A new “Utah Valley” exhibit at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures invites visitors to get to know the people who once inhabited Utah County.
“A lot of people who live in Utah Valley don’t realize there is a long history here,” museum director Paul Stavast says. “They just assume its history begins maybe just a little bit before the pioneers got here. That is not correct at all. People have lived in Utah Valley for thousands of years.”
The exhibit features artifacts from the Archaic, Fremont, and Ute peoples, as well as Mormon pioneer artifacts excavated from the ruins of the Provo Tabernacle. Walking through the small gallery, visitors can examine a horse “quirt” used to spur horses in Ute horse races, or see canine bones dating back to around 3,600 B.C.
History student Hannah Smith helped select the artifacts for the displays, and under the direction of Stavast, she was responsible for the research and text for the exhibit. Her work was part of an internship for the Museum of Peoples and Cultures and later turned into a regular, continuing student position.
“The internship was a custom experience for me,” Smith says. “I was able to experience many different types of museum work: with the administration, with technicians, archaeologists, etc. I was able to experience so much and it really impacted the work and the exhibit that went up. It was perfect.”
Smith hopes to have a career working in museums and designing exhibits in particular. “Working in a museum is cool, because I can use my research but also my creativity,” she says.
Student participation like Smith’s was central to the success of the project. Stavast had students in his anthropology classes workshop possible ideas for the exhibit. Students were also responsible for the design, promotion, fabrication, installation, and object registration to get the new gallery off the ground.
“We want to give students an experience from beginning to end so that they have an understanding of what it takes to put an exhibition together — even on a small scale — so they have a framework for their future careers,” Stavast says.
Both Stavast and Smith say they hope the exhibit invites Utah residents to reflect on the place where they live. Stavast also hopes seeing the exhibit will remind visitors of the rich history in Utah county so that in the wake of booming development that history can be preserved rather than destroyed. There are over 2,000 archaeological sites in Utah county alone.
“No matter where you go, there’s a lot more history than you might initially realize,” Stavast said. “Take the time to find out who lived in the places where you live. There are sites all over. Learn about them, respect them, and preserve them.”
The Utah Valley exhibit will be on display for at least five years and will likely be modified with additional pieces from sites in Payson, Goshen, and Provo.
For more information about the Museum of Peoples and Cultures, visit their website.