Museum of the Coastal Bend welcomes new curator

New curator Eric Ray (left) gets to know volunteer archaeologist Bruce Shulter (right) at the Museum of the Coastal Bend on the Victoria College campus..

Maritime history expert Eric Ray has been hired as the new curator at the Museum of the Coastal Bend on the Victoria College campus.

Ray has spent the past two years working with the Texas Historical Commission at the Corpus Christi Museum on the La Salle Shipwreck Project. “La Belle,” one of four ships included in La Salle’s 1680s exploration of the Texas coast, is one of the most important shipwrecks ever discovered in North America. Ray also contributed to a book that is set for publication in 2013 about the artifacts recovered during the “Belle” excavation.

His new duties as curator at the museum include working on the upcoming expansion of the museum’s LaSalle Odyssey Exhibition, set to debut in fall of 2013.

“I’m anxious to begin branching out within the scope of the LaSalle expedition and learn more about this region’s history,” said Ray.

Originally from California, Ray left to pursue a bachelor’s degree from St. Johns College in Santa Fe, N.M. During a visit to San Francisco while on a break from school, he became interested in sailing tall ships.

“I had questions about what it was like to sail on a tall ship back during that time,” said Ray. “I found myself wondering what everyday life was like aboard a ship. What did the crewmen eat? How did they cook? What kind of clothing and shoes did they wear? There is so much that isn’t known, and I wanted to find out.”

Ray went on to earn a master’s degree in maritime archaeology and history at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

Since he began in August, Ray has been working with Sue Prudhomme, director of cultural affairs at VC who now oversees both the museum and the Welder Center, to determine the kind of story the museum wants to tell with the expansion of the LaSalle Odyssey Exhibit.

“It’s difficult to summarize the La Salle Odyssey—there were many exploration and colonization efforts by many different stakeholders, each with their own motivations,” said Prudhomme. “It’s a complicated story, but Eric and I are working to make sure the museum provides an intersection of all these perspectives and how La Salle’s story impacted Texas history.”

Many of the items to be included in the exhibit expansion, such as materials representing the French, Spanish and Native American cultures, will come from the museum’s collection of colonial items from the Fort St. Louis/Presidio La Bahia site. Additional items will come from the Texas Historical Commission in Austin, as well as from around the state.

“Small discoveries add up to a more complete understanding of the story,” said Ray. “In this case, we will use artifacts, photographs and other items to expand the La Salle exhibit. These items will help us create the story of early colonization in the Victoria area and what it meant in the historical context of the Golden Crescent region.”

In addition to working on the expansion of the La Salle exhibit, Ray’s duties as museum curator also include familiarizing himself with the museum’s volunteer archaeology program.

“I’ve been meeting with our volunteer archeologists,” said Ray “We’re discussing their goals and how I can help them meet those goals along with how they can help us meet ours.”

There is still a lot to be learned from the various excavation sites in Victoria County, added Ray. He and the museum’s volunteer archaeologists are working together to make sure local history is preserved and accessible to the community at the museum.

Published: Thursday, 20 September 2012

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