401 Meeker St Delta CO 81416 970.874.4421

New museum curator honors tradition

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Photo submitted Laurie Elendu brings extensive experience to the Delta Museum.

Laurie Elendu has been named the curator of the Delta Museum. She replaces longtime museum director Jim Wetzel, who continues to serve the Delta County Historical Society as a board member and volunteer.

From the time she was born until the sixth grade, Laurie Elendu grew up in Delta. She moved to Durango with her family until the eighth grade, when her family moved once again, this time to Holyoke. Laurie finished out her high school years in Holyoke.

She began pursuing a degree in engineering from Fort Lewis College, however, but she decided engineering was not for her and she transferred to Colorado State University, where she studied studio arts. Laurie transferred to Michigan State University where she minored in history of art, student taught, and earned a master's degree in art history, integrative studies and interior design for historic preservation.

One of her hobbies is sculpting. She is very passionate about art, stories and volunteering. She believes it's critical that she engages herself in the community.

As the new curator for the Delta Museum, Elendu wants to bring more visitors into the museum by providing value. She says that sometimes when a story is told people do not listen because they are not a part of it.

"People want to see themselves in the story," she said. "When people see themselves in the story they are going to come. In a story, you must reflect what is inherently valuable to the people who live here."

Her long history of working with and for museums makes her knowledgeable about what will draw people to exhibits.

When she was young Laurie and her family traveled. They visited museums and old cemeteries, finding tombstones that were "works of art." As a little girl, Laurie wondered about the person buried there and what kinds of stories they had. This helped to start her fascination with history.

Later, her fascination grew when her grandfather, the first Sioux Indian to serve in the House of Representatives, took Laurie and her two sisters to live with him in Washington, D.C., for a month. History came alive.

But, Elendu got her real introduction into preserving history when she worked in the archives as a student and later worked with Dr. Julie Avery, assistant curator of history at Michigan State University.

One of her first projects was putting together four large panels for the state fair. Cohesively, the panels were meant to tell the history of the fair.

Marsha McDowell, curator of folk art at Michigan State University, came to Laurie after hearing of her success with the state fair exhibit. McDowell knew about Laurie's Native American heritage, so she asked her to help with a Smithsonian exhibit that would travel to eight different venues. The exhibit was about Native American quilts.

"Not many people know, or knew, that quilts were traditionally made by Native American women."

Ecstatic of this opportunity, Laurie eagerly joined the team. She toured reservations in South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado and then she commissioned quilts from each area.

Part of her job was to also do oral history interviews. She ended up spending approximately two and a half years completing everything the Smithsonian would need.

After completing the project and her courses, Elendu returned to Colorado, this time with her daughter. They lived in Oak Creek where, at the time, the town was re-establishing a museum in its newly restored town hall.

Elendu said, "I just fell into that. I worked with the town historian, Mike Yurich, who had lived there since he was a child. We had 11 exhibits that we did within five or six weeks. They had all of these people coming, to give speeches and hand out awards. This was all because the historical society members knocked themselves out and did a beautiful job of restoring the town hall. It was just absolutely gorgeous."

Now, with a child and finished with another job, Elendu decided it was time to move closer to her parents which led her to return to Delta County.

Prior to working at the Delta County Museum, Elendu volunteered with the Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia.

Elendu said that one of the most beautiful things about working in museums is that you can bring history alive by sharing ideas and collaborating with the community.

"They say that two heads are better than one, but I think that the more heads that are involved, the better. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses, so if we utilize those strengths and empower people, then you can bring about amazing things," she said.

Elendu hopes to invigorate community involvement and get people volunteering at the museum.

Elendu explained working in a rural community versus working for a museum at a university. At Michigan State University, the university budget covered a director and an assistant director. In addition, there were curators for every facet of the museum and under them were student workers. Resources and volunteers were abundant.

In Delta County, the museum relies on the support of the community members -- people who volunteer and trust the museum with their belongings.

"It is a matter of honoring tradition, and keeping traditions as well as honoring the people who have come before, who have put blood, sweat, and tears into the facility, into the stewardship." Laurie continued, "These items have been given to us by a long list of people. I, we, know it is a huge responsibility to ensure the proper care of the items."

There are challenges with working in a small community, but one advantage is the numerous ways of deeply connecting with community members.

Elendu's ultimate goal is to "do something to help educate for the purpose of education, entertainment, and inspiration. And work with values, collaboration, honesty and integrity."

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