Party’s not over – volunteering at the Peabody

Contributed by Quinn Rosefsky ’59

No one invited us to the party but we’ve stayed for over nine years. And the desserts keep getting better. Not that what we do would come under the category of party. What should be obvious to readers of this blog is that I am talking about what it is like to volunteer at the Peabody Institute. First of all, who can volunteer? Being a graduate of Phillips Academy helps in passing the rigorous entrance examination but there are exceptions, such as my wife, Susan, whose qualifications, while many, started with marriage. This automatically reduces the interview process (but does not eliminate the background check.) And what do volunteers do?

Some of you might get the wrong impression that all we do is what the staff shy away from. Far from it. There have been plenty of occasions where it was all we could do to pry staff apart from a project to allow us to either dig into the unknown (such as categorizing about one hundred yards of unclassified photos) or finish it off (such as one hundred yards of labels.)

Of course, I am exaggerating. (No point in frightening you.) I have handled (and often read) documents from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; paleolithic artifacts from 10,000 B.C.E; ledgers with tens of thousands of entries. I can picture specific bifaces, sherds and feathers.

What my wife, Susan, and I have been doing has varied considerably over the years as staff have come and gone, priorities have shifted, and time frames have expanded. I like to think that volunteering has allowed the Peabody to think in terms of decades, not centuries. This might come as a surprise until you consider that the Peabody is home to somewhere in the vicinity of 600,000 artifacts.

For quite a number of the past nine years, Susan and Leah (another spectacular volunteer) have been inspecting, vacuuming and protecting textiles from Guatemala. Although the end of the project has been in their sights for the past year, Einstein’s theory of special relativity keeps getting in the way (time slowing, distances shortening…easy stuff.) Eager to try my own hand at a multitude of projects, my time has been slowed as well. Despite Einstein’s slowing of time as we operate at the speed of light, sadly, all of us working as an extended family inside the Peabody’s walls have grown somewhat older (but not by much and not at the same rate.)

Most recently, I had the task of filling out labels to put on a few of the 1,500 drawers containing a variety of artifacts. It was a matter of necessity, not just my dexterity and eye coordination. When I completed that task, it was my honor to look for the “absence” of items. It all started with the discovery that an item had been “mislabeled.” That’s akin to looking through a haystack and saying you didn’t find the needle. And winning means you did not find the needle.

Sometimes I write blogs. I’ll stop here because my limit is 500 words. (Only staff can do more!)

Yoda_Quinn
Quinn after volunteering for 9 years

Ayacucho animals migrate to the Peabody

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Artifact collections are not meant to stagnate – museum collections are meant to be researched, examined, and shared.  In a perfect world, all loans are returned promptly and paper-work is meticulous. But, let’s be real, in an institution with 100+ years of history, this is not often the case. Fortunately, some past researchers remember you when it is time to relocate collections.

Circa 1972, Scotty MacNeish sent faunal material from the Ayacucho Valley of Peru to Dr. Kent Flannery of the University of Michigan for analysis. Dr. Flannery is a prominent zooarchaeologist who specializes in investigating the origins of agriculture in Mesoamerica and the Near East.  Many know Flannery from his 1976 book The Early Mesoamerican Village and his 1982 article The Golden Marshalltown: A Parable for the Archeology of the 1980s. Dr. Flannery completed the Ayacucho faunal analysis and sent data and a written chapter (for Volume I of the Prehistory of the Ayacucho Basin) back to MacNeish. But the artifacts were not returned until July, 2018.

Dr. Flannery, and the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology at the University of Michigan, shipped us 493 bags and 11 small boxes of faunal material.  A loan from 45 years ago, of course, did not have much paperwork, though we did locate the original Peruvian export permits and customs documents. But, all bags and boxes are now inventoried and part of the Peabody collection. The material is from Jaywamachay Cave, Ruyru Rumi Cave, and Chumpas Cave in the Ayacucho Valley.

Why does this matter? These collections can now be made available to a new generation of researchers and are reunited with other materials from MacNeish’s Ayacucho work.

If you want to learn more about the Ayacucho Valley and MacNeish’s work, check out the First Annual Report and Second Annual Report on the Ayacucho Archaeological Botanic Project. Some of the published volumes are available for free via the HathiTrust Digital Library.

Different but the Same

Contributed by Alex Hagler ’16

Before I officially became a staff member here at the Peabody, I was a volunteer and work duty student. I started volunteering at the Peabody about nine years ago, and when I came to Phillips Academy as a student I immediately signed on to do work duty. As a volunteer and work duty student, I worked to catalogue and inventory returned artifact loans, set out class activities, digitize records, and photograph artifacts. Since going to college out of state about two years ago, I have not been back at the Peabody, other than for brief visits. Reflecting on my time working here, it is fascinating, and somewhat nostalgic, to look back at what the Peabody was like when I started all those years ago and how it has changed so much since then!

When I started volunteering here, the Peabody was still officially a museum and still had standing exhibit space on the first floor. Some of those exhibit cases displayed artifacts, others dioramas or archaeology-related activities done by some Phillips Academy classes. Down in the collections, we used white cotton gloves to handle artifacts, rather than the purple nitrile gloves we use now. The reboxing project had not begun, so much of the work I did was cataloguing and inventorying in preparation for when that project might get funding. While I was doing work-duty, I sat in on some meetings about how to make the Peabody more accessible to Phillips Academy students, both in terms of the collections and the building space as a whole. Since then, the Peabody has initiated student study hours, during which the building is open to students as a study space, and renovated the first floor to make it more class-friendly!

It has been just over two years since I graduated from Phillips Academy, and I am so happy to be back working here! I study archaeology in college, and so working here, albeit temporarily, is an opportunity not only to continue learning how to preserve archaeological collections, but also to put into practice what I have learned at school, namely how to make archaeology more accessible for everyone.

Alex
Inventorying the never-ending drawers

 

Collections Summer Summary

Contributed by Marla Taylor

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!

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.

Annie and Rachel pest
Annie and Rachel examine an artifact for pest activity.

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!

More boxes of boxes

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!

California Basketry Exploration

Contributed by Catherine Hunter

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 Serviceto 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.

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!

Welcome, Annie

Annie Greco just joined the Peabody team as our new Inventory Specialist.  She comes to us fresh from the University of Massachusetts Boston graduate program in archaeology and experience as a field archaeologist in New England.   Annie is already using her knowledge of New England tool typologies and excellent research skills to make a dent in the reboxing project!

Annie’s position is generously funded by Barbara and Les Callahan. Les is Phillips Academy Class of 1968 and Barbara is a member of the Peabody Advisory Committee; both have been active advocates and supporters of our mission.

We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493.

Annie

Collections Reboxing project –Update

Contributed by Marla Taylor

When I last shared an update in December of 2016, we had boxed only 52 drawers in our quest to gain full physical control of our collection.  With the diligent work of students, volunteers, and inventory specialist Rachel Manning, we have now inventoried and boxed over 400 drawers!  More than 75,000 individual artifacts have been counted and documented – including projectile points, bone awls, ceramic sherds, and delicately crafted beads.

At the end of the month, our team will grow again with another Temporary Inventory Specialist – Annie Greco.  Annie’s position is generously funded by Barbara and Les Callahan. Les is Phillips Academy Class of 1968 and Barbara is a member of the Peabody Advisory Committee; both have been active advocates and supporters of our mission. I hope that our next update includes even better news!

Our deepest appreciation goes to the Oak River Foundation for their continued generosity and support of the Peabody’s goal to improve the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections.

We hope this gift will inspire others to support our work to better catalog, document, and make accessible the Peabody’s world-class collections of objects, photographs and archival materials. If you would like information on how you can help please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493.

Disaster planning can be fun

Fire extinguisher in use

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Sitting on my office shelf in a red binder is the Peabody disaster plan.  No institution ever wants to use it, but it is essential to be prepared.  Our plan is in need of its regular update, and fortunately for us, the Addison Gallery of American Art (also part of Phillips Academy) hosted a three-day seminar and full-scale emergency response disaster training for the protection of cultural assets in March.  Over 100 people took part in the workshop, including several members of Peabody staff.

The workshop included presentations from conservators, companies who specialize in disaster clean-up, and organizations that can help think through the disaster plan with us.  We learned the basics of painting conservation, how to mitigate water damage, how to dry/salvage wet books and papers, and how to identify and deal with pests in the collection.  Training stations were presented so that we could try all of these methods ourselves and have the opportunity to ask specific questions relating to our own collections.

The big highlight for me was the triage scenario meticulously installed at the Addison.  The Addison repainted one of their temporary galleries to appear smoke damaged, and they displayed pieces of art that had been previously damaged to replicate how fire damage may present itself in a museum.  As a team, we were given only 10 minutes to remove the damaged artwork (without additional damage!), set up work flow to begin cleaning objects, and isolate the most damaged pieces.  This was fun and realistic.

Now comes the hard work – applying all of this new knowledge to our own disaster planning process.

The emergency response and disaster planning workshop was generously made possible by a grant from the Abbot Academy Fund, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring.

Canadian researcher visits to examine Strong collection

Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Dr. Laura Kelvin, a post-doctoral researcher from Memorial University of Newfoundland, visited the Peabody in October.

Dr. Kelvin is contributing to the Avertok Archaeology Project, a subproject of a larger collaboration between Memorial University and the Nunatsiavut Government representing the Inuit of Labrador – Tradition and Transition.  This community-based archaeology program aims:

  • to locate, excavate and learn more about the original Inuit settlement of Avertok which underlies the present Hopedale community, and other nearby sites,
  • communicate findings to the community and use the research to facilitate knowledge transfer between youth and elders in Hopedale
  • to undertake a ground-penetrating radar survey of the Moravian Cemetery in order to identify the locations of all graves, enabling the community to properly mark and care for the cemetery.

During her visit to the Peabody, Dr. Kelvin examined the William Duncan Strong collection.  Strong was part of the Rawson-MacMillian Sub-Arctic Expedition that the Field Museum in Chicago sent to northeastern Labrador in 1927-1928.  In the early 1930s, Warren K. Moorehead (then Director of the Peabody) orchestrated a trade with the Field Museum to acquire approximately 350 artifacts from this expedition.

A drawer of material from Hopedale, Labrador.
A drawer of material from Hopedale, Labrador.

Dr. Kelvin spent a week photographing all of these artifacts – even 3D scanning some! – for inclusion in a developing community archive of archaeological and traditional knowledge of the Hopedale area.  She will record traditional community knowledge of the artifacts and provide local access to the images through the network.  Follow the project on their facebook page!

Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl
Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl