What understanding would you like visitors to take away from an exhibit on the gold nugget?
The gold nugget is a really beautiful example of the layers of meaning than an object can have. Typically, there may be five or six meanings for a hat, for a chair, for an earring, for an automobile. There's the story of manufacture and design, the story of sales and marketing, the story of the materials the object is made from, the story of ownership and usage, and then the story of the broader issues an object brings up. In the case of the gold nugget, they're stark. They're absolutely stark. We have a vivid example here of metallurgy. Gold is a metal. What are its properties? Why is it precious? Why do we care about gold? Why are coins made of it? What about antiquity? The gold nugget for us opens up that story. It allows people, teenagers, families of all kinds, to start thinking seriously about why does gold matter, why do any metals matter? Gold certainly isn't the most useful metal. It's not the most plentiful. Steel is a great metal. So's iron, copper. What's up with gold? So I'd love, on one hand, to talk about gold, its distinction from the Egyptians to the present day, but on the other hand, there's the gold rush. This is a catalyst for the gold rush. This kicks it off and so many stories, where to begin, where to end? Involving the peoples of North America, the state of California, the state of the United States, and of course, all the folks who tried and succeeded, who tried and failed, to become gold miners, so many-- many layers of stories.
Interview with David Shayt, National Museum of American History, May 31, 2006.