Leksi Kostur ’19 Creates an Exhibit on Seldom-Told Side of Whitman’s Dubious Past

This semester, I am a research and exhibit intern for the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute (TCI). The TCI is dedicated to preserving and presenting the rich history of the American Indian communities of this region of Washington. Specifically, the Institute features artwork, events, and museum exhibits pertaining to the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes.

I am a psychology major with minors in anthropology and art. I have been seeking opportunities at Whitman that allow me to combine my interests, and I am happy to say that this internship allowed me to do just that. Grace Fritzke, Isabella Sherwood-Reid, and I conducted a research project on the spread of disease in American Indian communities in 19thcentury Walla Walla. It is a well-known fact that small pox and measles had extreme, negative effects on indigenous populations, but the role Euro-American colonizers played in the epidemic is seldom acknowledged. Our team gathered and analyzed primary sources such as correspondence, church records, and a variety of relevant secondary sources. We recorded and organized our findings to develop a narrative that represented the seldom-told side of Whitman’s story. Our work culminated in a museum exhibit.

I served primarily as an exhibit designer and digital artist, generating ideas for and assembling displays and installations, creating promotional materials, and making art (for both walls and cases) that accompanied the historical artifacts we selected. After hours of hard work and a number of late nights, our exhibit opened on Thursday, April 9th. We are very pleased with the finished product, and hope that all passersby will take a moment to walk around and take in the story.

This intense but fulfilling project has helped me work towards future goals. I plan to continue my education post-Whitman by going into design; specifically, I am interested in interior architecture. Museum design is highly relevant to interior design, as it incorporates many of the same elements. Museum exhibits, like interiors, must be carefully curated to make viewers see art and artifacts in a particular way, and to make them feel a particular way. Additionally, I used my interest in interiors to help make the exhibit more inviting by adding a seating area to the lobby of Maxey west. Our hope is that the seating will draw people in and encourage them to spend more time in the space. Hopefully this will lead to a more in-depth engagement with the exhibit.

My internship helped me gain experience in teamwork, research, and spatial design. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Whitman’s past and figuring out how to present the story to an audience. I hope that others will learn from what we have assembled, as it is extremely important for students (and faculty) to understand the history of any institution they attend and support. Most importantly, I hope that the exhibit will encourage viewers to realize that the college in its current state is inextricably linked to its namesake, its founders, and their actions.


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