Historic preservation grants awarded to UI organizations

BY BEN MARKS | DECEMBER 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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With the help of some recently received grant funds, two University of Iowa departments will be able to preserve important aspects of history.

On Dec. 4, the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs announced more than $170,000 in grants awarded to 21 different projects in 18 Iowa communities, including Iowa City, for the purposes of historic preservation.

The UI Museum of Natural History and the Office of the State Archeologist were two recipients of the grant money.

“These grants help communities and organizations preserve our state’s history and make it more accessible to Iowans,” Iowa Cultural Affairs Department Director Mary Cownie said. “That’s important because the preservation of our historical assets connects us to the people, places, and points of pride that define our state.”

The awards the State Archaeologist’s Office and the museum received were made through the State Historical Society of Iowa, a division of the Cultural Affairs Department and were funded by a grant program that has been around since 1989.

Steve Lensink, the associate director of the State Archaeologist Office, said the funds the office received, including match funds, totaled $18,525.

The money will be used for preserving documents dealing with human remains that were accidentally or intentionally disinterred, he said.

The documents chronicle 40 years of reburials and up until most recently, he said, all came in the form of paper.

“Iowa was the first state in the nation to pass a law that protected American Indian burials,” Lensink said. “The concern was that a very important part of the history of Iowa as well as a chapter in American history could be lost.”

Ultimately the grant will fund the digitization and storage of more than 110,000 pages of these documents.

For the museum, the grant will allow it to refurbish and rehouse broken or inadequately stored artifacts, collections manager Cindy Opitz said.

In addition to receiving the grant from the Cultural Affairs Department, the museum also received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities a day later.

“It’s kind of a thrill to get notification that we got two in one week,” Opitz said. “That was a very good day.”

The grants awarded to the museum totaled $17,600, including funding from the university and in-kind match funding from the museum.

Half the money, Opitz said, will go toward the cleaning, cataloguing, conservation, and rehousing of the museum’s collection of glass slides and negatives collections.

These are images from the late 1880s to the 1920s and mostly depict “university expeditions to places like Fiji, New Zealand, Central America, and the Pacific Northwest,” she said.

Eventually, she said, once they are cleaned and properly stored, the money will also fund the digitalization and indexing of the 2,372 glass slides into the Iowa Heritage Digital Collections.

The other half of the grant money will go towards preserving more than 1,500 artifacts from Arctic expeditions undertaken in the 1800s.

This collection includes ivory, beadwork, ornaments, and other objects from cultures such as the Cree or Inuit.

Opitz said improving storage conditions of the collections is vital to increasing access to the objects for students and educators.

“Anytime we’re improving storage conditions, we’re also improving access to those objects,” she said. “If they’re nicely stored, we can locate them in the collections easier, and if they’re well-supported with trays and things, we can loan them to classes without fear of students actually touching the objects.”

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