Back to Work!

Contributed by Emily Hurley

It’s been almost two months now since John and I have been back at the Peabody alternating weeks of work. In order to save time while we are in the Peabody, we are using that time exclusively to inventory drawers and spending our weeks at home updating the database with the drawers we inventoried the previous week. Now that we’ll be back in the Peabody more regularly, our work from home duties have shifted to more database work. In his post from last month’s newsletter, you can see all the hard work John’s been doing at home so now I’d like to share some of the things I’ve been able to accomplish from home so far.

Marla has kept everyone busy with various projects since we started working remotely in March. For me, that included digitizing photographs, creating condition reports for textiles, digitizing ledger books, and photographing site records. In total, while working remotely, I was able to digitize nine boxes of photos, complete 120 condition reports, digitize 1,700 ledger entries, and photograph 354 site records.

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2019.0.706 – A goat on a mountainside in the Ayacucho Valley. (I think this goat is so cute!)

The majority of my time working remotely has been spent scanning and editing photographs of various archaeological projects from the collection. The photos I digitized were from archaeological excavations in Massachusetts, Maine, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and Connecticut. Perhaps my favorite photos to work with were the ones from the Ayacucho Archaeological-Botanical Project in Peru. This project, directed by Richard MacNeish, was meant to investigate the origin of agriculture and its relationship to the development of civilization in New World Centers. The Ayacucho Valley was subsequently excavated between 1969 and 1975, which produced the hundreds of images that I’ve been working on. Many of the photos are of cave excavations, others show sweeping views of the Peruvian highlands complete with mountains and wildlife, and there’s the occasional photo of the archaeologists acting silly.

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2019.0.743 – Archaeologists overlooking the Ayacucho Valley

Since we’ve been back at the Peabody, John and I have been working hard to make up for lost time on the inventory project. So far we’ve been making great progress as we’ve been able to inventory over 60 drawers since being back. Empty wooden drawers are once again piling up like crazy!

Working from home for the past few months has been an interesting experience. It’s been great saving so much money on gas and I loved being able to make myself gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch every day, but I’m very happy to be back working with the artifacts. Hopefully someday soon we’ll all be able to enjoy being back at the Peabody full time!

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If you’re in need of some grilled cheese inspiration here is one of my favorites—olive tapenade, roasted red peppers, arugula, and manchego cheese! (I only had pita pockets at the time but I think a nice sourdough would be great)

Artifacts Return

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Last fall, the Peabody loaned ten objects to the Addison Gallery of American Art here at Phillips Academy.  They spent nearly a year there for the exhibition A Wildness Distant from Ourselves: Art and Ecology in 19th Century America.

Due to public health concerns related to COVID-19, both the Peabody and the Addison have been closed to visitors since mid-March.  But, the behind the scenes work never ends.  The Addison regularly exhibits works of art on loan from other institutions and actively loans its own collection to museums around the world.  Returning these objects during COVID shutdowns has been a logistical challenge for our friends, and we were happy to coordinate with them to return the materials back across the street to us.

When the objects from the Peabody went to the Addison, a professional fine arts shipping company took care of packing and moving everything.  To come home, the Addison staff did the packing themselves – and they are awesome at it!

 

It is now up to me to put these artifacts back into our storage areas – a job I am happy to do!  Typically, we would use many of these in the upcoming school year for classes, but this year is different.  Like most other institutions, any of our classes will be taught online.

But I know that I will be happy to see Champ the auk back at home in his case every time I come into the Peabody.

Out of the basement and into the basement

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

RSP to Home
4 months of working in my basement and now, I’m back in the Peabody basement.

After four months of working from home, the Peabody is in its third week of a return to almost normal collections work. The two inventory specialists, Emily and myself, are working alternating weeks at the Peabody in order to continue our inventory work. With one week completed, it feels good to be back working toward our goal of a complete inventory of the collection. While working remotely will be an ongoing reality, I would like to share some of what I have been up to at home thus far.

With everything shutting down in March, Marla was quick to come up with projects that could be completed remotely. Her post in April outlined collections materials that were less sensitive and therefore reasonable to take home. I started with photographing site records from Peru and then moved to digitizing vacuum treatment paperwork related to Integrated Pest Management of the collections. We all contributed to finalizing the digitization of the original ledger books, our institution’s version of accession books. Now we have a searchable document with 75,000 records!

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Everything I’ve worked on from home

My favorite project has been photographing and editing photographic slides held in the collection. They include images documenting past exhibits and openings at the Robert S. Peabody Museum and photographs of the collections. The most interesting slides by far have been of Copeland Marks’s travels in Guatemala and South Korea. Mr. Marks was a textile collector who focused on the traditional clothing of ethnic Maya people living in the Guatemalan highlands. Some of his textiles became part of our collection at the Peabody. He would later write several cookbooks on cuisine covering locales ranging from the Mediterranean to South America. The slides I was working with document his travels in Guatemala spanning the 1960s through the 1980s. The subjects in the photographs cover everyday life, the dramatic volcanic landscape of the highlands and ceremonial life- all of which have been a great escape from the realities of coronavirus lockdown.

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00.3.1585- People of San Pedro La Laguna.

It is anybody’s guess when life will return to normal. For the foreseeable future work at the Peabody will be interspersed with the strange blur of working from home with frustratingly cute interruptions from kids and dirty dishes. Until then I have to thank Marla for keeping us safely working from home during these crazy times.

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Oh yeah, I can’t forget my other work from home duty- silly lunches for the kids.

Movie Magic – sort of

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Before COVID-19, the Peabody Institute kept our social media presence to Facebook and Twitter.  But this seemed like the perfect time to expand to Youtube. This is definitely a new medium for me and I was puzzled for a few days as to how I could contribute to this platform.  And then inspiration struck.

Phillips Academy is home to two cultural institutions – the Robert S. Peabody Institute and the Addison Gallery of American Art.  Our friends at the Addison created a delightful short stop-motion video about the work of a registrar and shared it on Facebook.  I thought it was fabulous.  And I also thought, I can do that!

Well, that started a project that took about a week of evening shoots after the kids went to bed, and an additional couple weeks of sound design (maybe I shouldn’t admit that it took that long…).  I wrote a short script and then cannibalized my boys’ Legos to recreate the Peabody staff and create sets.  I regret not taking a picture of the carnage to our play room to share, but I am relieved that it is all cleaned up now.

Framing and filming the stop-motion required a level of patience and detailed focus that was challenging for me at times but necessary to make the film work.  It is hard to remember to account for everyone and everything in the scene, but not to move it too much to ensure it was fluid.  It was pretty fun to hide details in the background too.

Adding the voices and music was a whole separate task.  I fully credit my husband with the patience to become my sound engineer.  He took all the lines, including those contributed by our 5 year old, and music and ensured that everything synced with the video – and made sure we weren’t breaking any copyright laws with the music use…

I think the end result is pretty great.  Viewers learn about what the Peabody does every day, from my perspective, and get to escape for about 3 minutes.

Enjoy Raiders of the Peabody Institute Collections!

#Museumathome

Contributed by Marla Taylor

In our new normal, museums around the world are finding new and clever ways to engage with people at home.  I wanted to share with you some of my favorites.

Our friends at the Addison Gallery of American Art, also here at Phillips Academy, have gotten creative with Legos and stop-motion animation.  Registrars: The Movie was the best 2 minutes of my day and I hope it makes you smile too!

Mona Lisa

A fabulous trend on Instragram are people dressing themselves and their homes like art.  The creativity is impressive!  Discover the trend through #gettychallenge, #betweenartandquarantine, and #covidclassics.

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Gerbil art museum

Do gerbils appreciate art?  I don’t know, but I stumbled across this article about some art lovers who decided to find out.  By all accounts, the gerbils had a positive experience with their private tour!  And I hope you do too.

My favorite museum distraction is following the National Cowboy Museum on Twitter.  Head of Security, Tim, has taken over their social media and has the best dad jokes around.  Wonderfully refreshing and clever, Tim’s tweets bring a smile to my face every day – #HashtagTheCowboy.  I can’t wait to find a reason to travel to Oklahoma City, OK and visit.

Thanks, Tim

Collections work – Home edition

Contributed by Marla Taylor

As the country continues to work from home, the Peabody collections team has gotten creative to keep everyone busy.  Typically, our work requires touching and interacting with the objects in our collection as well as collaboration on deciphering difficult numbers or to respond to a research inquiry.  I certainly can’t send the artifacts home with our staff, but we have been able to find plenty of remote work.

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Boxes of photos and slides ready to go to their temporary homes

First, we attacked a backlog of paperwork relating to our pest management projects.  Something that I thought would take months to catch-up on was done in a matter of days!

Second, supplies were split up and everyone signed out a few boxes of photographs to digitize from home.  Many of them also created spreadsheets that will make for quick addition to our collections management database when we return.  Once again, massive progress is being made on projects that have been sitting on the back-burner too long.

Several of us still share the responsibility of checking on the collections in person regularly and the system has been working wonderfully.

For me, like so many others, working from home has been a balancing act.  I am caring for two kids under the age of 5 while my husband works a job that is considered essential.  My work is squeezed into nap-time, evenings, early mornings with a cup of coffee, and some weekend time.  We are all doing the best we can to support ourselves and our colleagues.  I cannot thank the Peabody collections team – Rachel, John, Emily, and Emma – enough for their hard work and continued dedication to our mission.

If you have some time to kill, try checking out our collection online – I hope to have lots of new material uploaded when we return to our regular routine.

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!

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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.