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Online Catalog Helps Museum's Treasures Tell a Story

December 1, 2014

Catalog and Upcoming Exhibit Highlight the Treasures at Fort Nisqually

A small pewter spoon handed down as an heirloom, a powderhorn with amateur scrimshaw, and the brightly colored trade beads that were at the heart of the fur trade all have a story to tell.

A newly launched online catalog allows the curious to get a closer look at the mid-19th century collection of the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum. In a new exhibit which, some of the catalog’s highlights will be featured such as an intricately woven Native American blanket, a shimmering silk bonnet, and a typical trade gun.

“The online catalog gives everyone a chance to explore the fascinating stories behind our artifacts,” said Curator Claire Keller-Scholz.

The project was made possible by generous support from the Pierce County Historic Preservation Grant Program and the Cannon Family Fund. For more information, visit or call (253) 591-5339.

The website currently hosts 101 objects, and Keller-Scholz expects to have the museum’s entire collection of more than 1,400 artifacts online. The online catalog also includes 1,183 titles from the institution’s Research Library.

“It’s a valuable asset to anyone researching the 19th century history of our area,” said Keller-Scholz.

Click here to get to the online catalog portal or visit

blanketThe museum’s collection is comprised of diverse items known to have been part of everyday life at the Fort more than 150 years ago — trade goods, tools, furniture, cooking equipment, personal items such as clothing and jewelry, and much more.

The museum uses the objects to interpret the historical role of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and its subsidiary, the Puget Sound Agricultural Company (PSAC), in regional development between 1832 and 1869. The HBC established Fort Nisqually as a trading post and headquarters for the PSAC.

On November 29, the Fort opened the exhibit “Favorite Things,” which features more than a dozen of the beautiful, unusual, and common objects from the online catalog. The display will continue through March 15, 2015.

A highlight of the exhibit is a Chilkat blanket from the 1800s, made by the Tlingit people of the Northwest Coast. Exhibit curator Chris Fiala Erlich explained that William Tolmie, the Fort’s manager, studied and collected material from tribes in the Pacific Northwest. A Tlingit basket he collected sometime before 1860 resides today in the Smithsonian Institution. “We don’t know if he collected a blanket, but we know he studied the language and collected other Tlingit material,” said Erlich.

“The design and construction of this traditional ceremonial robe is breathtaking,” said Erlich. The blanket was donated to the museum in the 1950s, and its history before that time is unknown.

Fort Nisqually is located in Point Defiance Park. Winter hours are Wed.-Sun., 11am – 4 pm.

More than half of the Fort’s collection is on permanent display within the Fort’s buildings, which include two fully restored mid-1800s structures and seven reconstructed buildings. Guests experience life in Washington Territory during the 1850s. Fort Nisqually Living History Museum is a facility of Metro Parks Tacoma.

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