Behind the Photograph: Unpacking the Peabody Collection

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

Throughout history we have used images to tell a story and to document a period or memory in time. Today our society continues to find ways to connect and communicate through social media and digital platforms, using images to share their lives and stories more than ever.

The Peabody collection contains more than 600,000 artifacts, photographs, and documents. The Peabody’s photograph collection, specifically, is extensive and contains many interesting, yet untold stories. To bring these stories and photographs to light, we would like to share them with YOU, fellow readers, in our new blog series, Behind the Photograph.

Our inspiration for this new series of blogs was a photograph of Warren K. Moorehead and the Fort Ancient excavation in Ohio. You can view this story here! To kick off the Behind the Photograph blog series, we’d like to share a second photograph from the Peabody collections.

Students unpack Robert S. Peabody’s collections in the school gymnasium, circa 1901. Lantern slide, from the photographic collections, Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology

This photograph is a lantern slide from the Peabody’s photographic collections. The photograph depicts Phillips Academy students in 1901 unpacking Robert S. Peabody’s donated collections in the school’s old gymnasium. The old gymnasium was located in the Brick Academy – the gym incarnation of Bulfinch Hall. At the time, a new gym (Borden Gymnasium) and the Archaeology Department (later known as the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology) were in the process of being designed and built on the Phillips Academy campus. In June 1896, fire had gutted the gym leaving the brick walls intact. Although the building was re-roofed, it went largely unused until the Peabody collection was sorted and stored there in 1901.

Earlier in this same year, the Archaeology Department was founded on March 21st at a Trustees meeting held in Boston. An endowment and collection were given from an anonymous donor, now known to be Robert S. Peabody. The school chose Principal Bancroft of the Academy, Professor Warren K. Moorehead, and Dr. Charles Peabody (founder’s son) as the officers of the Archaeology Department. Warren K. Moorehead served as the curator and chief executive officer of the department, while Charles Peabody served as honorary director. For more information on the founding of the Peabody Institute, check out this article from the Phillips Academy student newspaper, the Phillipian.

As the development and construction of the Archaeology Department building was underway, archaeology classes and the Archaeology Department’s collections were held in the old gymnasium. An article from the Phillipian states that Dr. Peabody and Professor Moorehead wished to unpack certain specimens and students would not attend lectures for some weeks. Instead, students met in the old gym to unpack Robert S. Peabody’s founding collection and begin preliminary sorting of the artifacts before they were relocated to the completed Archaeology Building several years later. The 1901 article states that “students found the laboratory work unique and interesting.”

If you look closely in the image, you will see a man standing in the background to the left of the long work table. It certainly looks like Warren K. Moorehead overseeing the sorting and work of the students. Also in the image are the very wooden drawers that are still located at the Peabody today!

In an effort to maintain the sustainability and integrity of the Peabody’s collections, the Peabody collection team is working to rehouse all artifacts from these wooden drawers to acid free collection boxes to better preserve and protect the collection materials. It is our hope in the future to provide proper storage space and conditions that match the preservation needs of our collections.

As more and more wooden drawers are emptied through our inventory and rehousing project, we no longer have use for them. As a result of this, we recently began giving away these wooden drawers to those who may find ways to repurpose them through various DIY projects. You can check out these projects here, here, and here!

If you are interested in having your very own historic drawer, you can contact me at elavoie@andover.edu to schedule a safe and socially distanced pickup. (Who knows… you may even get one of the drawers that were originally in this photograph!)

This image marks a significant time in the Peabody’s history, representing the introduction of archaeology to PA students and the birth of the Peabody Institute and its collections. To learn more about archaeology at Phillips Academy check out Peabody Director, Dr. Ryan Wheeler’s blog and article, Archaeology in the Classroom at a New England Prep School.

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