Monthly Archives: November 2015

Exploring Etowah One Object at a Time

Contributed by Marla Taylor

A brief exploration of Etowah, an archaeological site in Georgia, is now on display in the Peabody Museum lobby thanks to the efforts of work-duty students.

Along the Etowah River in northwestern Georgia, three massive earthen mounds mark the Etowah site. Etowah was occupied from approximately 1000 to 1600 AD as part of the Mississippian culture that dominated the southeastern United States at the time.

While only approximately 10 percent of the site has been excavated, Etowah has yielded thousands of artifacts ranging from projectile points to elaborate ceramic vessels. These objects reveal a culture with extensive trade routes and an appreciation of fine craftsmanship.

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Students prepare the exhibit labels

The culture of Etowah is explored through four artifacts—a ceramic vessel, a carved shell gorget, a ceramic pipe, and several shark teeth—researched by four students: Alex Hagler ’16, Jacob Boudreau ’16, Katherine Hall ’17, and Daniel Yen ’18. These students worked hard to write the exhibit text and determine the layout of the case.

Stop by the Peabody to take a look at their work and learn more about Etowah!

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The final product

Race and Identity in Indian Country

The end of fall term means the (temporary) end to one of my favorite collaborations – Marcelle Doheny’s Race and Identity in Indian Country course.

During the fall 2015 term, 11 Phillips Academy students explored the complicated relationship between Native Americans, museums and archaeology. Topics included scientific racism, federal Indian policies, museum collection practices, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).  The culmination of the course was to use the Peabody collection to re-present the stories in our main exhibit gallery with a more inclusive voice.

Curator of education Lindsay Randall and I co-taught the class with Ms. Doheny. We were able to join most of the class discussions and provide perspective from our archaeology and museum experiences. I also enjoyed making the collection accessible to the students as they worked to create their final projects.

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Students examine a headdress from Lakota Chief Rain in the Face

Watching the final presentations of the student’s revised exhibitions during assessment week was the perfect culmination to the term. Every group succeeded in reimaging how Native Americans are traditionally presented in an archaeology museum, moving beyond stone tools and ceramic pots. The students highlighted the continuity of native cultures despite the history of racism and dispossession.

I loved being a part of this course and look forward to being involved again next year!

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Final presentations!

History Class Meets Wampanoag Leader

Contributed by Lindsay Randall5db7be91c83fdc0a56e7800a9944a838

Image of Edith Andrews taken from patch.com http://patch.com/rhode-island/bristol-warren/massasoit-memorial-takes-step-forward 

On November 6, students in Marcelle Doheny’s Race and Identity in Indian Country course met with Edith Andrews of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).

That morning, I left my house early to pick up Edith at her home in North Dartmouth. The two-hour drive back to Andover was full of laughter as Edith has a wicked sense of humor. After we arrived, the entire museum staff, along with some of our colleagues from the OWHL, joined Edith and me for lunch at Paresky Commons, where she regaled us with stories about her family, including the fact that her children had attended private school and that her grandchildren were studying at Dartmouth and the University of Southern New Hampshire. We also laughed over her story about her husband’s attempt to clear out clutter during a move, inadvertently leaving behind a first edition of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. We were all instructed to keep an eye out for the gray, clothbound volume in used-book stores on Cape Cod.

Edith’s conversation with students gave them a firsthand look at NAGPRA—the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act—from the American Indian perspective. The passage of NAGPRA in 1990 signaled a shift in the disciplines of archaeology and museology. Not only did the Act create a process for tribes to claim the return of human remains, funerary objects, sacred items, and objects of cultural patrimony, but also it caused museum personnel and archaeologists to start changing how they think about and interact with descendant communities. Collaborative projects and indigenous archaeology are now fairly common. Despite that, there are significant challenges to compliance with NAGPRA, including difficulties in affiliating museum collections with contemporary tribes, lack of land for reburial of human remains, divergent interpretations of the law, and the sheer volume of human remains and funerary objects in museum collections. For example, a 2010 Government Accountability Office audit concluded that many federal agencies had not complied with the Act.

Students listened to Edith talk about her experience as a former Massachusetts Commissioner on Indian Affairs in the 1980s—the days just before the passage of NAGPRA, when every local law enforcement agency was storing human remains that could be repatriated and reburied under state law—as well as the use of the term “Native American” instead of “American Indian.” We all were particularly struck when Edith discussed the reluctance of museums to return funerary objects and items of cultural patrimony, even though these are clearly covered by the Act. She talked about the significant loss of Wampanoag material culture that began in the 17th century when Puritan colonists raided native graves for “pretties” (essentially grave goods and burial offerings) and how this continued throughout King Philip’s War, when trophies were taken by colonists and sent back to England. Most notable was a wampum belt, composed of white and purple shell beads, that is thought to be in the British Museum. Edith asked why the Wampanoag couldn’t expect the return of some of these items for display in their tribal museum.

Students in Race and Identity in Indian Country spent the fall term confronting the fraught history of American Indians. Major themes covered were scientific racism, government policy, and the role of museums in the near genocide of Native people. Edith’s visit was a reminder that American Indians are still here—as individuals and vibrant communities—and that repatriation is more than a fight over property, but one that cuts to the core of personal and community identity, health, and well-being.

After the students departed for sports and other commitments, Edith and I began our return trip to North Dartmouth. When I was pulling into her driveway she remarked that although she was glad to be home because it was home, she was sad that the day was done as she had very much enjoyed our wonderful students.

For more information on the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah): http://www.wampanoagtribe.net/Pages/index

Peabody Offers New Activity Focused on New England Slavery

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

This week saw the debut of the Peabody Museum’s History 200 lesson, “The Little Spots Allow’d Them: Slavery and Landscape in 18th-Century New England.” The lesson focuses on Ten Hills Farm, a property located in Medford, Mass., that was owned by the Royall family in the 1700s. Using the quote by Winston Churchill that “we make our buildings, and they in turn make us,” I ask students to look at how the landscape and architectural choices reflect and influence the values and roles of the individuals who created them, as well as how they continue to impact us today.

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The land in Medford was purchased by Isaac Royall Sr., a son of a modest carpenter who had amassed his wealth through his sugar plantation on Antigua. Royall Sr. and, later, his son, Isaac Royall Jr., built and modified a mansion house and slave quarters and installed lavish gardens, orchards, and other features into the landscape.

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Image of Isaac Royall Jr courtesy of Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Royall,_Jr.#/media/File:Royall.jpg 

The choices the Royalls made regarding the placement of the buildings and modifications to the landscape reflected how they thought of themselves and the image they wanted to project, how they wanted their contemporaries to see them, and how they thought society should be ordered.

Images of Royall House and Slave Quarters courtesy of Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Royall_House 

The landscape and architecture of Ten Hills Farm was not solely a means to display the Royalls’ status and wealth to the other white inhabitants of Boston and surrounding land. They also served as a “conversation without words” between the masters and their slaves.

One of my favorite parts of the lesson is when I ask students to use strings to create lines of sight from the mansion house. After they have completed the task, they are able to see that a large section of the land next to the slave quarters cannot be seen from the mansion house. The students and I discuss why the Royalls would deliberately create a space that was out of their view, and then I challenge them to look at how those who were enslaved would have viewed the same parcel of land. To the slaves, this piece of land would have been one of the only places they could experience themselves and one another as human beings and retain some control over their lives.

At the end of the lesson, we discuss how the Colonial construction of racial categories was cemented and enforced through building and land-use choices. It is interesting to contemplate how building choices such as the ones made at Ten Hills Farm helped move the concept of blacks being “other” or “less than” from simply being an idea, to one that was tangible, was real, and, most insidiously, seemed natural.

This lesson is particularly important for our students to understand as they become more connected with the world outside of Phillips Academy and their home communities. We are still seeing the consequences of these “conversations without words” in our world today, with some of the most notable examples being Ferguson and Baltimore. As our students move forward in society, it is important that we support their ethical development and understanding.

An interesting recent development, and one that makes this lesson timely and even more important, concerns the Royall family and their connection to Harvard University. Harvard Law School was established through the bequest of Isaac Royall Jr.’s estate in 1817. The Royall family crest still serves as the school’s seal. There is a growing movement named Royall Must Fall asking for the removal of the seal due to its connection to slavery: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/11/10/student-group-opposes-harvard-law-seal-citing-slavery-ties/esUi7LUfqCS2oXSfUwuaNP/story.html

  • The Royall House and Slave Quarters Museum is a leader in the interpretation of slave history in the United States, particularly in New England: http://www.royallhouse.org/

 

The Language of Baskets

Contributed by Catherine K. Hunter

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What can be coiled, plaited, twined, or sewn in the form of a tray, bowl, bottle, cone, or trunk using tree barks or splints, river cane, pine needles, or grasses? If you are familiar with this vocabulary, you will know the answer: Native American basketry. What you may not know is that the Peabody Museum houses more than 350 examples of Native American basketry, including fragments of ancient woven sandals, 19th- and 20th-century utilitarian and ceremonial forms, and a few examples by recognized 21st-century artists.

In my current capacity as a volunteer at the Peabody, I am collaborating with the museum’s registrar and senior collections manager, Bonnie Sousa, on conducting a thorough inventory of the Peabody’s Native American basketry collection. For this project, we are attempting to combine for each example a description of forms, techniques, and materials; identification of people/culture and geographic region; and data from museum records. The first 35 examples I examined include plaited ash-splint storage baskets from the Northeast with distinctive stamped and painted designs; twill-plaited trunks and trays from the Southeast made with natural, dyed orange and brown river cane splints; and a variety of trays of coiled grasses and pine needles.

My first volunteer position was in the 1970s at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum following a recommendation by my mentor, Joanne Segal Brandford, who subsequently published the museum’s basket collection. After studying and teaching fiber arts and design at the University of California, Berkeley, Brandford worked as a researcher, curator, teacher, and fiber artist. Why baskets? In the following paragraph, she succinctly describes the foundation for a career of exploration:

Baskets are often linked to domesticity and smallness, the implication being that these qualities preclude significant artwork. I could counter with basket-shrines made for ritual, or I could point to house-sized baskets (used, indeed, as houses) and so I could ‘elevate’ baskets with religious significance or architectural scale. But all such uses/meanings refer to our humanity, and consequently to ourselves and to our families, to life, and to death. What can be more meaningful for an artist working in fiber, than to honor the basket, with its myriad human associations?

BASKETS: Redefining Volume and Meaning (1993). The University of Hawaii, Art Gallery, Honolulu, Hawaii. Pat Hickman, Curator

[AUTHOR BIO]

Catherine K. Hunter is an independent museum consultant whose career began in the Department of Textiles at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She has always been interested in the study of basketry and recently wrote feature articles about contemporary Native American and American artists for the National Basketry Organization.

Geometric Patterns Decorate Chacoan Artifact

Contributed by Quinn Rosefsky (Phillips Academy, Class of 1959)

Chaco Canyon is located in northwestern New Mexico. During the period 850–1250 AD, Chaco Canyon was a major urban center of ancestral Puebloan culture. Remarkable for its ceremonial buildings, engineering projects, and distinctive architecture, the site had many uses, among them ceremonial, administrative, trade, resource distribution, and even astronomy. Roads 30 feet wide led out of Chaco. Signal towers were located on mesa tops. Puebloans traded extensively with Mesoamerica as seen in the presence of macaws, parrot feathers, conch shells, and copper bells. A great deal of archaeological research has been conducted on Chaco Canyon, and the site was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987.

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Ceramic pitcher, Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon. Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology #32289.

The artifact you see here—a black-on-white ceramic pitcher, complete except for a missing handle—was one of many that Warren K. Morehead acquired in 1897 for Robert S. Peabody’s collection. This small pitcher comes from Pueblo Bonito, the largest structure at Chaco, with about 800 rooms.

The pitcher is covered with finely drawn geometric patterns. These distinctive patterns can be reduced to areas of larger parallel lines (black bordering white) and smaller parallel lines (all black). The larger lines appear as though they are sitting on top of the smaller lines. All lines are carefully laid out, giving the impression that the artist had a high level of geometric sophistication—which is not surprising, coming from an area known to have astronomy and engineering interests.

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Aerial photo of Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon by Bob Adams, Albuquerque, NM (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) ], via Wikimedia Commons.