The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture has been a Washington state museum since 1899. It is located at the University of Washington campus at the intersection of N.E. 45th Street and 17th Avenue N.E. in Seattle, Washington, USA's University District. It is the only major natural history museum in the Pacific Northwest and the state's oldest museum. Its collection numbers over 12 million artifacts and specimens, including totem poles, gemstones, and dinosaur fossils.
The roots of the Burke Museum can be traced back to an amateur natural history club founded in the early 1880s, known as the Young Naturalists' Society. The YNS began collaborating with the Washington Territorial University through natural science professor Orson Bennett Johnson. Johnson became an advocate for the professionalization of the society and helped them increase their understanding of natural history
and refocus their efforts on collecting, educating, and displaying objects to and for the public. With Johnson's guidance, the group's membership, natural history collections, and ambitions grew, resulting in the creation of Seattle's first natural history museum on the downtown campus of WTU (later to becomes the University of Washington). Over the years, the YNS and their museum expanded their collections to include newly discovered marine specimens, and expanded their membership to include a number of women.
The original museum was shut down when the WTU moved north to become the University of Washington. Several members followed the school and organized an on-campus museum. In 1899 the Washington state legislature named this new organization the Washington State Museum. Following this development, the Young Naturalists' Society was disbanded in 1904.
However, the new Washington State Museum continued to lack a permanent home for its collections until 1962, when the Burke's present building was constructed (designed by James Chiarelli). Funds for the structure came from a grant from the National Science Foundation and a generous bequest from the estate of Caroline McGilvra Burke, at which point the museum was renamed in honor of her late husband Judge Thomas Burke.
According to its website, "The Burke Museum is dedicated to creating a better understanding of the world and our place in it. The museum is responsible for Washington State collections of natural and culture heritage, and for sharing the knowledge that makes them meaningful. The Burke welcomes a broad and diverse audience and provides a community gathering place that nurtures life-long learning and encourages respect, responsibility, and reflection."
The museum houses more than 12 million artifacts and specimens in its anthropology, biology, and geology research divisions. Highlights include:
- The nation's fifth largest collection of Northwest Coast and Alaskan Native art
- The world's largest collection of spread bird wings (a technique that Burke pioneered)
- The world's second largest collection of frozen bird tissues for genetic research
- One of the largest collections of Northwest plants and fungi
- Over one million archaeological artifacts, including extensive collections from Washington state sites around Puget Sound and the Columbia River
The Burke Museum currently displays three long-term exhibits: "Life and Times of Washington State," "Pacific Voices," and "Treasures of the Burke." "Life and Times of Washington State" is a natural history exhibit on the 545-million-year evolution of the Northwest region. Features of this exhibit include large-scale fossils such as an allosaurus
skeleton cast and the giant ground sloth
fossil found during the construction of Sea-Tac International Airport
. There are also displays that explain the geologic history of the area and its influence on the terrain and climate.
"Pacific Voices" is a cultural exhibit that tells the stories or traditions of 19 different Native American and Pacific Rim cultures through art, artifacts, ceremonial objects, and audio/visual documentaries.
The Burke also hosts a schedule of changing exhibits throughout the year in its temporary galleries. These changing exhibits include traveling exhbits organized by other institutions and original exhibits curated by Burke staff.
- "The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World"
- "Arctic Wings: Birds of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge"
Previous exhibits (since November 2006)
The museum is administered through the University of Washington College of Arts and Sciences
; the University of Washington Board of Regents
serves as the museum's governing body.
The Burke Museum Association (BMA) is an organization made up of the Burke's Board of Trustees and an advisory council. Their mission is to actively support the Burke Museum by increasing public visibility, raising public and private funds to support programming and future expansion, and providing strong ties to the community.
A combination of Washington state funds, endowment, earned income, grants, and individual contributions constitutes an annual budget of $3,500,000.