MPM Anthropology Curatorial Staff

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. 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, research, and interpretation of over 400,000 artifacts. The collection includes ethnographic items from native North and South American groups, African and Pacific aboriginal peoples, some Southeast Asian tribal groups, and archaeological material from the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East.

Other responsibilities include:

  • Developing and implementing educational programs for children and adults on-site and off-site
  • Developing, renovating, and maintaining exhibits
  • Writing and reviewing grants for research, programs, and projects
  • Developing and presenting talks to groups and organizations on-site and off-site
  • Preparing items for loan to other museums for research and exhibits
  • Working with researchers who come from all over the world to examine our collections and documentation
  • Answering inquiries from the staff and public
  • Identifying artifacts that people bring to the Museum
  • Advising other museums on a variety of topics
  • Co-coordinating and teaching graduate courses in the UW-Milwaukee Museum Studies Graduate Program

Dawn oversees and manages the wonderful and committed volunteers, interns, work-study students, and occasional temporary employees in the department. Besides mentoring emerging museum professionals, her interests include Native American ethnographic material culture, Native Americans in the 20th century, Central and South American ethnology, and almost every aspect of the museum field.


Adjunct Curators

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

Emeritus Curators

George Ulrich– Curator Emeritus, African & Pacific ethnology


Nancy LurieIn Memorium

Nancy Oestreich Lurie, PhD 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.]