Boxes in the Attic

As some of you blog may know, the biggest project currently being done at the Peabody is the complete inventory of all of our collections. In previous blog entries (these can be read here and here), we have discussed the process, including the fact that we move the artifacts from the original wood storage drawers to custom made gray Hollinger boxes-generously supported by the Abbot Academy Fund. When we received the shipments of these boxes, they were stored off-site in two storage units that the Peabody had rented in town. These two storage units perfectly held all of our boxes and everything has been right in the world.

Image of new storage cartons and old wooden storage drawers.
Side by side comparison of new gray boxes and older wooden drawers.

A few weeks ago, I was up in the attic of the Peabody doing a pest inspection with Waltham Services and I had an idea. I went to my supervisor Marla Taylor and I said, “Do you know what would be an interesting idea? If we rearranged what is up in the attic, closed out both storage unit accounts and moved the rest of the boxes up into the attic.” By this point in time, the first of our two storage units was getting pretty empty, with maybe 15-20 large boxes remaining inside. I told Marla that if this idea worked out, it would benefit the Peabody in two major ways (and possibly more, but these are the big ones).

First of all, we wouldn’t have to pay the monthly fee for storage units anymore. This would ultimately save the Peabody a chunk of change every fiscal year, and who doesn’t want to save money wherever they can? When we had the storage units, we used to have to reserve a rally wagon (an SUV owned by Phillips Academy that only certified drivers can operate) and drive over to the storage unit. With that method we could only fit a maximum of six boxes (each containing 12 gray boxes) into the back of the SUV. Additionally, we would save on the cost of renting the rally wagons, which we have been using more frequently lately since we have three people working on the inventory.

Second, anytime we needed more gray boxes for the inventory, we would be able to just walk upstairs to the attic and grab them. The only way this idea wouldn’t work was if the boxes wouldn’t fit in the attic. Marla thought about this idea for a minute and we had a look around the attic to see if this was feasible. After a few minutes with a measuring tape, she said she thought that this idea was great and had serious potential to work. This response was of no surprise to me, because it is well known that I only have good ideas. I received yet another gold star for my many efforts and great ideas.

My Gold Stars
These are my gold stars for all the good ideas I have come up with. I cherish them.

We then strategized how to get the Peabody ready for the influx of these boxes of boxes.  First, we needed to empty the first storage unit. This involved John and Emily making multiple runs to the unit while Marla, Emma and I unpacked the gray boxes and organized them around the basement. All of these gray boxes managed to fit in various places downstairs. This was great! It meant the attic wouldn’t have to house anything but the second unit.  A week before the big move, we set about cleaning the attic to make as much space as possibly for the contents of the final storage unit. With the help of work duty students, Marla, Emma, Emily and John, the attic was cleaned and looked like a barren wasteland, but a beautiful one that was about to be filled with boxes.

Finally, we rented a U-Haul truck and set to work.  We had set aside an entire day to facilitate this move. Marla and John drove the truck to the storage unit and filled it with as many boxes as possible. When they pulled up outside the Peabody, all hands were on deck. We got all of the boxes into the lobby and started carrying them up to the second floor landing. Marla and John left to go fill the truck with a second load. Once all of the boxes were up on the second floor, Emily, Emma and I started the move to the attic. This part seemed like it was going to be difficult because the attic stairs are very narrow and the large boxes are very wide. But then, I had the BRILLIANT idea to use the stairs as a ramp and literally push the boxes up the stairs. This made the operation go so much faster than originally anticipated.

Boxes in the Attic 1
Seriously, look at how great these boxes look in the attic.

When all was finally said and done, this move that we expected to take all day (and possibly longer) was accomplished in THREE HOURS. GO TEAM – these boxes were MEANT to go into this attic. We were exhausted, but totally deserving of the Indian Buffet lunch we decided to enjoy. The day was a huge success for the Peabody Collections team. Now the attic looks beautiful and it will be much easier for us to restock on boxes when we need them.

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.

Missing Artifacts

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Since the early 1990s the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology has been searching for objects missing from its collection. Among the missing items are carved and decorated stone, shell, and ceramic pieces from sites in Georgia and Maine.

The Peabody has celebrated the return of three missing artifacts, most notably the Etowah monolithic axe. The Boston Globe recently covered the story.

At least three artifacts remain missing, including two engraved shell disks and one ceramic smoking pipe. A $2,500 reward is being offered for information that leads to the recovery of the missing artifacts.

These objects were excavated at the Etowah and Little Egypt sites in Georgia between 1925 and 1928 by Warren K. Moorehead, then-director of the Peabody Institute. The Etowah and Little Egypt sites date from AD 1000 to AD 1550. Southeastern sites of this period are linked to modern-day Native American tribes through the Creek language. Many of the objects are funerary belongings and subject to repatriation under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Image of shell gorget with dancing birdman figure.

Object:  Hightower or Big Toco style shell gorget

Provenance:  excavated by Warren King Moorehead in 1926 from Burial 37, Mound C, Etowah site (9BR01), Cartersville, Bartow County, Georgia, USA

Description: a small engraved and excised disk cut from marine shell depicting a dancing human figure with decapitated head; approximately 2.5-inches in diameter; Native American Mississippian culture circa A.D. 1250-1375

Catalog #:  62042

61770

Object: Effigy pipe

Provenance: excavated by Warren King Moorehead in 1927 from Grave 12, Etowah site (9BR01), Cartersville, Bartow County, Georgia, USA

Description: ceramic smoking pipe, effigy of basket, canoe, or pottery vessel. Approximately 3 inches high by 3 inches wide. Native American Mississippian culture circa A.D. 1400-1600.

Catalog #: 61770

unknown_gorget_01

Object: Carters Quarter style shell gorget

Provenance: excavated by Warren King Moorehead, 1925-1927, from either the Etowah site (9BR01), Bartow County, Georgia, or Little Egypt site (9MU102), Murray County, Georgia, USA

Description: highly stylized rattlesnake design incised and cut-out of marine shell disk with perforations for suspension as a pendant or gorget. Approximately 5 inches maximum width. Native American Mississippian culture circa A.D. 1400-1600.

Catalog #: 61440

If you have information about these objects please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler at 978 749 4493 or rwheeler@andover.edu.

 

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!

A New Purpose for the Peabody Collection Drawers

Contributed by Emma Cook

The Peabody is continuing to undergo its Inventory and Rehousing Project to make way for more sustainable storage in the future. As a result, the Peabody Collections Team is giving away their original wooden drawers as the Peabody no longer has any use for them.

The wooden drawers were a part of the original storage for the Peabody collections, housing over 600,000 artifacts. The wooden storage originated in the early 1930s consisting of bays, shelves, and drawers. Currently, about 30% of the collection has been rehoused from its original storage. This means there are many drawers becoming available and many more to come in the future!

Those who have taken drawers have re-purposed them into various things ranging from tea trays to accent walls! Below are some examples of how our drawers were reused by friends of the Peabody.

Peabody Drawers used for storage

Peabody drawers stained and painted

Jewelry, wall storage and table made from Peabody drawers

If you have re-purposed some of the Peabody drawers, we would love to see your creations! Please share your photos with us at ecook@andover.edu.

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

New Acquisition: Toya Collaborative Pottery

The Peabody Institute is pleased to share our latest acquisition, a piece of pottery made by Dominique and Maxine Toya, Pueblo of Jemez. Dominique and her mom Maxine have had a long relationship with the Peabody, first visiting campus in 2014 to share their work in the world of Native American art. Since then they have visited campus in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and plan on returning in fall 2019 to conduct a week-long seminar with students in Thayer Zaeder’s studio pottery classes. We have been lucky to work with Mia Toya, Dominique’s sister, and friend Nancy Youngblood from Santa Clara Pueblo.

Dominique is a 5th generation potter, who combines traditional forms, materials, and methods with exciting innovations in decoration and design. We have two of Dominique’s melon swirl vessels with micaceous slip, courtesy of Marshall Cloyd (PA Class of 1958). Dominique has won numerous awards, including Best of Classification at the Heard Indian Market (2008); Best of Classification at the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial (2009), Best of Show at the Eiteljorg Indian market in Indianapolis in for a collaboration with Jody Naranjo (2010); and numerous distinctions at the Santa Fe Indian Market; Dominque is currently vice chair of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, host of the annual Santa Fe Indian Market. Maxine is a talented artist and educator as well, specializing in hand-painted figurines. She studied with Allan Houser at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

Three pottery figures and vessels, including painted owl figurine, the collaborative piece by Dominique and Maxine, and a swirl pot by Dominique.
Owl figurine made by Maxine Toya (left); collaborative pottery, Dominique and Maxine Toya (center); micaceous swirl bottle by Dominique Toya.

Dominique and Maxine have recently begun to combine their talents, with Dominique contributing her beautiful vessels and Maxine painting them with human and animal figures. This piece, like all of their creations, is made from local New Mexican materials, hand decorated and polished, and open fired.

Image of Pueblo potters with ceramics instructor and blog author.
From left to right: Maxine Toya, Thayer Zaeder, Mia Toya, Ward Weppa, Barbara Callahan, and Dominique Toya.

The Toya pottery collaboration is thanks to a generous gift from Barbara and Les Callahan (PA Class of 1968). Many thanks Barb and Les for this beautiful addition to our collection!