History to new heights: Peter Booth has a plan for Museum of Western Colorado
Peter Booth’s career path of ever-expanding horizons drew him to the Museum of Western Colorado, where he says the future of the museum is taking shape.
A south Texas native who worked in Salem, Ore., before taking over in January as the executive director of the Museum of Western Colorado, Booth found himself on the forefront of what he said is a new direction in the way museums view their role when one of his first official duties involved a function for the Western Investigations Team.
The team, a collaboration of the museum and Colorado Mesa University that has captured headlines for putting forensic-quality meat on the bones of Alferd Packer’s story of how he became the Colorado Cannibal more than a century ago, among other mysteries, is blazing a trail for museums around the world, Booth said.
“This inventive program actually goes out and discovers the natural history and heritage,” then goes on to display it in traditional museum fashion, Booth said.
For Booth, previously the head of the Willamette Heritage Center at The Mill in Salem, Ore., the Western Investigations Team is more than just a sideshow.
No museum is an island, Booth said, noting that he is “extremely interested in partnerships” that will advance museum goals.
Booth’s roots run close to the Grand Valley and its history as the one-time home of the Utes.
“I did my master’s thesis on a New Deal topic,” he said, noting that Roosevelt’s Depression-era program “had a huge impact on native peoples,” as it ended the era of assimilation and began one of recognition.
“No longer was the government trying to destroy tribal entities,” he said. “It started to recognize the existence and legitimacy of tribal entities.”
That history, he said, is interesting and “extremely pertinent to our current society.”
Booth’s mix of museum and historical expertise could be just the thing for the Museum of Western Colorado.
“I see Peter as a man with many fresh ideas and a great deal of energy.” said Ted Okey, a member of the museum board that hired him to replace longtime Executive Director Mike Perry, who retired.
Booth, who has a Ph.D in history from Purdue for his study of the Tohono O’odham political culture between 1900 and 1937, is not only looking to the future of the museum. His arrival in Grand Junction signals a return to his museum roots, roots shared by many a museum lover, specifically dinosaurs.
Love of museums was planted in Booth in his childhood on a trip to Dinosaur National Monument and later, the Denver Museum of Natural History.
“For an impressionable young boy, that looked like a fun thing to be involved with,” Booth said.
Now Dinosaur Journey, the paleontological museum in Fruita, is “a brand-new professional area for me,” Booth said.
He’s already captivated by Fruitadens, a small dinosaur that roamed the earth about 150 million years ago.
And Cross Orchards Living History Farm is a treasure that “tells the story of the true salt of the earth,” he said.
How he’s going to make the most of the Museum of the West — “The sky is the limit” for its possibilities — Cross Orchards and Dinosaur Journey remains to be seen, Booth said.
He plans to take a year or so studying before offering his individual stamp on the operations of the Museum of Western Colorado.
That doesn’t surprise Okey.
“Booth is very down to earth and folksy,” Okey said. “But he’s extremely focused and knowledgeable.”
Patience, though, is in order, Okey said, remembering an early conversation with Booth in which Okey asked what Booth had in mind after a few weeks on the job.
“You’re probably expecting to hear some great scheme, some grand idea,” Okey remembers Booth replying. “But this is a complex organization and I think I need to watch it.”
In a year or so, Booth will likely come in with proposals for a new strategic plan, “and I’m going to be eager to see what he comes up with,” Okey said.