Dawn Scher Thomae – Curator of Collections/Senior Collection Manager
Thomae@mpm.edu or 414-278-6157
Dawn interned at museums in Boston, Denver, and Washington D.C. and worked at the Logan Museum of Anthropology before coming back to her hometown of Milwaukee and the MPM in 1987. She has a B.A. in Anthropology and a minor in Museum Studies from Beloit College, and an M.S. in Anthropology from UW-Milwaukee.
As Curator of Collections, Dawn's primary responsibility is the care, documentation, and artifact research of over 100,000 African, Oceanic, Native American, South and Central American, and European ethnographic and archaeological objects.
She also trains and supervises the volunteers, interns, work-study students, and temporary employees in the department. Her interests include Native American ethnographic material culture, Native Americans in the 20th century, Central and South American ethnology, and several topics in Museum Studies.
In addition to her anthropology duties, Dawn also coordinates and teaches graduate courses in the UWM/MPM Museum Studies Graduate Program, is the Museum Internship Coordinator, and is involved a variety of museum educational programs. She is also active in the state (WFM) and regional (AMM) museum associations.
From the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Department of Anthropology:
Dr. Bettina Arnold, European archaeology
Dr. Jean Hudson, Zooarchaeology, South American archaeology
Dr. Robert Jeske, Midwest/local archaeology
Dr. John Richards, Midwest/local archaeology
Dr. Patricia Richards, Midwest/local archaeology
Dr. Laura Villamil, Pre-Columbian archaeology
Dr. W. Warner (Bill) Wood, Mexico/U.S. Southwest, Museum Studies
George Ulrich– Curator Emeritus, African & Pacific ethnology
Nancy Oestreich Lurie, Ph.D. was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 29, 1924 and passed away peacefully on May 13, 2017. Nancy received her B.A from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1945), graduated with an M.A. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago (1947), and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Northwestern University (1952). There she met her husband, historian Edward Lurie in 1951. They divorced amicably in 1963. She taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Michigan, and University of Aarhus, Denmark as a visiting scholar with a Fulbright-Hay Lectureship in Anthropology. She served as an expert witness for more than half a dozen American Indian tribes in cases before the U.S. Indian Claims Commission.
From 1972 until her retirement in 1993, Nancy was the North American Indian curator and department head of Anthropology at the Milwaukee Public Museum, and continued to serve as a volunteer until 2015. Museums were her passion and under her tenure, the Anthropology staff doubled and major permanent exhibits installed, culminating in A Tribute to Survival, the acclaimed introductory section for the Museum’s American Indian exhibition hall.
Nancy was known for her research and publications on American Indian history and culture including contemporary adaptations. Her specific research areas included the Ho-Chunk (aka Winnebago), the Dogrib (Tlicho; located in Canadian sub-arctic) with whom she shared fieldwork with best friend, June Helm (AAA president 1985-1987), and intertribal urban Indian groups. Other publications addressed Action Anthropology as a resource in community self-help efforts. This she learned from mentor Sol Tax (another Milwaukee native) in Chicago. Nancy was Tax’s assistant in developing the landmark 1961 American Indian Chicago Conference.
Nancy’s book Wisconsin Indians is a standard, Mountain Wolf Woman, Sister of Crashing Thunder (1961) is widely used and has been translated into several languages, and her co-edited The American Indian Today (1968) was a breakthrough publication. Despising theory jargon, Nancy wrote clear vernacular prose and sought always to teach anthropology’s appreciation of cultural diversity.
Nancy was active in professional anthropological organizations, including a term as president of the American Anthropological Association, 1983-1985. In 2006, she was deeply honored to receive the AAA Franz Boas Award for exemplary service to Anthropology.
Nancy will be missed by hundreds, if not thousands, of people around the world whose lives were impacted by her teachings, writings, and very presence for the past 93 years. A celebration of Nancy's life was held in mid-July at the Milwaukee Public Museum. If desired, memorial donations can be made to the Milwaukee Public Museum.
[With funding from Nancy’s estate left to the MPM Anthropology Department, the Nancy Oestreich Lurie Diversity Internship was established to address the marked lack of diversity in professional museum positions. The internship was created for students and recent graduates who are members of groups underrepresented in careers related to museums. Through this internship placement, students will have the opportunity to gain real world experience in a range of professional museum activities.]