifacts across campus, the museum is now settled into its new home in Urbana. It now has the space to display everything the way it wants to, said Beth Watkins, education and publications coordinator for Spurlock Museum.

With seven galleries featuring artifacts from all over the world, the Spurlock Museum is full of thousands of pieces of inspiration, but just to name a few:

*Statue of Trojan – Priest Laocoon*

This plaster cast is older than any in any other museum on campus and six years older than any in the Art Institute in Chicago, but its importance to the University lies less in its age and more in its significance as a piece of campus history that students walk past nearly every day.

“This cast was what inspired Lorado Taft to sculpt the Alma Mater,” Pitard said. “This (cast) arrived shattered into pieces and as a fourteen year old boy he was drafted to come with his father to come help put it back together. Putting this back together inspired him to become a sculptor.”

*Record from Chief One Bull*

Most of the North American collection at Spurlock Museum was donated by a couple who in the 1920s became interested in native culture and moved to a reservation. The couple was adopted by Chief One Bull of the Lakota Sioux, who was the nephew of Sitting Bull.

“One of the real treasures is a war record from Chief One Bull,” Pitard said. “This was commonly done in native culture to draw depictions of notable events in one’s life. He drew this depiction of the battle of Little Big Horn. As he didn’t know English, his granddaughter wrote in the English captions.”

*Shaman’s Kit*

The Spurlock Museum owns one of only two Shaman’s Kits in the entire United States.

“You cannot take these out of the country in South America unless a Shaman gives it to you,” Pitard said. “It was given with the idea that it was going into a museum to a professor in the anthropology department who worked with this tribe for about 40 years. It was actually the Shaman’s own used one.”

The stool is the Shaman’s seat of power, with the top carved into a turtle as an important symbol of order. The kit also includes the palette the Shaman would have created mixtures on, also in the shape of a turtle, and various magic stones.