Seeing eye-to-eye at The Burke

Have a staring contest with the biggest eye in the animal kingdom: the giant squid

I have driven past The Burke Museum numerous times, always mistaking it for just another University of Washington building.But after my eye kept catching that of a giant squid in numerous advertisements along University Way Northeast, I decided to finally see what was inside.

Apparently, that is the plan, according to associate director Erin Younger.

"Our changing exhibits serve multiple purposes. They attract new eyes, while keeping previous customers coming back to see more, "Younger said. "The exhibits also tie in with our mission, which is to focus on the critical issues of our times."

Creating a balance

From now until Dec. 31, the museum will feature two exhibits: "In Search of the Giant Squid," a Smithsonian Institution creation that presents the latest research on one of the world's largest and most reclusive creatures, and "Yellowstone to Yukon: Freedom to Roam," an incredible display of still-photograph documentary by Florian Schulz, who is hoping to preserve this vast area.

Schulz captures this land in the most breathtaking way. From the Grand Tetons in Wyoming to the majestic Mount McKinley in Alaska, this display contains images of the Rocky Mountains that are so awesome, it's difficult to believe they came from this planet, let alone North America.

The silent sky of the Northern Lights over the Yukon Territory and the impossible contrast of colors the Purcell Mountains in British Columbia display at sunset are just a couple examples of this impressive collection of photographs.

"I've lived in Montana my whole life and still couldn't believe some of these images," said UW senior and museum visitor Taylor Brugh.

Brugh saw the advertisement for this new exhibit on campus, and it inspired him to not pass by the museum for a fourth year, as well.

"I knew [The Burke] was here, but I didn't realize how extensive and entertaining the museum really is," Brugh said.

"Yellowstone to Yukon" is the first of three environmentally focused traveling exhibits created by The Burke Museum in partnership with Mountaineers Books. According to its website, Mountaineers Books is a nonprofit publishing company created in 1960 to express and share its love of the outdoors with others. The next stop for this traveling exhibit will be The Field Museum in Chicago.

The giant squid exhibit certainly lived up to its stature. It was an impressive, hands-on display that not only educated but entertained.

Here, you can peer through a submarine window and see what a giant squid sees more than 2,000 feet deep, have a staring contest with the largest eye in the animal kingdom or view handfuls of the 500 species of squid specimens.

"We try to feature a natural science exhibit with a cultural exhibit to create balance," Younger said. "The exhibits are usually selected years in advance in order to provide time for the museum to raise enough money to foster them."

Something for everyone

The best part is these are merely the temporary features at The Burke.

Can you recall the last time you entered a room and were greeted by the head of a 65-foot dinosaur peering over Native American artifacts straight ahead, the skull of a 35-foot sperm whale to your left and simultaneously a friendly curator on your right?

According to Younger, the Northwest Native American art and culture exhibits, along with the geology and dinosaur exhibits, are some of the most popular attractions.

But The Burke Museum isn't just for the public. It has a unique partnership with the University of Washington, which allows it to have an impressive research department, as well.

"As a research institution, the museum is top-notch," Younger said. "From original research in genetic resources with birds and mammals, to having one of the best DNA-exchange programs in the world, there are some great things happening here."

But don't let that intimidate you even if science isn't one of your strengths: The museum is also focused on families and children.

An elementary-school class taking a field trip to the museum can send their suggestions on how to spot a giant squid in its natural element to teuthologist (squid expert) Clyde Roper, stand next to a 140-million-year-old thigh bone of a dinosaur or figure out what Oregon's state insect using a very hands-on Northwest bug collection.

"Our job is to attract citizens from all over and of all ages," Younger said. "We have indeed added more advertisements on campus to capture that UW student that we have kind of forgotten about in previous years."

Another popular feature is the "People of the Pacific" exhibit on the lower floor. Here, one could learn about the first language in the Puget Sound area, Lushootseed; see firsthand how a Korean Hollye (wedding) takes place; and compare your dinner table to that of the Chinese during their New Year.

Upcoming exhibits

Diversity certainly isn't a weakness here at The Burke, which is probably why it is the state's best natural history museum, according to Younger.

New exhibits coming in the next year are "Peoples of the Plateau," a traveling exhibit of photographs of the Eastern Washington and Northeastern Oregon Native Americans, and "The Last Polar Bear Standing: Facing the Truth of a Warming World," the second of three environmentally focused exhibits.

For more information visit the museum's website:

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