American Treasure

Collection of anthropological photographs is the Arizona State Museum’s third to be awarded American Treasure status.

By:
Ford Burkhart,
American Treasure
This photograph from the Wetherill Collection was likely taken between 1915 and 1930. It is one of more than a half-million images being preserved by curators at the Arizona State Museum. Wetherill Collection/Arizona State Museum

Arizona’s territorial legislature created the Arizona State Museum in 1893. Today, it holds many treasures, including over a half-million photographs and films, some of which are now being shown in an exhibition set to run for two years.

This collection recently was designated an American Treasure. The museum’s collections of pottery and baskets also have been awarded the designation, making the UA the only institution to claim three American Treasures. Each year, all three collections attract crowds of researchers, journalists, students and visitors.

But the museum recently put out a warning. Some of the invaluable photos, negatives and transparencies lack proper storage and face deterioration and chemical degradation from heat. Without crucial steps, some may be lost. 

The museum’s staff has launched a preservation initiative. The American Treasure award, run by public and private groups including the National Park Service, brought in a $500,000 award to support climate-controlled storage. The National Endowment for the Humanities also awarded a $380,000 grant to update the 95-year-old building, which once housed the university library. 

The total projected budget for updates is $2.2 million.

The exhibition, called “Saving an American Treasure: An Unparalleled Collection of Anthropological Photographs,” will avoid damage to the photos by rotating the prints and negatives on display.

Says Museum Director Patrick Lyon, “We don’t want to lose the region’s visual memories. It is now time for us to take action to ensure their preservation.”