New Beginnings

Bosque Museum welcomes new Executive Director Erin Shields; presents soft opening to extensively-renovated Horn Shelter exhibit

CLIFTON – The year 2020 brought many changes and that certainly applies to the Bosque Museum. Besides a planned total renovation of the key Horn Shelter exhibit, the Bosque Museum board of directors had the task to find a new museum director.

Whereas COVID-19 caused temporary closures and limiting the amount of visitors, the museum board members were able to get both major projects completed. The new director Erin Shields started her tenure Oct. 1, and Nov. 5 saw the soft opening of the Horn Shelter.

For Shields, the opening for the director in Clifton came at a perfect time for Shields. The Texas Discovery Gardens eliminated her previous position as Director of Education because of budget cuts. They closed the entire education department. Having worked there for 10 years, Shields was ready to move on, and through a friend heard of the job opening at the Bosque Museum.

“Timing is everything,” Shields said. “And after 10 years in Dallas, I was ready to move on.”

After being offered the position, showing her commitment to this new path in her life’s journey, Shields straight away decided to move to a Bosque County home from her Dallas apartment.

People, science, education, history and strategic partnerships are important to Shields, and in her new position she expects to combine them seamlessly. Combined with her experience as presenter, supervisor, working with volunteers, budgeting and grant writing skills the museum seems to have found an excellent replacement for departing director Dr. Matthew Taylor.

Whereas the Horn Shelter exhibit and its link to science was the initial hook drawing her in, Shields greatly appreciated the Norwegian Immigrant collection and the other history very specific to the area the museum offers.

Shield really appreciates, place-based museum concept, which means  you cannot just lift a museum out of its spot for it to be relevant.

“To me, it’s always about community,” Shields said. “The Bosque Museum is the perfect example about that. With the collections that we have, it’s all about the community and the area that we’re in.”

A museum that survives, in general – and through a pandemic – will be one that partners with its community.

Using those partnerships, Shields wants to give the community the best museum possible, that reflects what they want, not what the board or historians or curators would think a community needs. 

Shields holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M College Station and currently holds the position of President of the Informal Science Educators of Dallas County.

The ISEA board of directors is made up of volunteers who represent the diverse range of informal science institutions throughout Texas - from museums, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, parks service, nonprofits, and academia - with the mission to inspire, connect, and support the diverse informal science education community in order to strengthen science learning in Texas. 

She is a member of the American Alliance of Museums, the Texas Association for Environmental Education the Texas Children in Nature and the North Texas Children in Nature organizations.

Through TAEE she is working on her certification as a Texas Certified Environmental Educator, and additionally on becoming a North Texas Master Naturalist.,

Passionate about educating Shields hopes to focus on educating young and old on the significant exhibits the museum holds. In the future, she hopes to add an extra room for interactive children’s exhibits, especially incorporating touch in meaningful ways.

“Children need museums,” Shields said. “They want it, they need it. I want to offer hands-on manipulatives that help explain the history of Bosque County.”

The museum has always been a popular field trip for area schools, because of the proximity, and the special collections that are easy to relate to. Unfortunately there is no children’s chatter can be heard, no energetic activity in the museum rooms - due to the restrictions on hosting groups due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The docents and museum can’t wait to welcome the students back.

When Taylor departed, after just one year at the Bosque Museum, former Director Barbara Aars stepped in as interim director to keep the ship on course as it were. Because all the while, the renovation of the museum’s most significant exhibit The Horn Shelter was planned for this year and needed to proceed.

The Horn Shelter found on the west bank of the Brazos River in Bosque County is one of the most significant Paleoamerican sites in America and is only one of three discovered sites containing skeletal remains with burial goods. The Bosque Museum is a reconstruction of the original site discovered by avocational archeologist Albert Redder together with Frank Watt in 1970.

Because of its significance, research institutions, including the Smithsonian, have researched the artifacts and site, trying to uncover how Paleoamericans lived more than 10,000 years ago. Paleoamericans represent the founding human population in America. The two skeletons in the burial ground are basically Bosque County’s earliest residents.

The carefully positioned deceased – both in flex position, facing West, in the center of an inhabited area, very specific articles buried with them – indicates the Paleoamericans expressed care and concern for the dead and implies they believed in an afterlife.

For more background information on the Horn Shelter burial site can be found on https://texasbeyondhistory.net/horn/.

The extensively renovated exhibit includes new interactive elements that all guests to explore the burial site. The exhibit space also includes a facsimile of the excavation complete with the original tools employed by the excavators. The exhibit includes an introduction hosted by a representation of Al Redder, one of the avocational archaeologists who excavated the shelter. Several panels explain the site and its importance for North American prehistory.

Shields’ arrival coincides with the final stages of the installation. A soft opening date for the complete overhauled exhibit is Nov. 5. The opening will allow for small groups to visit, with face coverings and following social distancing protocols.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS & courtesy of BOSQUE MUSEUM

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