College of LAS « Illinois


A Glimpse of the World

The new Spurlock Museum is your passport to the world's cultures.

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Deciding whether to first see the parrot-feather cape of Brazil's Apalai people or the Yoruba beaded crown are among the delightful dilemmas facing visitors to the campus's newest museum. On September 26, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences welcomed the public to the 53,000-square-foot William R. and Clarice V. Spurlock Museum, the magnificent new home for some 47,000 historical and cultural artifacts collected over nine decades. At the dedication, UI Chancellor Nancy Cantor praised the facility as a resource for teaching and research. LAS Dean Jesse Delia was more effusive: "It is a jewel for the campus."

In five permanent galleries, representing the world's seven continents, are displayed some 1,620 artifacts, or about three percent of the museum's collection. The themes and artifacts in these galleries will remain the same for five to ten years. But special exhibits, drawn from the museum's other 45,380 artifacts as well as from those of other museums, will appear in the Focus Gallery every few months.

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The hub of the museum is the Central Core, a two-story atrial gallery with a sweeping spiral staircase and three marble monoliths representing mind, body, and spirit—three forms of human experience. Embedded in the floor is a mosaic of the world, a reminder of the scope of the collection.

Among the museum's highlights are a Siassi ancestor spirit mask and a collection of Amazonian bark cloth that is one of the largest in the U.S. The 5,000-year-old Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets in the Gallery of Middle Eastern Cultures are some of the earliest known examples of writing. Dominating the Gallery of Ancient Mediterranean Cultures is a temple-like structure holding plaster casts of 17 panels from the Parthenon frieze in Athens, Greece. Elsewhere in the museum you may find yourself eye to kneecap with a life-size replica of Michelangelo's "Pieta" or gazing down upon the mummified remains of a child from first-century Egypt.


Not to be missed is the Gallery of American Indian Cultures. It showcases more than 150 Native American artifacts, including a full-size tipi and an authentic war record of the Battle of Little Big Horn, as told by the chief of the Lakota Sioux. Most of the collection was donated by the late Reginald and Gladys Läubin, artists who were adopted in 1930 by One Bull, the nephew of the famed Sioux warrior, Sitting Bull. The Läubins lived among the Sioux for 16 summers, learning native dance and culture. Many of the artifacts in their collection were gifts from One Bull and the other Indians they befriended.

The museum brings the world to central Illinois, which is just what the University's Board of Trustees had in mind when, in 1911, they allocated space for two, and later three, museums on the fourth floor of Lincoln Hall. The museums' initial foci on the ancient and medieval worlds gradually broadened, prompting the museums to merge and, in 1971, adopt the name of World Heritage Museum to reflect a multicultural emphasis.


Though charming, with vaulted ceilings and creaky wood floors, the museum was limited by its location. The space was small, and in summers, the heat was stifling. Access was also a challenge—reaching the galleries required a vigorous climb up four flights of stairs or a ride in the service elevator. The technical facilities, needless to say, were outmoded.

A museum building had been on the college's wish list for decades, but it took an $8.5 million bequest from William R. and Clarice V. Spurlock of Indianapolis, in 1990, to make the dream a reality. William Spurlock was a 1924 graduate of the College of Business who traveled widely with his wife and wanted students at U of I to experience the world's history and cultures. Their gift sparked others, which eventually funded all of the galleries as well as a learning center, information desk, library, offices, storage facilities, and workshop. Eighty percent of the collection is donated. A lecture series and other activities are also supported with private gifts.

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Emphasizing the cultural context of artifacts is a high priority at the museum as is being "family friendly." The education center offers hands-on activities as well as educational programs that allow people to experience museum work firsthand. To increase access, the entire collection soon will be searchable online.

The museum is free and open Tuesdays through Saturdays, with special events often held on Sundays and Mondays. Check the museum's website for programs and hours. Then visit. Try starting with the samurai warrior.

By Holly Korab
April 2003