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Behind the Scenes: A Chat with our Collections Manager, Therese Chung

By definition, a museum is an institution for the safekeeping of objects and for the interpretation of these objects through research and through exhibition.[1] But have you ever wondered who exactly is taking care of them? Or the methods they use? I’ve asked our awesome Collections Manager, Therese Chung, to answer some of these questions for us.

Therese is an expert in collections care-with her qualifications and work experience we have reached a high standard of preservation. Her interview shows a side of the Museum you don’t see on a regular visit, and you’ll soon learn that there is a lot of work that goes into taking care of our objects here at Barona Cultural Center & Museum!

Therese Chung, Collections Manager

What is a Collections Manager? What are some of the unusual/unexpected roles in your job?

As the Collections Manager my primary duties revolve around collections care. I handle the documentation and record keeping of an object as soon as it arrives and issue relevant paperwork when the object enters our collection, or if it goes out on loan. I handle database management and make sure the records are consistent and complete. Object care also involves proper object handling, monitoring of objects in storage or on display, cleaning, labeling, preparing mounts, and rehousing objects using best practices and archival materials.

One of my more unusual duties is to monitor sticky traps for pests. Once a month, I review 82 strategically placed sticky traps with our pest management company and record the findings in a spreadsheet. Sometimes what we find includes scorpions or lizards, but usually the run-of-the-mill pests such as ants or flies are caught and their presence is largely the result of seasonal changes. We track pests because they can be damaging to the objects.

Rosa Lopez, Pottery, From the original donation that started the Barona Cultural Center & Museum

What kind of objects do we have in our collection?

The object collection of Barona Cultural Center & Museum contains over 3,000 items with a focus on Kumeyaay/Diegueño cultural heritage and other Native American artifacts. We have a large lithic collection which is composed of projectile points, grinding stones, mortars and pestles, and includes unique items such as discoidals and doughnut stones. Our basket collection features a range of southern California Mission Indian style baskets as well as a comparative collection of baskets made by other indigenous peoples. Pottery in our collection includes a variety of types and sizes of jars, bowls, and pipes. We also have a large herbarium assemblage of plant samples collected on the Barona Reservation and a small collection of artwork produced by native artists. Rounding out our collection are ethnographic objects including, rattles, nets, skirts, jewelry, tools, and even a tule boat!

Do any of the object require special care? If so, what are some of their requirements?

We treat all of our objects with the same level of high-quality care. All items are stored in temperature-controlled rooms with a majority stored in metal conservation cabinets. These secured, gasket-sealed cabinets help to maintain stable temperature and humidity even when there are climate fluctuations outside. Objects are stored in custom-made boxes and mounts made with archival materials. We recently had our basket storage room outfitted with a mini-split air conditioner system which keeps this room extra cool and maintains a more consistent temperature than other areas of our building. We also receive email alerts if the temperature and humidity falls above or below a certain range.

Janet Salazar-Carrillo, Juncus, Purchased by Barona Cultural Center & Museum in 2006

Do you have a favorite object?

One of my favorite pieces is a quilt made by a Barona tribal elder, Bobbie Turner in 2001. This 48 x 64 inch blue and black fabric quilt contains embroidered images of a peon game, baskets, pottery, rattles, and rattlesnake. I like the use of cultural images in a modern medium. This one of a kind quilt has also been used by Ms. Turner in demonstrations for the sewing classes that she leads.

Another one of my favorite pieces is a mixed media and oil on board painting from 1973 by Theodore “Ted” Couro. The painting depicts a peon game with players around a fire and the koymi seated nearby. We have seventeen, mostly landscape, artworks by Mr. Couro so this is very unique. Mr. Couro was a member of the Mesa Grande Band and in addition to being an artist, he was a teacher, missionary, historian-anthropologist and co-author of several books including Dictionary of Mesa Grande Diegueño.

"Peon Game", Theodore “Ted” Curo, Mixed media oil on board 1973, Barona Cultural Center & Museum

Suggestion for further reading available in our Research Library:

Introduction to Museum Work by G. Ellis Burcaw

Kumeyaay Pottery: Paddle-and-Anvil Techniques of Southern California by Gena Van Camp

Native American Basketry of Southern California by Christopher Moser

Yuman Pottery Making by Malcolm Rogers


[1] G. Ellis Burcaw, Introduction to Museum Work, pg. 18.

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