Work continues on the Clayton Museum of Ancient History featuring the Stanback Collection at York College. The museum will be open to the public, free of charge, beginning on September 12 at 1 p.m.

The two women tasked with the creation of the museum are York natives Amber Soderholm, curator, and Kate Dibbern, exhibit designer. This enterprising duo has worked tirelessly for more than a year to take a collection of artifacts and an empty space and turn it into a great museum experience.

One of the biggest challenges has been establishing the context of the artifacts, says Dibbern. “It’s small stuff with a big past,” she said. “The artifacts are mostly from the Middle East and they’re thousands of years old. We wanted people to understand the impact of these small pieces and how important they are in the context of their time and place.”

The museum will include a wide array of artifacts with the core of the collection focused around the Roman soldier. Soderholm has been working with these artifacts since 2012 when she was asked to inventory the collection prior to its transfer to York.

Soderholm is a York High and York College graduate. She also holds a master’s degree in museum studies from Johns Hopkins University and has worked at the Nebraska State History Museum, The Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, and The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson in Nashville.

Her work with the campus collection has been a new challenge, as she has developed the museum from the ground up. Undaunted by the massive job, Soderholm dove in with months of planning and research. She teamed up with her longtime friend, Dibbern, in September 2014.
Dibbern says she has been an artist as long as she can remember. She’s never wanted to be anything else. After York High, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in studio art with a focus in ceramics and painting from Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kans. Her work in the Clayton Museum began as a commissioned artist but came on full-time as her value to the project became apparent. This is her first time creating art for a museum space, though it is not her first commissioned art work.Soderholm’s research and organization paired with Dibbern’s creative and construction talents have combined to create a museum that will make the college and community proud.

Some of the pieces she has constructed for the Clayton Museum include replica Roman pillars that double as benches set in front of a wall mural depicting the Roman city of Palmyra; a reproduction of the Western Wall in Jerusalem; a replica onager; and an enormous mosaic that hangs in the entryway. The large scale of these projects was unfamiliar, and a little scary says Dibbern. Her strategy for tackling each new task is simple: start in the middle and work outward.

“If I start in the middle, then I can’t quit,” Dibbern said with a laugh.
Dibbern and Soderholm agree that they work well together because they have different strengths and approaches to challenges. “While she was researching history, I was researching concrete,” said Dibbern.

“We’re always going back and forth on how to do something,” said Soderholm. “We feed off each other’s ideas. We don’t always agree, but we work through it and our ideas mature into something better.”

Soderholm has always enjoyed history, but didn’t consider a career in museums until late in her experience at York College. As a history major with minors in English and Religious Studies, Soderholm participated in a multidisciplinary study trip led by Tim and Beverly McNeese, faculty members in history and English. The group visited a number of museums and historic sites where Soderholm became interested in all of the different types of jobs involved in bringing history to life. She has also participated in two study abroad trips with Dr. Frank Wheeler, chair of the Department of Bible—a tour of ancient sites in Greece and Turkey, and an archeological dig in Israel.

Soderholm completed her degree from Johns Hopkins in 2012 and has been taking certificate hands-on classes from The Campbell Center for Historic Preservation since 2012. Through graduate school and into her professional career, Soderholm says that the most valuable skill she learned at York College was how to conduct meaningful and reliable research. “I learned how to do research from Dr. Wheeler and the McNeeses,” she said.

Once the museum opens in September, the work will continue. Soderholm and Dibbern are planning to add an interactive children’s area, organize special events, and develop programing for schools, as well as adult education.

When asked what is their favorite element of the museum they’ve created, the women agreed: “The next thing.” Every piece they add to the museum just gets better.

The community opening of the museum will be held in conjunction with Yorkfest, on Saturday, September 12 at 1 p.m. For more information about the Clayton Museum, contact Soderholm at