Moving the Big Ones

Contributed by Marla Taylor

I have always thought of the Peabody’s collections storage as one of those sliding tile puzzles.  You have to keep shifting pieces that look like they are in the right place in order to end up with the correct completed final image.  Sometimes it seems never ending, but each shift makes the space more organized, cleaner, and more efficient.

A few months ago, I was faced with trying to find space for a couple dozen boxes that we agreed to store temporarily (maybe a year or so).  These objects needed discrete storage in a place that would not be disturbed.  This was a challenge, but one worth tackling.  After some thought, Rachel (Collections Assistant) came up with the idea of moving our large groundstone collection – that storage was discrete and in an area of the room that we rarely needed to interact with.  Perfect.

You may be asking yourself, What is a large groundstone?  Groundstone objects are stone tools that are formed by grinding and pecking away the larger stone into the desired shape.  These can include axe heads, portable petroglyphs, weights, as well as manos and metates.  The largest of these are often the metates, or grinding stones, that were used to prepare wheat and corn flour. Some of them are easily 40+ pounds!

The first task was dismantling the previous storage bays – a fun day with power drills and a sawzall.  Then I created a plan to install new shelving inside the bays that would be sturdy enough to support all the weight we were moving.  The photos may just look like shelves, but I am proud of all the precise measuring, leveling, and cutting with a circular saw and jigsaw that went into this project.  When we installed the shelves, everything fit perfectly.

To move the 183 objects we had to load everything onto trays and wheel them across the storage space – some were much too heavy to carry that distance.  A quick reinventory assigned everything a new storage location and the process was complete.  All told, this move took about a week.

I can’t pretend for a second that I did this project alone – massive thanks and credit to Rachel, Emily, John, and Ryan for their insights, object moving abilities, and skills with power tools!

Oversize storage
Look at those beautiful shelves!

Happy Holidays from the Peabody!

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool and Marla Taylor

In November Marla and Ryan approached me (John) with an idea for an illustrated holiday card. They wanted a family portrait-style image of the Peabody staff. I jumped on the opportunity thinking that hand-drawn portraits would be a unique twist on the usual offering. However, I didn’t realize how difficult the likenesses would be. After many hours of sketching, digital coloring and editing and much consternation, we have a card! Emma worked her magic to make a very polished finished product. It was a fun challenge, though my kids think I look super weird.

John
Me…sort of

From my perspective (Marla), holidays at the Peabody are not complete without a meal to celebrate our volunteers.  These wonderful people give several hours of their time, each week, to help us out.  They do everything from label file folders to inventory drawers to inspect artifacts for evidence of pests.  Our amazing volunteers – Quinn, Susan, and Richard – are a gift we get to share all year round.  (and the spread of homemade food isn’t too shabby either!)

potluck
I was too busy eating to take a picture of our actual spread. Enjoy this clipart!

Abbot Academy Fund continues to support the Peabody Institute

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Have you ever heard of the Abbot Academy Fund?  (if you said “yes” from one of our earlier blog posts – Gold Star!)  If not, please allow me to introduce them.

One of the first educational institutions in New England founded for girls and women, Abbot Academy opened its doors in 1829 and flourished until Abbot Academy and Phillips Academy merged on June 28, 1973.  At that point, the Abbot Academy Fund (AAF) was established with $1 million from the Academy’s unrestricted funds.  The fund operates as an internal foundation with its own board of directors.  Its goal is to preserve the history, standards, tradition, and name of Abbot Academy by funding new educational ventures at the combined school.

The Abbot Academy Fund has been a foundational supporter of the Peabody Institute, especially in recent years.  With grants going back to 1990, the AAF has given the Peabody over $250,000!  I was recently reminded of this incredible generosity when the AAF once again provided support to complete the transcription of the Peabody’s original accession ledgers.

Looking back over all the successful grants, the AAF has supported a real variety of projects at the Peabody – everything from exhibition support to object conservation to equipment purchase to expeditionary learning trips.  However, the largest portion of their patronage has gone to support cataloging and rehousing the collection.  They provided funds to purchase a server in 2014 to allow for an online catalog.  And again in 2016-2018 to acquire the boxes needed to rehouse the artifacts and gain physical control over the collection.  All told, the AAF has awarded us over $100,000 in the last ten years!

Basically, the Peabody Institute would not look or operate the way it does now without the incredible support from the Abbot Academy Fund.  I can’t thank them enough!

So much work at the Peabody is brought to you by a grant from the Abbot Academy Fund, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring.

Traditional sewing in Labrador and the Peabody

Contributed by Marla Taylor

In 2017, the Peabody welcomed Dr. Laura Kelvin to examine the William Duncan Strong collection from Labrador.  You can learn all about that visit in a previous blog post here.

Recently, Dr. Kelvin reached out for permission to share some of the images she took in a video that is part of a larger project – the Agvituk Digital Archive Project, which is part of the Agvituk Archaeology Project (AAP).  The AAP is a community-based archaeology project that was initiated by the Hopedale community through the Tradition and Transition Research Partnership between Memorial University and the Nunatsiavut Government.

Labrador
An Agvituk Archaeology Project excavation. Image from Tradition and Transition website.

Every summer, students are hired (high school, college/university, or upgrading) from Hopedale to help conduct traditional knowledge interviews with community members (and sometimes archaeologists) and help with survey and excavation if needed.  The interviews were originally going to focus on specific objects that Dr. Kelvin documented, or those recovered through AAP activities.  However, due to the high volume of material, the students have been picking topics inspired by the artifacts and interviewing people about those subjects.  This past summer the students chose to discuss sewing.

Short videos are created that blend conversations with community members and images of relevant artifacts and historical photos.  The videos can then easily share traditional knowledge with the larger community.

Dr. Kelvin and her students used several artifacts from the Peabody’s collection in the sewing video.  You can see it in its entirety here.

To learn more about the project, check out their Facebook page.

Introducing Our Newest Team Member

Contributed by Emily Hurley

My name is Emily and I have been working as the new Inventory Specialist at the Peabody Institute for about a month now. My job is to assist with the current inventory and rehousing project. My day to day work consists of moving artifacts from their old wooden storage drawers into new archival boxes which better preserve the objects.

I grew up in a small town called Andover, New York (I know, how ironic) before moving to Buffalo to pursue my Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. From there, I spent a year in Florence, Italy doing coursework for my MA in Museum Studies which I completed this past August. During my time in Italy, I learned collections care and management from some of the most famous museums in the world including the Uffizi Gallery and the Vatican Museum. This is only my first position working in a museum but I have completed museum internships back home in Buffalo as well as in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Emily Hurley photo
This is me overlooking the beautiful city of Florence!

I have always been passionate about archaeology and indigenous studies so I am excited to be in a position where I can apply my knowledge of both and continue to learn more. Even though I have only been here a few weeks, I have learned so much already. It is amazing to be able to work with and handle objects every day which are hundreds of years old and come from all over the continent. Objects that I have been studying for the past five years are now a part of my everyday life and it is truly such a rewarding experience.

Overall I am very excited to be in this position and can’t wait to see what else I will learn and do during my time at the Peabody!

Annual Report 2018-2019

Hot off the presses – the Peabody’s annual report for academic year 2018-2019 has just been released!  Interacting with nearly 2,000 students (yes, some PA students keep coming back for more) and dozens of researchers, another wonderful year is under our belt.

You can read the report in its entirety HERE.

Annual Report Cover

Peabody at the Addison

Contributed by Marla Taylor

The Addison Gallery of American Art is across the street from the Peabody at Phillips Academy.  While I am happy to gently tease that the Peabody is cooler, the Addison is a pretty amazing institution as well. Founded in 1931, the Addison’s collection of American art is one of the most comprehensive in the world, including more than 20,000 objects spanning the eighteenth century to the present. I strongly recommend that you take the time to check out their awesome collection online.

Several months ago, Gordon Wilkins, the Robert M. Walker Associate Curator of American Art, requested a loan of several objects from the Peabody for an exhibition. We were thrilled to be able to help out and loan ten objects to the Addison for their show A Wildness Distant from Ourselves: Art and Ecology in 19th-Century America. The exhibition considers how the evolution of the European-American understanding of the natural world fundamentally altered the ecology of North America. From the Puritans’ seventeenth century “errand into the wilderness” to the present, the perceived dichotomy between man and nature has defined the European-American experience in the so-called “New World.” A Wildness Distant from Ourselves focuses on the nineteenth century, an era that witnessed both the extreme exploitation of the land and its peoples and the birth of a modern conservation movement.

I have been over there to check it out, and the exhibition looks great! It is wonderful to see the objects from the Peabody seamlessly integrated with other examples of American art to contribute to an important story.

If you are in the Andover area, I strongly recommend taking in the exhibition. And don’t miss the opening reception on Friday, October 4th from 6-8pm.

Wild Ride No More

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

Cups and Coaster
The collections environment before and after rehousing in archival boxes

Back in March I wrote a blog post summarizing efforts to rid collections objects of mold and salt uncovered during inventory and rehousing. We identified and isolated affected objects and cleaned them by dry brushing and vacuuming. The cleaned objects were rehoused in archival boxes that included a sachet of silica gel. The purpose of the gel is to reduce relative humidity (RH), thereby robbing mold and salt of the environmental conditions necessary for their growth. To better understand what the environment is like inside the boxes, we are monitoring their temperature and relative humidity with two data loggers. One is placed inside a box without silica gel and one is placed inside a box with silica gel. These conditions will be compared against a data logger that is recording general conditions in the basement not far from where these test boxes are located. We will be watching these data loggers over the coming year, but we already have some interesting results.

Temp and RH graph for John August 2019
Environmental Stats for April

First, the boxes are working well as a buffer against relative humidity cycles. The graph above shows RH and temperature for the month of April; the basement is shown in red and the boxes with and without silica are blue and yellow, respectively. In April the RH in the basement was quite volatile. However, the RH inside the boxes is remarkably tranquil in comparison. The boxes are exhibiting small daily shifts of 1 or 2%, which is acceptable. Keeping RH from shifting dramatically is an important factor in collections care. Organic materials such as basketry, bone, and wood are hygroscopic, meaning that they can absorb and release moisture in the air. Rapid and large changes in RH can cause organic materials to swell and contract leading to damage such as cracking or delamination. It is best to keep collections from experiencing RH shifts exceeding 10% over a given month and on that count the boxes are doing a great job. As they are found, the most sensitive organic collections are being moved to another part of the museum that has a better environment.

Layerd Storage
Layered Storage

The National Park Service recommends creating a layered approach to collections storage. Every enclosure within museum storage can act as an environmental buffer. The first enclosure is the building itself. It may seem pretty obvious, but keeping collections inside a building greatly reduces the effects of environmental factors. The same is true of every subsequent layer of enclosed storage. Here at the Peabody Institute we have wooden storage bays that, when closed, serve as another layer. The archival boxes act as a final layer.

 

Interestingly, the basement seems to be effective at buffering daily temperature cycles. The temperature in the basement has been hovering around 70 between February and June leaving little for the boxes to mediate.

Sachet
Silica Gel Sachets

The second finding of note is that the sachets of silica gel were spent faster than anticipated. As mentioned above sachets of silica gel were placed in the boxes with cleaned objects. The gel, in solid pebble-like form, starts out orange and as it absorbs water it changes to a deep blue. The expectation was that the gel would keep the RH at a reduced and steady level. The graph above shows that the silica gel was keeping relative humidity lower than that of the box without gel, but it is only a matter of a few percentage points. Most likely the boxes are not well enough sealed for the silica gel to more significantly moderate RH levels. The silica was active from mid-February until mid-April (see star on graph) when RH graphs inside both boxes started to match almost perfectly. A visual inspection in June indicated that the gel was spent. We replaced the silica in mid-June and it was spent within two weeks given the higher RH levels generally in the basement.

 

Our data shows that the boxes are acting as a significant buffer against potentially damaging cycles of increasing and decreasing RH levels. For now, we are forgoing replacing spent silica gel. Later in the fall we’ll see how the archival boxes work with our dehumidifiers at keeping mold and salt inducing RH at bay.

Northeastern Archaeological Survey re-examined

Hello! We are Arthur Anderson and Gabe Hrynick, faculty at the University of New England and University of New Brunswick, respectively. Much of our fieldwork together is in far Down East, Maine on Cobscook Bay in Washington County. We’ve been lucky enough to make a few visits to the Peabody over the last few years to get an understanding of the collections housed there from this area. Now we’re excited to be back for an extended visit to explore these collections further! The Peabody’s collections are particularly important to our research because in many cases they may be all that’s left of sites that have eroded due to rising sea levels and increased storm magnitude.

The Peabody collections from Cobscook Bay are almost all the product of the Northeastern Archaeological Survey from the late 1940s to the middle 1950s. The project was initially led by Robert Dyson, future director of the Penn Museum, but effectively taken over by Theodore Stoddard, the most consistent member of the crew over those years. In addition to NAS members from the Peabody, Stoddard worked closely with avocational archaeologists in the area. The most prominent of these was Isaac W. Kingsbury, a Hartford internist who summered in Perry, Maine and seems to have been a local point of contact for the survey crew, and even occasionally published his findings in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society. One of the most interesting aspects of our research in the Peabody Collections has been reconstructing the work undertaken during those years largely from charming and expansive correspondence between Kingsbury and Stoddard to better understand the context of their records and collections. It’s also a lot of fun to read their accounts of the joys and challenges of working in an area that we love. We can commiserate with their complaints of construction on US Route 1 almost every summer and the barrage of mosquitoes and black flies. We certainly identify with ‘day book’ entries recounting their discussions of the latest archaeological publications on the long drive there. Unfortunately, Frank’s Restaurant in Freeport is long gone, so we can’t comment on their lunch recommendations.

In addition to better understanding the NAS collections, we’ve been looking for some very specific artifacts within it. Our current project, funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, focuses on the very earliest period of European interaction with Maine and the Maritime Provinces. This is often referred to as the Protohistoric period. By examining old collections for things like glass trade beads, early iron axes and fragments of copper kettle that we have much more context for and information about than they did in the middle of the 20th century, we hope that we can better understand the period and potentially re-locate sites we know to have Protohistoric components thanks to the Peabody collections.

Northeastern Archaeological Survey
Why not write the entire provenience on every object?

Sharing our collection – Indian Basketry in Yosemite Valley

Contributed by Marla Taylor

In September 2018, Catherine Hunter, Research Associate, presented a paper to the 2018 Symposium of the Textile Society of America (TSA).  The symposium was an opportunity to publish a portion of the Native American basketry collection at the Peabody Institute.  Held in Vancouver, BC, the symposium was a dynamic event with over 400 participants and Catherine was one of 120 individuals presenting their research.

Catherine’s paper, Indian Basketry in Yosemite Valley, 19th-20th Century: Gertrude ‘Cosie’ Hutchings Mills, Tourists and the National Park Service, is now available via Digital Commons at the University of Nebraska.

For more about the basketry in the Peabody’s collection, take a look back at Catherine’s past contributions to our blog: The Language of Baskets, The Language of Weaving, California Basketry Exploration