‘The collection has become its own collection’: Pamunkey Museum director plans to restore, revitalize center

The Pamunkey Museum is located in the Pamunkey Tribal Reservation and is open for visitors from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Gaya Gupta/staff
The Pamunkey Museum is located in the Pamunkey Tribal Reservation and is open for visitors from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Gaya Gupta/staff

The Pamunkey Museum is located in the Pamunkey Tribal Reservation and is open for visitors from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Gaya Gupta/staff (Virginia Gazette) Step into the Pamunkey Indian Museum, located at the tribe’s reservation in King William, and each artifact will transport you to a different age.

Stone points dating 12,000 years ago. A treaty from 1677 between several tribes and the English crown, guaranteeing the indigenous members control over their homeland. Ceremonial headwear and dresses worn in the 1930s.

But the museum’s timeline, depicting traditional pottery styles through the Pamunkey’s history, stops in 1980. Untouched for more than 40 years, the exhibition’s displays are still dotted with carefully cut circles containing information about the artifacts, carefully typed out. In fact, Shaleigh R. Howells, the museum’s director, is considering putting the typewriter used to write these descriptions on display.

Decades later, the museum is ready for a change. Howells, who joined the museum in June, is working with Pamunkey tribal members to breathe new life into the space by rotating in new objects and displays, building an online platform for Pamunkey artisans, and introducing new programming for tribal members.

“When COVID happened, (the museum) had no online presence, no online programming, no way to do that. They realized very quickly that they needed to build capacity,” Howells said. “I’m here to help do that.”

Returning to its traditional yearly schedule, the museum reopened its doors post-COVID in April and will be open until November. Howells, however, said the museum […]

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