Students bring the past to life with Stones N' Bones exhibit

December 20, 2018
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Clarion University sophomore Abigail Beckwith poses with a woolly mammoth skull, the centerpiece of the Jefferson County History Center's Stones N' Bones exhibit that she helped to curate as part of her internship at the museum.

If you’re in downtown Brookville, you can journey to the past at the Jefferson County History Center with its Stones N’ Bones exhibit.

The exhibit was crafted over the past two years with the help of two Clarion University students. The first student, Emily Tyson, began her work as a senior environmental geoscience and geology major (with a minor in geography), researching and designing the exhibit. Upon Tyson's graduation, Abigail Beckwith, a sophomore geology and environmental geoscience major, worked to implement her research and create the exhibit. 

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 Beckwith poses with an allosaurus skull at the
Stones N' Bones exhibit in Brookville.

"Emily did all of the background work and research for the Stones N' Bones exhibit. She made a list of thoroughly researched ideas for each of the galleries in the exhibit, and I, along with the rest of the exhibit committee at the Jefferson County History Center, mixed our ideas with hers and implemented them," Beckwith said.

The exhibit spans Pennsylvania's Permian, Carboniferous and Devonian time periods and features a full dimetrodon skeleton, an allosaurus skull, a short-faced bear skull, a smilodon skull (a saber-toothed cat), clothing from Paleo-Indians, a geological display of locally gathered rocks and minerals and the exhibit's centerpiece – a full woolly mammoth skull. There also is a selection of fossils on loan from the Red Hill site in North Bend, Pennsylvania.

Ken Burkett, executive director of the Jefferson County History Center, explained that the skeletons and skulls are resin castings just like you'd see in a bigger museum. The pieces for the exhibit were either purchased, borrowed or gathered locally.

Burkett said a $25,000 donation allowed the museum to buy some of the bigger castings. At the end of the two-year exhibit, those casting can be resold to another museum to recoup some costs.

Beckwith said people may be surprised to learn how much work and research goes into curating an exhibit.

"Each panel in the exhibit is the result of hours of research and writing. It is especially difficult to explain complex concepts such as geology, paleontology, and the ice age in a way that the reader finds interesting and understandable," Beckwith said. "Much effort and thought goes into the arrangement of artifacts within each gallery. It involves a lot of moving things around, moving them back, and moving them again until the gallery has a cohesive flow."

Beckwith said working in a museum was different than she imagined with a great deal of time spent on visual and technical concerns.

"Hours are spent searching for just the right graphics, formatting all of the panels, and choosing fonts. People also do not realize there is a lot of 'grunt work' to do. Wiring, adjusting lighting, mounting pictures and wording, and gluing things down are just some of the aspects," Beckwith said. "Working in a museum was not as glamorous as I imagined, but I could not be more thrilled about it. I had a lot of fun."
Beckwith said her classes at Clarion University helped her to feel prepared when she began this position.

"An internship like this has helped me develop many skills that will aid me in my field. It developed my researching skills and taught me how to condense my writing in a precise and understandable manner," Beckwith said.
Beckwith also got to see how a non-profit organization functions by attending board meetings and learning from Burkett.

"I feel these skills are diversifiable and they will aid me in acquiring a position in my field," Beckwith said.
Burkett said working with Clarion University students has been a mutually beneficial partnership for the students and the museum.

"I enjoy giving people an opportunity," Burkett said.

Burkett recalls a time in which someone helped him achieve a goal. Burkett said he always wanted to be an archaeologist and a few years ago he located a site for excavation. He met Dr. Stanley Lantz, a well-known Pennsylvanian archaeologist who worked at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History from 1965-1990.
Lantz helped Burkett fulfill his dream of becoming a non-professional archaeologist by excavating the site with him. Burkett said Lantz never took over the project, but instead taught him in the process.

"I always remember that when I help these young people," Burkett said.

Tyson and Beckwith's internships were paid from an endowed scholarship established through the Clarion University Foundation, Inc.

 Stones N' Bones Dimetrodon

 This ferocious dimetrodon is on display at the Jefferson County History Center in downtown Brookville as part of its Stones N' Bones exhibit. 

Last Updated 2/15/19