No “Orphaned” Artifacts

This blog represents the first entry in a blog new series – Peabody 25 – that will delve into the history of the Peabody Museum through objects in our collection.  A new post will be out with each newsletter, so keep your eyes peeled for the Peabody 25 tag!

Contributed by Quinn Rosefsky  (Phillips Academy Class of ’59)

Robert Singleton Peabody (1837-1904) grew up in Muskingum County, Ohio—just outside of Zanesville—but attended an eastern boarding school—Phillips Academy—to graduate in 1857. After law school at Harvard he established a lucrative legal practice in Vermont before relocating to the Germantown area of Philadelphia. During much of his life, Robert nurtured an interest in archaeology and Native Americans and worked to amass a personal collection of artifacts. In 1866, Robert’s uncle, George Peabody (known as the father of modern philanthropy) gifted PA with funds to establish a “scientific department” to encourage scientific discourse be incorporated into the curriculum. At the turn of the 20th century, Robert sought to revitalize his uncle’s good intentions by re-establishing a program for the sciences, specifically archaeology.

The archives of the Peabody Museum contain the letters and documents that reveal the evolution of Robert’s intentions. The primary correspondence is between Robert Peabody and Warren K. Moorehead. Moorehead was the man responsible for building, cataloging, and maintaining Robert’s artifact collection and would ultimately become the first curator of the Department of Archaeology at Phillips Academy.

Peabody then wrote in a letter dated March 3, 1898, that he was impressed with Moorehead’s cataloguing of the substantial collection Peabody had amassed (nearly 50,000 artifacts), which were “of sufficient value, to be cared for.” Adding, “I have known too well the fate of those Orphaned collections placed at the Mercy of a cold world…” Although what Peabody then proposed was to establish a department of archaeology, he also wrote that the financial situation at the time was not good. He was likely referring to the Panic of 1893, during which 500 banks closed and 15,000 businesses failed. The ensuing financial depression lasted from 1893 to 1898. Peabody’s conclusion was: “…I will not deliberately, add another to the list of failures…I want to make assurance doubly sure, if I go into it at all.”

Nevertheless, Moorehead’s letter to Peabody on April 4, 1898, continued to press the issue. He had spoken to the wife of Dr. Wilson, a Curator of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institute, and conveyed her response to Peabody: “…It is fortunate for Andover and the public at large that you conceived the idea of preserving archaeological relics.”

The archives have a gap in the sequence of letters, but it is clear that Robert S. Peabody had been having discussions with Dr. Cecil F. P.  Bancroft (1839-1901), Andover’s fifth headmaster. Bancroft agreed to help push the project forward with the school’s Board of Trustees. By November 11, 1900, planning was well-advanced.

In a letter dated March 6, 1901 from Peabody to the Trustees of Phillips Academy, the amount and purpose of the donation were laid out. Specifically, Peabody wished his collection to have a home for preservation, the establishment of a Department of Archaeology which would be “self-supporting and independent.” Furthermore, this Department should be “disconnected from any other branch of Phillips Academy.” As for the museum itself, “…(it) should be, as far as consistent, tasteful and attractive on its exterior, with good proportions, not too high, and within, light and cheerful as possible, with some simple and tasteful decoration—as tinted walls, etc.” Peabody went on to propose that Moorehead be the first curator because “…Professor Moorehead knows every specimen in the collection, and its history.” Peabody also stipulated, “…that the building/museum be a pleasant place where students might find an agreeable relaxation during the broken events which occur in the lives of the most closely pressed.” In other words, the building would serve not only as a museum but as a social center.

It was no surprise that the amount of the gift to Andover, indicated in a letter dated March 8, 1901 from Peabody to Bancroft, was related to the amount given previously by his uncle in 1866. George Peabody had also dedicated the same amount—$150,000—to aid in founding the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. To differentiate himself from his uncle, Robert pointed out that his gift would also include a collection of artifacts. These artifacts amounted to one hundred thirty-two boxes containing nearly 50,000 items insured for $35,000 at the time of transportation by rail on July 10, 1901 from Philadelphia to Warren K. Moorehead in Andover. The actual endowment, anonymous by design, included $100,000 for the Peabody Foundation and $50,000 for the building. This amount would grow substantially at Peabody’s death, as he willed the residue and remainder of his estate to Phillips Academy in March, 1902. The total gift amounted to at least $500,000—approximately $12 to $13 million by today’s standards.

What did $50,000 buy in 1901? The future architect for Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Guy Lowell, was hired and he submitted plans for the projected museum at Phillips Academy. By the end of October, 1901, ground-breaking began on the site where formerly the First Classroom Building, the Farrar House, and then the Churchill House had been located. The building was completed in less than two years and was dedicated on March 28, 1903, the event was  memorialized in the mid-April 1903 edition of The Phillipian.“The building was tastefully decorated with potted palms and flowers…Mr. Frederick W. Putnam, L.L.D, professor of Ethnology and Archaeology at Harvard, said that students would learn to reason more for themselves, and would depend more upon their own powers than upon text books.”

Peabody Study Hours

Contributed by Marla Taylor

As another school year begins, students on the lookout for a quiet place to study in the evening will have a new option.  The Peabody is now hosting study hours every Thursday evening from 5pm-9:15pm.

We will also be collaborating with the peer tutoring program on campus to provide a calm space for focused study and learning.

We hope to see you here!

Shelving to the rescue!

Completed shelving

Contributed by Marla Taylor

As I began working this summer on the reboxing project, it immediately became apparent that the artifacts needed room to grow sooner rather than later.  Moving the objects from the wooden drawers into the boxes revealed just how heavy some of those drawers were – some too heavy to be supported by the new archival boxes.

What I needed was solid temporary shelving to support these materials.  Donnegan Systems, Inc. of Northboro, Massachusetts to the rescue!   Donnegan Systems has been consulting with us periodically to reimagine collections storage once all the artifacts have been boxed.  They saw our need and offered some spare shelving that was taking up space in their warehouse.  Delivered and installed in a single morning, these shelves will facilitate faster progress with the reboxing project.

Boxes and boxes of boxes

They’re here!

Fifteen-hundred custom archival boxes were delivered on Monday, July 25 to initiate the Peabody’s collections rehousing project.  Unloading the truck and storing the boxes was hard work, but was an important first step toward completely rehousing and inventorying our large collection. The boxes were assembled to our specifications by Hollinger Metal Edge and are archival quality.

These boxes are made possible by a grant from the Abbot Academy Association, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring. They will be used to replace the old wooden drawers that have supported our collection for decades, and will provide protection and a long-term home for our artifacts.

A special ‘thank you’ goes out to Will Shahbazian and C. Woodrow Randall for their helping hands (and paws).

Summer work duty students begin rehousing inventory

Work duty student inventorying a drawer

Embarking on a full inventory and rehousing of your museum collection is a daunting task.  Transferring approximately 1,700 drawers into 3,000 archival boxes will take years of work.  Fortunately for me, I have access to an invaluable resource – Phillips Academy students.

For a week in July, two Lowers (10th graders) came to the Peabody every day for four hours to fulfill their work duty commitment for the school year.  I gave them a crash course in artifact identification and object handling techniques before they got down to business.  As they worked through the meticulous process of inventorying everything in the collection, they made crucial observations that will improve my workflow.  Together, these two students recorded the contents of twenty-nine drawers!

Work duty student inventorying a drawer
Work duty student inventorying a drawer

Work duty students will continue to be an essential work force as we move through the collection.  I will share their progress and successes in the months and years to come.

Curator of Collections Marla Taylor and work duty students stand behind the empty boxes
Curator of Collections Marla Taylor and work duty students stand behind the empty boxes

Welcome Irene!

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Irene Gates recently joined the Robert S. Peabody Museum as Temporary Archivist.

Her position will focus on increasing access to the significant archival materials held by the museum, which include museum records dating from the early 20th century onwards, archaeological excavation records, photographs, and papers of individuals associated with the museum.

Irene received her MS degree in Library and Information Science with an Archives Management Concentration from Simmons College two years ago, and has since worked as a contract Processing Archivist for the City of Boston Archives and the Harvard Business School Baker Library Special Collections.

The Temporary Archivist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to support work pertaining to 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.

As she dives into the archives, Irene will share some of the gems she finds on the blog – keep your eyes peeled!

Irene with boxes of documents
Irene with a small portion of the Peabody’s archival information.

Student Reflection – Alex Hagler ’16

Alex and Marla excavated on campus

Contributed by Alex Hagler ’16

I began working at the Peabody in sixth grade, under the brilliant supervision of Lindsay Randall. I was introduced to the behind-the-scenes workings of a museum, cataloging artifacts, organizing photos, preparing materials for classes, all the jobs of a high school work duty student. It amazed me, and still does, that, despite my young age, I was treated just about the same as any other work duty student. I was given the trust of the people I worked with at the museum, and that trust has remained to this day. Because of that, I have had wonderful, momentous occasions at the Peabody. I represented the Peabody at the 2014 Alumni Reunion Weekend, and I presented the findings of my own independent research project to the Massachusetts Archaeological Society, to name only two. I have enjoyed the constant support of the people with whom I have worked all these years, and so the Peabody has become like a second home to me.

Now, as a graduating senior, I look back on my years at the Peabody. I find that I am mostly content, with only some minor regrets, namely that I have yet to see the floppy disk I was promised way back in sixth grade. But beyond that, I find that I am overwhelmed, reflecting on how I have changed over my years working here. At the beginning, I was nervous, hesitantly exploring the Peabody for the very first time, just starting to explore my new found interest in history. At the end, I am confident, not only in that I have made smart and responsible choices during my time here, but also in that I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. And I have the Peabody to thank for that.

Interested to read more student reflections?  Visit here and here for more perspectives.

Student Reflection – Alana Gudinas ’16

Alana and other work duty students learn about Pueblo pottery from Dominique Toya

Contributed by Alana Gudinas ’16

I started work duty at the Peabody in the beginning of my 10th grade year, mainly because it seemed like the most interesting job to do on campus. How many other high school students have the opportunity to help out at a renowned archaeological museum just a short walk’s away? That year I did a lot of of boring, but necessary, work cataloging objects and essentially entering data into computers. What made doing this so amazing, however, was the fact that I was handling objects that were often thousands of years old, all with their own history and archaeological context. I worked in the same room as Marla and Lindsay, both who shared with me a lot of information about what we were working with and why. This experience I had my sophomore year made me passionate about history and archaeology and want to dive in even deeper.

I did, in fact, become more involved in the Peabody these last two years, through listening to speakers that came to the Peabody for Massachusetts Archaeological Society meetings (and even giving a presentation myself at one of them), meeting the incredibly special artists (such as Dominique and Maxine Toya), teachers, and scholars who visit the museum, and taking a history class the fall term of this year that met in the museum classroom. Having such extensive access and exposure to the Peabody the past three years has instilled in me a love and appreciation for archaeology and all the people involved in the field. I feel that I have learned so much not only about the archaeological and historical background of various objects, but also about the nature of the two fields in general and how they are used in a museum setting. I am endlessly thankful for this experience.

Interested to read more student reflections?  Visit here and here for more perspectives.

Student Reflection – Jacob Boudreau ’16

Image of student presenter

Contributed by Jacob Boudreau ’16

I didn’t know what to expect when I started work-duty at the Peabody. I don’t remember choosing to be in it. I didn’t know much at all about archaeology. By my third week of work-duty, I was convinced that archaeology (at the Peabody at least) was nothing but the glorified study of rocks. I was disappointed that I would be stuck inside categorizing rocks for 45 minutes a week, instead of doing one of the quick and easy 5-minute-per-week work-duties.

Those first few weeks, however, are not summary of my time at the Peabody. My time at the Peabody has taught me a lot about archaeology—what it is, what the various aspects of it are, what goes on behind the scenes—and it has imbued me with a deeper appreciation for the discipline. I have learned how artifacts are excavated; how they are stored, cataloged, and inventoried; how one handles delicate artifacts, creates displays for them, records when they are taken out for a class or put back into storage. All of these things I learned during work duty through experience – it was all hands-on. The other work-duty students and I weren’t simply there ticking off check-boxes on a clipboard while the museum staff did the “real work.” We all got the chance to engage directly with the artifacts in the various ways I listed above.

The best part of work-duty at the Peabody is all of the people I get to work with. Each term I work with a new team of students, which is a lot of fun. I really enjoy working with Marla as she always makes the tasks interesting and engaging and talks to us more like adults or friends than high school students.

The highlight of my time at the Peabody was the term that my work-duty group 3D scanned and printed selected artifacts, and then presented our results and research on the topic at a MAS meeting. I’m a math and science guy, and I was thrilled when Marla announced the plans for the term to us. We cooperated with Ms. Wessner from the makerspace and her work-duty students to learn how to scan and print the artifacts we had chosen. We each then presented on a specific part of the project: one student on how we selected the artifacts to print, me on how we scanned and printed them, and two students on the implications of the 3D replication of artifacts. (We also got to eat a lot of food at the meeting.) It just goes to show how interdisciplinary work at the Peabody can be.

Interested to read more student reflections?  Visit here and here for more perspectives.

Adopt A Drawer: What is it like to catalog a drawer?

The drawer before cataloging

Contributed by Marla Taylor

In fall 2013 the Peabody launched Adopt A Drawer, which connects supporters with our collections. Each gift of $1,000 supports the complete cataloging of one artifact storage drawer. Participants receive an Adopt A Drawer t-shirt, updates on cataloging,  and their support is acknowledged with a name plaque and in our online catalog, PastPerfect.

Cataloging the adopted drawers is a time-consuming but rewarding task. Each drawer is selected with care to identify areas of the collection that need a little extra TLC. Often times, I don’t even know what I am going to find in the drawer!

The drawer that I am currently working on has taken quite some time. There are over 130 artifacts – mostly stone tools – from at least 13 different sites across France. Many of them are from cave sites of the Magdalenian era (10,000 – 17,000 years ago), but some of these blades, scrapers, and cores date as far back as 70,000 years old. Some of these tools could have been crafted by the hands of Neanderthals.

The drawer before cataloging
The drawer before cataloging

When I first began work on the drawer, the tools were piled on top of one another in several smaller boxes. This poor storage can easily lead to damage along the delicately crafted edges of these tools. It was in need of a major upgrade!

With the help of work duty students – I couldn’t do this without them! – each artifact was photographed, measured, and rehoused. I have researched each artifact in our original accession ledgers for location and collection information. These records have then been combined with notes provided by Kathleen Sterling and Sebastien Lacombe of Binghampton University and experts in the lithic technology of France’s Upper Paleolithic who visited the collection in May 2015. I am integrating all of this information into their catalog records and the adoption process is nearly complete.

I will soon share details of the contents of this drawer with its donor and you can access it too by exploring our collection online.

For additional information how to adopt a drawer watch our short video or visit our website.