UW Geological Museum Plans Reception Before Closing for Renovation

April 26, 2012
Children at museum
Young people look at one of the exhibits at the University of Wyoming Geological Museum. The museum will be closed this summer for a major renovation project. (UW Photo)

The University of Wyoming Geological Museum will close Monday, May 7, for its first significant renovation in decades.

Before it closes for the summer's worth of work, however, the public has a chance to grab one last look at the venerable museum -- and to get a glimpse of the facility's future.

The UW Geological Museum pre-renovation reception is scheduled Thursday, May 3, from 7-9 p.m. Activities begin with a presentation by Terry Chase, designer of the planned museum improvements, at 7 p.m. in the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center auditorium. The group will then move to the Geological Museum to see its pre-renovation condition and learn about its future, including viewing mock-ups of some design ideas.

"People will then have the weekend to view the museum one more time before we shut the doors and get to work," says Mark Clementz, associate professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, who's helped in planning for the renovations.

The museum closed briefly in the summer of 2009 due to state budget cuts, drawing attention from fans of the museum from around the world. When the museum reopened in August 2009, it was with the help of private funds from the UW Foundation. Shortly after that, noted UW supporters Brainerd "Nip" and Anne Mears donated $570,000 to support the museum. Matched by state funds, the endowment now totals $1.14 million.

A second fund, in memory of noted geologist S.H. Knight, was created later in 2009. With state matching dollars, it has reached $250,000, joining with the Mears endowment to generate operating money for the 56-year-old facility.

Meanwhile, the UW president's office has allocated $500,000 in one-time money for museum upgrades. Adding that to $200,000 generated by the Mears endowment, the university has $700,000 to spend for the first phase of the project. The project aims to make the museum a focal point for student and faculty research, while giving the public an appreciation of Wyoming's geologic history and mineral resources.

This summer's work is expected to include possible removal of asbestos in the museum's floor tiles; modernization of the building's mechanical, electrical, lighting and fire protection systems; upgrading technology; updating and reinstalling existing exhibits, including new signs; and designing and installing some new exhibits.

The museum is expected to reopen in early September, but Clementz notes that this summer's work is only a start toward the long-term vision for the facility.

"The first round is mostly structural," he says. "We hope there will be enough money left over to do a few exhibits. After that, further improvements will depend upon our ability to obtain additional funding. The renovations and exhibit development will be done in stages."

The museum's long-term vision is being crafted with the help of Chase, who works for Chase Studio Inc. of Cedarcreek, Mo. The company has designed and built thousands of natural history exhibits for more than 250 museums and nature centers, establishing a worldwide reputation for attention to detail and scientific accuracy.

Clementz says members of the public will have an opportunity May 3 to ask Chase questions about what the Geological Museum will eventually look like.

The roots of the Geological Museum reach back to 1887, the year UW opened. It was a small natural history museum that consisted of the personal collection of J.D. Conley, a professor who taught a range of courses, including geology, astronomy, physics, commercial arithmetic and bookkeeping.

As UW grew and expanded, so did the museum, its collections and displays. Wilbur Knight, hired in 1893 as a professor of mining and geology, succeeded Conley as curator. Eventually, the collection outgrew its home in the Hall of Language (now Old Main), and most of it found a new one in a wing of the Mechanical Building. When the Hall of Science was completed in 1902, the museum moved there. It stayed there until 1956, when the current structure was built on the east wing of what is now the S.H. Knight Geology Building.

By that time, Knight's son, Samuel Howell Knight, had worked at the university for more than four decades. In that time, he had developed the UW Department of Geology into one of the nation's best. Knight designed the terra cotta bas-relief Stegosaurus and Triceratops panels at the front of the museum; built the copper Tyrannosaurus rex that guards the museum's entrance; and even painted several of the displays inside the museum. He also was responsible for the initial mounting of the Apatosaurus skeleton that is the centerpiece of the museum.

Among the plans for the museum is the idea of rotating some displays to feature UW's extensive collection of vertebrate and invertebrate fossils, along with rocks and minerals.

"What's on display in the museum now is the tip of the iceberg of what we have," Clementz says.

There also are plans to develop more hands-on exhibits to make museum visits an even more meaningful experience for children, who make up a good share of the museum's visitors.

The museum currently has no full-time staff and has relied upon a work-study student and two graduate students to be open to the public 34 hours a week. The hope is to eventually have several full-time staff members to help the facility realize its potential, but that will depend upon further financial contributions.

For more information about the Geological Museum, email geolmus@uwyo.edu or call 307-766-2646.


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