Human Origins at Phillips Academy began in 2007 and represented one of the early collaborations between faculty and the Peabody. In its initial incarnation the course was led by Jerry Hagler, science faculty, and co-taught by personnel at the Peabody. The content was strongly interdisciplinary, mirroring the reality of archaeology and anthropology, which draw heavily on science, history, historiography, psychology, and other fields. Three years ago I began leading the course solo, but have endeavored to maintain the strong interdisciplinary flavor. The course is now among those offered by the Academy’s new Department of Interdisciplinary Studies. The course description states:
This interdisciplinary science course uses insights drawn from history, art, archaeology, and other disciplines to chart the human journey from hominid to the first civilizations that forecast the modern world. Hands-on laboratory exercises emphasize use of Peabody Institute of Archaeology collections and challenge students to apply ancient techniques to solve daily problems of survival.
In the fast paced world of human evolution, I’ve found it imperative to focus on some of the big questions and issues, rather than on the details, as new finds and discoveries rewrite our evolutionary history nearly monthly. In June 2017 a new discovery in Morocco pushed back the antiquity of modern humans (us!) by nearly 100,000 years and called into question the predominant view that our earliest ancestors first appeared in eastern and southern Africa. We also only have 10 weeks to cover some 7 million years of human evolution, so judicious pruning of the syllabus is necessary.
On the first day of class some students are surprised to learn that we will spend a great deal of time talking about race. When you understand that the scientists who first studied fossil humans were also the scientists that were interested in human diversity this connection becomes clearer. We encounter ideas like polygenesis, which suggests that so-called races today had different evolutionary origins and trajectories. Despite the widespread adherence to the “Out of Africa” hypothesis, polygenism casts a long shadow and continues to crop up in new guises.
Early in the term we tackle pseudoscience and read a chapter from Michael Shermer’s 1997 book Why People Believe Weird Things. We get to talk about Big Foot. It was with great reluctance that I dropped a reading from Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero’s 2013 book Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids. They review every piece of evidence for the existence of these creatures (and more!), pointing out over and over that scientific inquiry requires falsifiability beyond all else. The importance of falsifiability in science will remain central, but the Loxton and Prothero readings were just too long!
We also spend some time talking about Neanderthals, and the incredible shifts in our understanding of one of our closest human relatives. As much as possible I try to have students read things written by the scientists on the front line of human origins research, including Svante Pääbo, who less than ten years ago reconstructed the Neanderthal genome and demonstrated that many of us carry a little Neanderthal DNA, the product of interbreeding between what most scientists had though two separate species. The recent discovery of an individual from 90,000 years ago that had a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father will no doubt be front and center in our discussion. Denisovans are another recently discovered fossil human group that overlapped geographically and temporally with Neanderthals in eastern Europe and Asia. Students presenting on Neanderthals in the popular imagination will explore everything from the GEICO caveman to the Flintstones.
During our extended periods we will explore a variety of early technologies, from flint knapping to fire making. In order to contextualize these early technologies, students will read some of Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene, where he introduces the concept of the “meme.” Many are surprised to find that the term meme, now embedded in the culture of social media, originated with Dawkins as he wrestled with ways to model the origins and transmission of ideas. We discuss innovation versus transmission, and how both are necessary for an idea to persist and spread. Fire and stone tool making are particularly good examples, sparking discussion of the earliest evidence for each and if they were independently invented over and over (and how one might tell).
We revisit race again with an entire week dedicated to readings and discussion of the problematical origin of the concept, and how it melds physical traits with cultural ones. We delve into paleontologist Stephen J. Gould’s campaign against the idea of race as a biological or scientific concept, and how scientists have continued to study race despite Gould’s protests. The focus here is on creating a context for future discussions of race—the cultural construct—versus biological diversity. We’ll tackle the complexities of forensic methods used to distinguish race, why these work so well, and how physical anthropologists struggle with ideas about race. Other lab days visit the Peabody’s collection of fossil human cranial casts, how to read the story of human evolution in one skeleton, and a special trip to the campus Makerspace where we will 3D print a fossil of Homo naledi, a recently discovered fossil human species from South Africa that overlaps with modern humans in space and time and blends ancient and modern characteristics.
The term will finish with some time dedicated to the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), explored through a classroom debate and using the legal documents from the Spirit Cave Man case. The Peabody has been deeply involved in NAGPRA since its implementation in 1990 and it seems appropriate to share this work with students and investigate the arguments on all sides of the repatriation debate.
Stay tuned for updates from this fall’s Human Origins course. Let’s see how new discoveries in the field and lab change our conversations in the classroom!
Another summer is nearly gone and the school year is about to begin. Sometimes, I get asked “what do you do when the students aren’t here?” Well… everything!
In the past couple of months, the collections department has inventoried and rehoused over 100 artifact drawers! This included an ambitious project (and maybe a little bit crazy) to reorganize the ceramics from the Scotty MacNeish collection. MacNeish stored the ceramics by typology – useful for analysis, but really unhelpful for collections management. Objects with the same catalog number were spread out over 8 to 12 different drawers and were not easy to locate for researcher or class use. It took over a week to empty, consolidate, and inventory 55 drawers. But now everything is easy to access!
Sherds removed from storage and placed into numerical order
Sherds spread around the room
I have also been teaching Annie Greco, inventory specialist, and Rachel Manning, our new collections assistant, the basics of pest management and mitigation. We inspected artifacts for insect activity and damage and then learned how to properly clean objects that have been affected. Fortunately, nothing serious was found and it was a valuable exercise for all of us.
Also, outside research does not follow the school year patterns. I have been working with several professors to facilitate access to Peabody collections for a variety of projects.
Summer at the Peabody is a different pace than the school year, but not any slower!
In July, I once again partnered with Dr. Bethany Jay of Salem State University to teach the graduate class for history teachers that focuses on using archaeology in the classroom to teach about marginalized individuals, who are often overlooked.
Since it is now our fifth year running this class, it is always exciting when we get to experience something new ourselves. This year we added a tour of the Gedney House in Salem to our listing of sites we were visiting. One of the students in the class, Tom, is a tour guide for the Gedney House and took us all around the historic house – we even got to go into the creepy basement!
The house has gone through a lot of iterations throughout its history and they have left their marks on the building. Starting first as a single family home, for shipwright Eleazer Gedney, major renovations to the façade were added in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Later it became a tenement in Salem’s Italian-American neighborhood.
What makes the house so interesting to history lovers (and archaeologists!) is that the house was originally set for total rehab in the 1960s and so the inside was completely gutted. That means that you can now see the original structure as well as the evidence for later renovations. It really sets the house apart from other first period houses located in New England. Dr. Abbott Lowell Cummings, a prominent architectural historian, once said that the “Gedney House in Salem, Massachusetts is the example par excellence which must be protected under a glass bell jar” due to the scholarly impact its raw architectural state offers to historic preservationists seeking to better understand the construction methods of these early houses so that they can more faithfully restore such structures.
Cummings was also the first scholar to suggest that dendrochronology (the study of tree rings for dating purposes) be used in New England to date the earliest colonial houses, using the Gedney House as one of the first structures on which to test this technique. After the former owner had stripped away much of the interior trim down to the frame, a beam that had been cut into at some point in the house’s history was exposed. The cut revealed an almost complete cross-section of the beam’s tree rings. Cummings used the rings to date the construction of the house to 1664-1665 based on a set of specific drought rings that coincided with the 1590s and 1615-1620.
If you happen to find yourself in Salem, MA during one of the days the house is open for limited tours (first Saturdays in April-October), I can’t recommend it enough. As you walk through the building, you can see the signs of each of the unique periods, as well as how they overlap with each other. So many people have called that house their home and their stories are literally carved into the frame of the house.
I have been working as the Inventory Specialist at the Peabody for the past year. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience and I have learned a great deal, not only about the collections at the Peabody, but about collections and artifacts from other institutions throughout the United States as well.
It is with great pleasure that I will be taking on the position of Collections Assistant at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology! With this new position comes a variety of new responsibilities that I am ready to undertake. While I will still be inventorying drawers as time allows, I will focus more on drawers that have been adopted through our Adopt A Drawer program. Through this program, donors can “adopt” a drawer housed at the Peabody! They receive updates on the progress of the inventory and rehousing of the artifacts in the drawer and pictures of what is inside. Upon completion, a write-up with information pertaining to the age, origin and various other details about the artifacts within the drawer is sent to the donor. Interested in participating? Contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler (email@example.com).
Another major part of the position will be monitoring the environment in the various collections spaces. Maintaining proper relative humidity and temperature is imperative to keeping a healthy collection. Fluctuations in these variables can be detrimental to the collection and cause damage to and have other undesirable effects on the artifacts. In addition to environmental monitoring, I will also be in control of the Integrated Pest Management program. Keeping on top of pest activity in any institution is the best way to avoid an infestation. This is especially important in museums where irreplaceable artifacts can be damaged by insect activity.
A third big change will be working more closely with our volunteers and work duty students who spend time at the Peabody helping us with a few of the many tasks that need to be accomplished. Once a week groups of students from Phillips Academy assigned work duty at the Peabody will take time doing anything from inventorying drawers to digitally inputting information from catalog cards and ledgers. We also have a group of volunteers who join us once a week to inventory drawers, perform inspections of our ethnographic materials, or do other tasks as they present themselves. If this sounds like something interesting to you or anyone you know, feel free to contact us about volunteering at the Peabody!
I am very excited to be able to contribute to the Peabody in new ways!
Welcome to my inaugural blog post. I have been working at the Peabody Institute for three months, so it is high time I introduce myself. I am the new Inventory Specialist. It is my job to inventory and rehouse the collections in storage for the next year.
I am a graduate student at UMass Boston and am passionate about Indigenous studies, both in and outside of archaeology. I interned for National NAGPRA last fall where I learned the importance of employing ethical daily practices at museums, especially when looking through the lens of civil rights issues. I have also worked on various archaeological projects in New England, New Mexico, California, and Iceland.
I have learned a lot in my time here so far, the diversity of regional material culture across North America, the importance of preservation, the most effective rehousing practices…even how to throw an atlatl. (Although my success rate is nothing to brag about.)
While most of my work experience is with freshly excavated archaeological collections, I am excited to transition my focus to the preservation of older collections, including collections on which the foundations of Native American archaeology were built. At least once a week, I am blown away by the Peabody’s collections. Objects I have only had the pleasure of reading about appear in their drawers. Needless to say, I am happy to be here and happy to help with the rehousing inventory project.
A spatulate celt originally found at the Etowah site recently returned to the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.
Warren K. Moorehead, then director of the Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology, conducted excavations at the Etowah site near Cartersville, Georgia from 1925 through 1929. He published his results in 1932 as The Etowah Papers, through an arrangement with Yale University Press. A few reprint editions were available in the 1970s and in 2000 the University Press of Florida reprinted that publication as Exploration of the Etowah Site in Georgia: The Etowah Papers. Contemporary scholars have struggled to correlate and interpret Moorehead’s work. For example, writing in their compendium of Southeastern shell gorgets, Brain and Phillips (1996:135) note “many conflicts between the published report, the field notes, and the RSPF catalogue entries, and the artifacts that could be located at the RSPF in Andover, Massachusetts.” Despite the issues with Moorehead’s approach, he recovered many amazing objects and in his publication presented the two prevailing models about the origins of Mississippian imagery.
Moorehead’s Etowah collection has garnered attention over the years, including work to conserve some of the copper specimens (Byers 1962), as well as research into the preserved textiles (by Lucy R. Sibley, clothing and textile specialist from Ohio State University in 1985) and the incredible array of shell gorgets recovered during the project (Brain and Phillips 1996; Muller 1966). For more on Etowah and the history of excavations at site see Adam King (2003a, 2003b).
In 1991 it became clear that objects had been pilfered from the Etowah collection assembled by Moorehead. Then director of the Peabody James Bradley learned that Jan Sorgenfrei of Old Barn Auctions in Findlay, Ohio was offering to sell a shell woodpecker gorget from the collection. The prospective purchaser discovered that the gorget had originated at the Andover Peabody and that there was no evidence that the object had been legally traded, transferred, or sold into private hands. Bradley worked with local law enforcement and the FBI to recover the shell gorget, which served for a time as the museum’s logo (see Figure 31 in Moorehead 1932). Dr. Arthur Cushman, the prospective buyer, generously agreed to pay Sorgenfrei for the gorget and donate it back to the museum (Britton 1992). Bradley suspected that other objects from the Etowah collection also were missing.
Such thefts are not unknown. Art crimes in general have garnered more and more attention, beginning with the high-profile theft of paintings from the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston and continuing with the wholesale looting of European and Near Eastern sites, often to fund terrorism. In terms of other objects like the Etowah collection, thefts of southeastern Native American pottery occurred in 1974 at the Kolomoki site museum in Georgia (see Georgia Department of Community Affairs website 2006) and, in 1980, at the Erskine Ramsey Archaeological Repository at Moundville in Alabama (see Office of Archaeological Research, University of Alabama website 2003). A few of the objects from Kolomoki have been recovered, but the majority of the Kolomoki and Moundville vessels remain at large. No arrests have been made in either theft.
Museum records and information provided by the late Eugene C. Winter Jr., volunteer and longtime friend of the Peabody, documents at least one known theft. The thefts included the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology as we were then known. Mr. McLaughlin had systematically removed catalog numbers from artifacts. The large number of bifaces and other objects recovered from his parent’s home were divided among the institutions involved since it was impossible to positively identify the bulk of the objects. Both Winter and Bradley suspected that other thefts had gone undetected. In 2005, collector Kurt Spurr returned a number of Maine stone gouges and chipped stone artifacts that he had purchased from Jan Sorgenfrei. The Etowah and Maine recoveries suggest that there were multiple thefts, since those objects retained their catalog numbers, while McLaughlin removed numbers from the objects that he took.
At the beginning of January 2018 I entered into correspondence with Mr. Thomas Rachels of Cordele, Georgia. Mr. Rachels had purchased a spatulate celt at a private sale and was researching the piece, which was reputed to be from Warren Moorehead’s investigation of Etowah. In fact, someone had written “Etowah” on the artifact. Figure 50c in The Etowah Papers seemed to match the artifact and a partial catalog number was written in India ink on the side of the piece. Mr. Rachels wrote and asked if we had any paperwork on the artifact, including documents indicating that the celt had been deaccessioned from the Peabody. I located an archival image of the artifact in question and consulted our original ledger books. Object # 61783 was described as “a beautiful spatulate ceremonial.” There was no indication that the object had been deaccessioned. We searched the collection and found no object bearing this catalog number. I inquired about the celt’s provenance, and Mr. Rachels shared the name of the seller and that of the late Jan Sorgenfrei, who had been in possession of the celt at some time in the past.
Upon learning about Mr. Sorgenfrei’s involvement, I contacted the Andover Police Department to seek advice about how to proceed. I also shared with Mr. Rachels that I believed the artifact had been stolen, perhaps in the 1970s or 1980s, when security was lax. Mr. Rachels immediately decided that the piece should be returned to the Peabody. The local law enforcement and FBI art crimes division personnel agreed that Mr. Rachels had not been involved in the theft and had purchased the celt in good faith. They encouraged us to work with Mr. Rachels on the amicable return of the object. At that point Mr. Rachels and I began to work on an agreement for the celt’s return. We ultimately offered Mr. Rachels a $2,500 reward and completed an IRS form 8283, covering the donation of art objects valued in excess of $5,000. The celt was returned on March 2, 2018.
Brain and Phillips (1996:140, 377-379) provide a brief discussion and preliminary chronology of this rare, though widely-distributed artifact type. They note that these artifacts have a short poll and broad bit, often exhibiting a biconically drilled perforation. Other authors suggest that lack of use wear, specialized manufacture, exotic materials, and mortuary associations make these elaborate weapons markers of social status (see, for example, Mainfort et al. 2006). Hally (2008:561) suggests that spatulate celts were markers of an achieved war honor or perhaps even the marker for town war chief. The Etowah example is particularly important, since, as Brain and Phillips (1996:14) note, this is the only site that exhibits the complete range of their proposed chronological sequence; the example discussed here is considered a late form.
We spent four months completely inventorying the Etowah collection and checking our holdings against Moorehead’s original artifact ledger entries. This was complicated. We faced many of the issues raised by Brain and Phillips (1996), including some objects that were not given catalog numbers, some with duplicate numbers, and other objects that were re-cataloged in the 1950s and 1990s and have multiple numbers. At this point we are certain that the following objects are missing:
Monolithic ax (Ga-Brt-E63 in Brain and Phillips 1996:141; Moorehead 1932:82 and 100).
Big Toco style shell gorget (Ga-Brt-E8 in Brain and Phillips 1996:45, 141, 418; Moorehead 1932:51 and 54).
Citico style shell gorget (Ga-Mu-LE12 in Brain and Phillips 1996:97, 195, and 426; Moorehead 1932:153) from the nearby Little Egypt site.
Canoe or basket-shaped ceramic pipe (see Moorehead 1932:Figure 62a).
Three shell gorgets, never previously illustrated. The specimen in color is from Etowah, the two in black-and-white are from the Little Egypt site.
We anticipate that the FBI will list these and any other missing objects in their art loss database.
It also is worth noting that the pertinent laws and legal process for recovering stolen artifacts, like those from the Peabody Etowah collection, are not immediately clear. Stealing such items is a violation of both state and federal law. For example, the 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) provides additional federal penalties for artifact crimes covered under state law. When so much time elapsed, however, and those involved in the initial theft are deceased, unknown, or outside the statute of limitations, what recourse does an institution have? Possession of stolen property is an offense, but law enforcement may be unwilling to penalize those who have unknowingly purchased or obtained stolen artifacts. Much of the case law revolves around recovery of art that was stolen or disposed of under duress during the Nazi regime in 1930s and 1940s Europe. Now, museums have obtained this artwork, either through gifts, bequests, or purchase. Heirs are interested in recovering the artwork, while museums want to retain valuable parts of their collections. Several legal theories are at play, including the efforts made by former owners and heirs to recover the art.
We are grateful to Mr. Rachels for returning the Etowah spatulate celt. We are hopeful that other collectors will come forward with other objects from the Peabody collection, especially those from Etowah and Little Egypt. We look forward to working with the folks who have these objects in the same spirit of cooperation most recently exhibited in the return of the Etowah spatulate celt. If you have information on the whereabouts of objects from our collection, please contact me and know that our objective is to restore our significant museum collection.
Taking a 5 hour drive might seem like a slog, but the destination was well worth it! On Friday May 18 I headed up to Bar Harbor to attend the inaugural Indian Art Market being put on by the Abbe Museum.
The Abbe Museum is an institution that focuses on using artifacts to tell the story and history of Maine’s indigenous people in a collaborative and inclusive manner. The Indian Art Market is just another way that they are using their institution to promote Wabanaki artisans, as well as other native artists.
On Saturday I got to enjoy the first day of the market with a fairly sizeable crowd of other interested visitors. All of the booths had exceptional stuff, but I was very interested in talking to a man named Hawk Henries (Nipmuc). Mr. Henries is a master flute carver and player. I am very interested in adding one of his pieces to our collection, particularly as we look to expand upon our offerings for the Music Department. It was a delight to talk with him and his wife, Sierra, about not only the flutes and his music, but how he is an active and engaged educator, who apparently even came to PA in 2003 and worked with students as well as toured the Peabody!
2. Hawk Henries at his booth.
1. Selection of flutes hand made by Hawk Henries.
3. Image of a PA announcement from 2003 of Hawk Henries visit to the campus.
In addition to the opportunity to talk to Mr. Henries, I also had fascinating conversations with others such as Karen Ann Hoffman (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin), Geo Neptune (Passamaquoddy), and many others. It was a fabulous trip and I would like to congratulate the Abbe Museum on a very successful venture and am very happy to see that plans for the 2nd annual Indian Art Market is underway!
To read more about the Indian Art Market, check out these articles form local news outlets:
Today we unloaded another truck full of custom boxes from Hollinger Metal Edge. This batch of 1,500 boxes is our final purchase with the Box Us In! Abbot grant that was generously funded by the Abbot Academy Fund in 2015, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring.
The ongoing project to obtain physical and intellectual control over our collections continues!
A stack of archival boxes waiting for their objects!
To the uninformed, the Peabody Institute of Archaeology is just a building on the Phillips Academy campus that houses old artifacts and sherds of pottery from long ago archaeological expeditions. They would be very mistaken! The Peabody provides incredible academic enrichment opportunities to the student body across all disciplines.
In a unique approach to education, the Peabody collections are used to demonstrate the practical applications of history, language, mathematics, science and sociology. This year celebrates the fifth year the Peabody has arranged for pottery artists from the Pueblo of Jemez to come to campus to work with students.
In collaboration with Thayer Zaeder’s ceramics classes the potters spent the week working with 48 students teaching the ancient techniques of transforming clay into pottery. I had the rare opportunity to not only observe these artists work with the students, but to actually work with them myself. Maxine, Dominique and Mia worked with students individually on both shape and decorative painting to create unique pieces of art.
Glazing is not used in Pueblo pottery. Any glossy surfaces are achieved by polishing the area with smooth stones. The process is delicate and time consuming and if you mess up, as one student found out, the Potters would show you how to fix the problem – sand it all off and start again!
Dominique, Mia and their mother, Maxine Toya come from a multi-generational family tradition of Pueblo Potters. Each is known for their unique style, Dominique for her mellon designs, Mia for her signature butterfly designs and Maxine for her animals and figures. Their work is highly collectible and sought after. Nancy Youngblood, another prominent Pueblo potter, has joined them the last three years. These four ladies are the “Super Stars” in the Native American world of ceramic art.
Maxine Toya working on one of her famous owls.
Mia Toya talks about her butterfly swirl jar, in process.
Dominique Toya begins the spiral ribs on a miniature swirl pot.
Mia’s friend Ward Weppa helps sand the ribs on her butterfly swirl bowl.
Maxine Toya’s completed owl figurine–all the fine line painting is done with Maxine’s masterful hand-eye coordination!
Dominique Toya’s distinctive swirl vessels with micaceous slip, collection of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.
When speaking with the Potters, one theme stood out. They love bringing the ancient methods to this generation to instill a knowledge of their culture and heritage. They each spoke of how polite the Andover students were as well as the appreciation shown to them by each student for the opportunity to learn this ancient art form.
The culmination of each of their visits is the “firing.” They still use the ancient method of firing the pottery outdoors, which usually draws a large crowd. A huge bonfire is built to bake all the pieces the classes have created. The end result brings pride and a sense of accomplishment to both students and teachers alike.
*Guest contributor Barbara Callahan is Secretary of the Peabody Advisory Committee. She and her husband Les Callahan (Phillips Academy Class of 1968) provided the generous support for the Pueblo Potters program in 2017 and 2018.
Native American basketry was the subject of a special research visit on June 4th. Ralph Shanks, Research Associate at University of California, Davis, and Lisa Woo Shanks are experts in identifying and analyzing Native American California basketry. Together, they produced an outstanding 3-volume series on California basketry that has been indispensable in examining the Peabody collection. The goal of their visit was the examination of over 100 Californian baskets for cultural identification. The visit developed into a tutorial for staff as the discussions addressed ethnobotany, physical structure, and design elements found on the baskets.
Immersion in basketry required a specialized vocabulary for structures and materials such as twining, coiling, plaiting, overlay, double interlacing, foundation, willow, red bud, juncos and more. The forms of baskets were confirmed as bowls, hats, seed beaters, burden baskets, winnowing trays, toys, and cooking vessels. Many Californian Indians cooked in water-tight water-filled baskets by adding heated stones; and examples of these were identified in the Peabody collection.
The visit was facilitated by Marla Taylor, Curator of Collections, and Catherine Hunter, Research Associate, who inventoried the collection of 300+ Native American baskets in 2015-16. Hunter returned to the Peabody recently to continue research for a paper “Indian Basketry in Yosemite Valley, 19th-20th Century: Gertrude ‘Cosie’ Hutchings Mills, Tourists and the National Park Service” to be presented at the Textile Society of America Symposium in September 2018. After Hunter consulted Shanks last month, he extended an East Coast vacation to include a visit to Andover.
Ralph and Lisa examining the intricate design on a CA basket
Ralph viewing part of the collection
Ralph viewing part of the collection
Ralph and Lisa examining the intricate design on a CA basket
Hunter selected this topic because of the Hutchings Mills Collection of baskets. Collector and donor Gertrude “Cosie” Hutchings Mills (1867-1956) was one of the first Anglo-American children born in Yosemite Valley to early settlers James Mason and Elvira Hutchings. She collected Native American baskets in the Yosemite Valley region before 1900, recording many acquisition sites and the names of three weavers. Such documentation is very rare; thus, the collection was of special interest to Ralph Shanks.
After marriage to William Elligood Mills in 1899, they lived in New England and their son attended Phillips Academy. In 1937 the collection of fifty-six baskets was donated by Mrs. Mills to the Peabody Institute.
Shanks was enthusiastic about the quality of the basketry, contributed significantly to our interpretation of the collection, and identified rare baskets that would enhance his own research. We were thrilled to host his visit!