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‘Timelines in Timber’ exhibit on display at The Mabee

PLAINVIEW, TX — Dendrochronology is a big word, but so are some of the trees the science seeks to document and date, like the huge cuts of Douglas fir and mulberry trees currently displayed in “Timelines in Timber” at The Mabee, a collection of museums on WBU Baptist University’s Plainview campus.

The exhibit is the creation of spring and summer intern Zachary Davis in fulfillment of his Master of Museum Science degree at Texas Tech University. Davis teamed up with Dr. Matthew Allen, Professor of Biological Sciences in the Kenneth L. Mattox School of Mathematics and Sciences, to create the exhibit.

“I have an undergrad in geology with a minor in bio,” Davis explained. “When I reached out to the Science division, Dr. Allen responded. His area of study is dendrochronology, and he was passionate about it when we talked about doing this. However, it’s one thing to talk about it, but a little bit harder to visualize and put it together.”

On the way to the hallway housing the temporary exhibit, visitors get to participate in a community activity that sets the stage for the exhibit.

“Dr. Allen mentioned how in dendrochronology they track important events by damage in the tree rings,” Davis said. “It just made sense to make our own tree rings, where people can put their own markers.” From D-Day to current day, two paper trees on the wall allow visitors to pinpoint year rings and write about significant event in their lives.

The primary display in the hallway is a piece of ebony, a stark looking piece of exotic wood. “You immediately see raw wood,” Davis said. “That’s what we wanted.”

A hard wood with deep black color, ebony is good for carving and sculptures, but Davis explained that it is now illegal to trade ebony. “The places where it grows naturally in Africa have stopped selling it to prevent it from going extinct,” he said.

Beyond the glass-protected ebony display, an educational video offers a short course in dendrochronology, defining the tools of the science that can then be seen in the first display case. “We have all of the tools and how the scientists actually collect things in the field and then process the information from the tree rings,” Davis said.

Next, comes those giant slices of Douglas fir and mulberry trees that Davis admits to using as “kind of the big attention-grabbing pieces.” The sheer size of these cuts achieves his goal. “This gives some of the enormity of the wood and trees,” the intern said.

One display case is devoted to trees found atop the caprock. Except for a few post oaks, Davis said most native trees are junipers or firs, noting that the rest are just shrubs. A One-Seed juniper shows evidence of being more than 700 years old, but the jagged trunk rings make examination difficult.

Pulling from the Museum of the Llano Estacado Collection, Davis has filled one display case with items that are valued based on dendrochronology. An antique wood accordion is among the pieces in the case.

“Because wood grain is the result of lumber being cut, you can use the grain to age wood. It’s one of the big things people use to date instruments and other wood things,” the creator of the exhibit said.

Other items to be seen include wood pieces that reveal fires or dry seasons in the lifecycle of a tree. There are wood frames because sometimes frames around ancient paintings can offer clues to the age of the framed art. Paintings done on wood panels are easily dated, Davis said.

One of the other display cases is filled with wood samples from trees from all around the world, teaching tools from Dr. Allen’s classroom collection. A variety of colors, wood grain patterns, and tree ring markers can be seen among the blocks.

Finally, there is a take-home activity for kids — a Playdough set that allows children to take borings like real dendrochronologists.

Admission is free for “Timelines in Timber”, which is on display through Aug. 3. During the summer months, The Mabee is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. After viewing the “Timelines in Timber” exhibit, Davis and The Mabee staff encourage visitors to also check out the three museums housed in the facility — Museum of the Llano Estacado, Jim Dean Museum, and Hutcherson Flying Queens Museum. There is no charge for admission to any of the museums.