Culture Collections

Cultural collections at the Burke document human heritage from around the world, including more than 1 million archaeological and contemporary cultural objects and associated archival records. Details about specific collections are listed below, and information about collections-related services, including curation, repatriation and loan and access requests can be found on our Services and Policies page.

Archaeological Collection
Archaeology is the study of human history and our relationship to the environment. The Archaeological Collection contains artifacts, soil samples, animal and plant remains, and their associated field records. Although we have more than 1 million objects from around the world, our primary focus is the Pacific Northwest and the Pacific Rim. 

Many of the archaeology artifacts and records are available in the Burke Museum Collections Database. New data is added regularly, including non-diagnostic photos for inventory. In order to protect archaeological sites, no specific locations are available. Locational data is provided at the US county seat or similar non-US regional level.


Contemporary Cultural Collection
The Contemporary Cultural Collection includes objects dating from the late 1700s to the present, acquired from collectors and Native artists. The Burke Museum's world-renowned collections number over 50,700 objects and more than 50,000 archival records. The collections’ focus is primarily on cultures of the Pacific Region, including particular strengths in Native American art and artifacts. The collections include the fifth largest contemporary cultural collection of Northwest Coast objects in the U.S., the largest collection of Palauan story boards in the world, one of the top-five Alaskan Arctic collections in the world, and the largest collection of utilitarian Mexican pottery in a public museum outside of Mexico.

Photographs of most objects and over 5,000 photos from our archive collections are accessible in the Contemporary Culture Database


Collection Details

Haida bentwood chest, carved and painted with a symmetrical pattern in red, blue, and black
Photo: Haida bentwood chest. Burke Museum cat. no. #2291.
Pacific “Northwest” Coast (the Northeast Coast of the Pacific Ocean)

Highlight: We have the 5th largest Northwest Coast ethnological collection in the United States, with nearly 11,000 items.

Selected cultural collections include:

  • James G. Swan and Rev. Myron Eells collections assembled in 1892 for the Washington State Pavilion at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893
  • George T. Emmons collection purchased by the UW Board of Regents for the Museum after the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition on the UW campus
  • Walter Waters Alaskan collection purchased in 1952 from Walter Waters’ widow
  • Sydney and Anne Gerber collection of Kwakwaka’wakw masks and Haida argillite acquired in 1969
  • Margaret Blackman and Ed Hall collection of Northwest Coast silkscreen prints, the largest in the United States
  • Arthur Steinman collection of contemporary Northwest Coast masks and sculpture acquired in 2004
  • Simon Ottenberg Collection of Coast Salish prints
  • The Delbert Brink and Nancy Harris silver jewelry collections
  • Washington state archaeological collections including the West Point collection and the Biderbost collection


Model boat laying next to a drawing of a boat
Photo: Model Angyaaq. Burke Museum cat. no. #873.
Alaskan Arctic and Subarctic

Highlight: Among the top 5 Alaskan Arctic collections in the world.

The Burke’s Alaskan Arctic cultural collections including, basketry, bowls, kayaks, bone and ivory tools, and contemporary carvings.

Selected collections include:

  • James T. White collection
  • Bob Gierke collection of Yup’ik masks
  • Eugene Snow collection
  • E.M. Blackwell collection
  • Ellyn and Jon Ostrow collection of Arctic dolls
  • In partnership with the Alutiiq Museum, we curate extensive faunal materials from Kodiak Island archaeological sites


Details of stone tools laying on a white background
Photo: Artifacts from the Stewart Collection.
Plateau (Eastern British Columbia, Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon)

The Plateau cultural collection includes beadwork, parfleches, basketry and fiber artifacts, bone and stone tools, and horse gear.

Selected collections include:

  • The Moran Goodrich collection of Yakama clothing and beadwork
  • The Dr. R.E. Stewart Columbia River collection
  • The Carolyn McGilvra Burke collection


A tattooed forearm held over a woven mat, showing a similar woven pattern within the tattoo
Photo: Burke Museum

Highlights: Melanesian, Micronesian, and Polynesian collections

Pacific Rim collections from throughout Asia and Oceania include kava bowls, tapa cloth, storyboards and contemporary art, and stone tools.

Selected collections include:

  • Over 400 pieces of tapa cloth, including one of the world’s largest
  • World’s largest collection of Palauan story boards
  • Georgia Lee’s collection of contemporary Rapa Nui art from Easter Island
  • Carol Ivory’s collection of contemporary Marquesas Islands art
  • Marjorie Rogers’ collection of contemporary material from the Solomon Islands
  • Rollo Beck and Walter J. Eyerdam’s collections from the AMNH Whitney South Seas Expedition
  • Ethnological objects and archaeological collections from over 70 archaeological sites in the Papua New Guinea highlands, including the Cole and Watson collections
  • The Mark Groudine New Guinea collection
  • The Wallace “Mac” Ruff Trust (New Guinea)
  • Dr. James Nason, Douglas Osborne, Vern Carroll, Keith “Mac” Marshall, Hera Ware Owen’s collections of Micronesian material


Woven textile fragment with cream, brown, orange, and red geometric repeating pattern
Photo: Ancient Peruvian textile in the archaeology collection. Burke Museum cat. no. 1988-120/3C
Mexican, Central and South America

Highlights: the Fred Hart pottery collection, largest collection of Mexican pottery in North American (including Mexico)

The collection includes material from Central and South American collections:

  • The Leslie Grace textile collection from Mexico and Guatemala and folk art collection
  • The Barnes collection of Guatemalan textiles
  • Mexican folk art from the estate of Hazel Koenig
  • The Fred Hart collection of Mexican pottery
  • Ancient Peruvian textiles from the highlands


Textiles rolled up for storage on shelves and a line of painted wooden boards along the wall behind them
Photo: Andrew Waits

Highlights: Southeast Asian textiles and Philippine weapons

The Asian collections number over 11,000 objects from China, Tibet, Japan and Southeast Asia including Nuoso folk art, samurai armor, southeast Asian textiles, and Philippine weapons (outstanding due to their survival by going underground during the colonial occupation).

Selected collections include:

  • The Charles “Biff” Keyes and Peter Kunstadter Southeast Asian collections
  • The Glen M. Light collection of jade
  • The Steve Harrell Nuoso collection


Assorted chicken bones laying on an orange background
Photo: Domestic chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) bones. Burke Museum cat. no. #BMA.003.
Comparative Faunal Collections

A small comparative faunal collection is being created for archaeologists with a focus on domesticated animals and small mammals to help supplement the extensive skeletal collections already available at the Burke Museum.


Stick handle with detailed carving on one tapered end
Photo: Digging stick handle (for digging camas and/or clams), held in trust for National Park Service, San Juan Island NHP. Cat.#SAJH 139540.
Held-in-Trust Collections

Many public agencies and tribes in the Pacific Northwest request that the Burke Museum care for collections from their properties to ensure long-term preservation and access. The Culture Department curates collections for a number of government agencies, including the Washington State Department of Transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Puyallup Tribe of Indians and many others. Some of these collections are stored at the Burke only temporarily while others have been deposited for long-term care. These collections are not owned by the Burke Museum. Research access may be restricted. For more information, see the Curatorial Services page.

Tlingit baskets with geometric patterns and animal forms woven into the design sitting on a shelf
Pictured: Tlingit baskets in the Ethnology collection. Photo: Andrew Waits.
Basketry from around the world

Highlight: the oldest Puget Sound basketry hat in existence

Over 8,700 baskets from around the world, including North America, the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, China and Japan.

The Native North American basketry collection numbers over 6,200, including archaeological wet site basketry and basketry woven by known weavers such as Isabella Edenshaw, Jessie Webster, Beatrice Black, Primrose Adams and Lisa Telford.


Canoes in storage along a wall, secured by yellow and green straps
Photo: Canoes in the Burke Museum collection.
Canoes from around the world

Highlights: Nearly 500 boats, from full-sized to models, including nearly 60 full-sized craft

Image of a sailboat on the water with "Waterfront of Zamboanga" handwritten on it
Photo: Vinta (boat) near Zamboanga, Philippine Islands. Hurley collection. Burke Museum cat. no. #9.6A76.
Archival Photograph Collections

Highlights: Holm/Wright Slide Collection of 25,000 images of Northwest Coast Art from 200 museums and private collections world-wide.

Analog videodisks of the Bill Holm and Robin Wright collections of 25,000 images of Northwest Coast art from 200 museums and private collections are available for $75 plus tax and shipping. To purchase a copy, use the videodisk order form (PDF). NOTE: In order to view the videodisk, you need an analog 12” disk player attached to a video screen. You can also search the Holm/Wright slides from selected Museums online.

Photo collections include:

  • The Holm/Wright collection of 25,000 images of Northwest Coast art from 200 museums and private collections
  • The Nancy Harris collection of Northwest Coast silver jewelry images
  • The Adelaide de Menil photographs of Northwest Coast totem poles
  • The of historical Northwest Coast photographs
  • The Kenneth Brown collection of historical photographs of encampments during the building of the Grand Coulee Dam in Eastern Washington
  • The John Elmore Maori photograph collection from Autearoa New Zealand
  • The G. Victor Hurley Philippine Islands images
  • The Edmund Schwinke photographs taken during the filming of Edward S. Curtis’ In the Land of the Headhunters, 1914 and Mick Gidley’s Schwinke photographs


Publications About the Collections

For a list of publications about the Cultural Collections, please contact the relevant collections manager listed on the People and Contact page.

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