2013 PFIG Recipient Helena Groves

Career Administrator

Helena Groves
College of Arts & Sciences
Anthropology Major
2015 Graduation Year

Internship: Frontier Culture Museum

Notes on the first week

It’s not everyday that when people ask “what are you doing this summer?”, one can truthfully answer “working in a wigwam.” But that’s what I get to tell everyone, friends and family alike –and it’s 100% true!In fact, I work in a whole villages of wigwams, serving as an interpreter for the Frontier Culture Museum’s newest exhibit, their Native American hamlet. Most people are in disbelief that I walk around barefoot, dawning buckskin and animal furs. That’s just the standard uniform!

Still others are surprised that I build a daily fire in the hearth, help plant crops (namely, native strains of the “Three Sisters”: corn, beans, and squash), and –most shockingly– tan deerskin hides.

Yet these are all typical activities on the job, and I am having an absolute blast getting to know the ropes! I’ll have to admit, it took me awhile to get used to interpreting to large groups. “Interpreting”, I’ve come to find out, is like tour guiding on steroids. Not only do you have to walk visitors around the site, you get to engage in intelligent, even lengthy, conversations that might arise from their many questions. In addition, you are entrusted with the construction of the site, from the research involved in its initial planning, to harvesting the materials (in our case, lots of tree bark and saplings for the wigwams!) as well as performing all the manual labor involved in building something that will (hopefully) last for generations of visitors to come.

My first week has been an absolute whirlwind –so many new faces and skills to learn! Nevertheless, I am happily exhausted, and am looking forward to the rest of my time here at the Frontier Culture Museum.


Whew, the summer is flying by! I feel like I am finally getting into the swing of things here at the Frontier Culture Museum. The learning curve was steep, but I am happy to say that I feel entirely comfortable interpreting for whole groups on my own now. I especially enjoy the groups of kids we get as visitors to the site; they always have so much energy! Our team has put our heads together and come up with some creative, “native” themed games for these children to enjoy, all while learning about Native American culture!

I’ll have to admit, the summer heat has definitely been a challenge. Being especially fair-skinned, I do not perform well in the sun, and have had to take multiple breaks to avoid heat exhaustion and rehydrate. Although this is one aspect of the job I was not anticipating, it has certainly given me a newfound appreciation for full-time interpreters who work all day in the hot sun, as well as the natives themselves who lived permanently without the air conditioning and freezy-pops that allow me to cope with the heat.

 Interacting with the public audience itself has proven an interesting challenge. Visitors to the site ask a wide array of questions, some of them quite bizarre, and often politically incorrect. It has taken patience and tact to say the right thing and to remain poised, time and time again. I have found that the key is to remember that I am there to provide the best and most enriching experience possible to each of our visitors. With this in mind, I am better able to handle those tricky questions and frustrating customers.

In the weeks to come, I hope to expand on my interpreting skills and to future help in building our little site, which is still very much in its infancy. It is incredibly exciting to aid in the construction of such a powerful teaching and outreach tool – one that could potentially educate hundreds of visitors in the ways of Native American daily life and culture. Stay tuned!

Final Reflections

My oh my, where did the summer go? It feels like it just began. I think that all the action-packed days at the Frontier Culture Museum made the time really fly by. By this point, I really “hit my stride” in interpreting to the public, and was able to throw in some personal anecdotes and even some information from my courses at UVA. I had also become accustomed to answering the sometimes wacky questions of museum visitors. My days “on-site” lately have mainly revolved around construction and site maintenance; with many families out of town for August vacations, it frees us up to work on our “still-in-the-works” site. Pictured below, you can see the frame for the longhouse we want to build, along with some cattail mats we will use as the covering. My coworkers and I, after a brief period of trial-and-error, were able to perfect our skills at mat making and have begun creating them in bulk. It’s a tricky and time consuming process, as we have to harvest the cattails by hand and use only natural hemp fibers with a bone needle for threading. In the end, however, it is more than worth the time and energy to see a beautiful, completed mat that is both durable and historically authentic.

By the last day, I felt like a full-fledged interpreter. The museum staff even said they would love for me to join their team as a full or part time employee, what an honor! Learning the ropes of Museum work and public historical interpretation has been such a pleasure and I could not have asked for a better team more helpful and supportive than the staff of the Frontier Culture Museum.

I really have enjoyed my time at the Frontier Culture Museum–it has fueled my passion for public service and for our nation’s rich history! I would like to thank Carrie Rudder, the wonderful Career Center Staff, and the Parents Fund for the opportunity and privilege of having such an unforgettable internship experience.