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Piecing Together Stories of the Human Experience

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Janette Ballard

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Madison Sussmann

When looking for a graduate program that combines anthropology with museum studies, Madison Sussmann found the right fit at the University of Denver.

"I was attracted to the Museum and Heritage Studies program because of its integration with the University of Denver Museum of Anthropology [DUMA]," Sussmann said. The Museum Studies program trains students to be practicing anthropologists in museums and related cultural institutions.

"In museums, anthropological training helps with in-depth research, informative interviews, construction of themes, and presentation of a narrative. The ability to share knowledge and perspective on a public and collaborative level is what attracted me to museum work," she said.

Sussmann is gaining hands-on experience as a curatorial assistant in the anthropology museum. Last summer, she curated her first exhibit from the ground up: All That Glitters: Micaceous Clay Pottery of the Southwest. The exhibit featured pottery from the Picuris and Taos Pueblos, and was displayed in a showcase in Sturm Hall.

"It was a small display, but it taught me the intricate ins-and-outs of object selection, research, and construction of a narrative," said Sussmann. "I have been a part of many exhibitions during the years, but it is a very different experience to have the chance to make the decisions and to feel a sense of ownership over the final product."

Her next curatorial endeavor is an exhibit, Bound by Thread: Sister Fred's Quilt Art, for the main DUMA gallery. The exhibit will feature quilts made by Frédérique Chevillot, professor of French and Francophone Studies, and will open on January 31.

"The exhibit features a dozen of the quilts she has made through the years. Each quilt is an expression of a feeling, a person, or a story that is carefully sewn in fabric," Sussmann said. "As a quilt maker, she has the power to give new life to the materials through reuse. These quilts will be on display, but they were created with the intention of being used. The clothing worn by loved ones becomes a sort of second skin when sewn into a quilt."

Sussmann has a BA in Anthropology from the University of Oklahoma. She is drawn to the study of human social and cultural development, and is "captivated by the deeper understanding of human experiences and practice."

Recently she had the opportunity to work with sociology Assistant Professor Maria Isla-Lopez and her Sociology of Immigration class to design and install an exhibit of their research. The students worked in small groups to research specific topics of immigration as it relates to the University of Denver.

"The final product is the exhibit, Terms of Belonging: A Sociological Exploration of Immigration at DU. It was a collaboration not only between Dr. Isla-Lopez and the Museum of Anthropology, but it was made possible by support from Special Collections of University Libraries, the Department of Sociology and Criminology, and Sun Valley Kitchen," said Sussmann.

"This really broadened my experience in collaboration, and it boosted my confidence in design and my ability to assist a story through the use of space and visuals," she said. "The ten-week sprint towards installation was the most influential and empowering experience that I have had at the University."

Sussmann plans to graduate with an MA in Anthropology this summer, and is confident that her education and museum training has prepared her for the next step in her career.

"I would like to work in a small, local museum with close ties to the community. I think that working directly in a place and for the place can be highly rewarding work," she said.