Category Archives: Collections

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!

Back to Class!

As part of my work at the Peabody, my supervisor suggested that I take an online class in Collections Management. Throughout school, I had never been offered classes that pertained to museum studies or collections management, so I thought that this was a great idea considering it is directly related to my current and hopefully future line of work. Therefore, over the past 6 weeks, I have been enrolled in an online class on Collections Management Policies for Cultural Institutions through museumclasses.org.

Over the period of the course, I learned a great deal about what it takes to create and implement a collections management policy at an institution such as the Peabody. For cultural institutions, these policies are very important to have because they set up guidelines for almost every aspect of the institution. These guidelines are good to have on file should any issues arise within the institution. For example, if an institution received a collection that does not fit within the scope of the collections, the museum staff could refer to their collections management policy for information on how to handle the situation. The policy also helps to establish consistency in practices regarding the proper management of collections associated with cultural institutions.

Throughout the course of the class, I have been tasked each week with writing various portions of a policy. My classmates and I would upload our segments to the online forum so that we could read and critique each other’s documents before turning them in for grading. The feedback was incredibly helpful and I feel it helped strengthen my policy. An additional part of the class was to participate in a chat room discussion for an hour once a week. These chats were always very interesting and everyone was very engaging. It was really interesting to see how different cultural institutions are run and how similar institutions can end up with very different policies tailored to their individual needs. I think that this class was an excellent decision, and one that will be very useful as I continue to pursue my career in collections management!

In other news, I have recently started cataloging drawers in the South Bay Storage area of the Peabody’s collections space! These bays primarily consist of sites from the American Southeast and Southwest, but also contain sites from Missouri, Kentucky, and even as far away as Labrador. I am very excited to continue working with artifacts that I don’t get to see as often as I would like!

Fossil!
Here is a cool fossil I found in South Bay Storage. I’m not a plant expert, but it looks like a type of fern.

The Inventory Specialist position is supported by a generous grant from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill. to improve the intellectual and physical control of the institute’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.

New Acquisition

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

We are delighted to share this recent acquisition, a contemporary painted vessel made by Jason Garcia. Garcia (Okuu Pin) is a talented ceramic artist from Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico known for his mix of traditional materials and methods with pop culture. This piece explores the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 through the media of traditionally built pottery and painting in the style of comic books or graphic novels.

Image of Jason Garcia's Pueblo Revolt 1680 ceramic vessel, with brightly painted, comic-book style figures of Po'Pay and Spanish soldiers.

Here Garcia illustrates a dynamic struggle between Tewa religious leader Po’Pay and Spanish soldiers. Po’Pay, from Ohkay Owingeh (also called San Juan Pueblo), is depicted in the style of a comic book superhero. He rose to prominence in 1675 after his imprisonment at the hands of the Spanish colonial government. After his release he planned the successful ouster of the Spanish from New Mexico, carefully orchestrating the insurgency across diverse linguistic, geographic, and cultural lines. The Spanish returned in 1692, but Po’Pay and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 remain significant, though little-known in American history. We work with several Phillips Academy instructors in history and social science to introduce their students to the Pueblo Revolt, which some scholars have suggested provided a template for the American Revolution some one-hundred years later.

 

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.

Fire extinguisher in use

Disaster planning can be fun

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.

Birdstones

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

We were fortunate to receive a generous gift from Phillips Academy trustee and Peabody Advisory Committee member Peter T. Hetzler MD, FACS (Class of 1972) in December 2017 that allowed us to purchase several important books to add to our library.

One of these is the very rare, privately published volume Birdstones of the North American Indian by Earl C. Townsend, Jr. Published in 1959, Townsend’s book was limited to 700 copies. A reprint edition was released in 2003 by Steven Hart, but these are also scarce and hard to find. Both the original edition and the reprint can be quite expensive, if you are lucky enough to find one. Townsend (1914-2007) was an attorney and founding member of the Indiana Archaeological Society, as well as an avid collector of Native American artifacts, cars, and artwork. According to Townsend’s obituary, he was honored by the Black River-Swan Creek Saginaw Chippewa Tribe with the name Senee Pen Eshee Na Na, meaning “Birdstone Man.”

Image from the Townsend Birdstones book showing a color plate.
One of the color plates in Townsend’s Birdstones book, showing some of the variations in color and material found among this artifact type.

Townsend’s preface begins with a reference to Warren Moorehead, the Peabody’s first curator, who “spoke of the need for specialized volumes, each devoted to one particular form of prehistoric North American Indian relic.” Moorehead insisted that the province of archaeologists was the study of material culture and he urged his contemporaries to abandoned reconnaissance and site survey that were becoming more common in the first quarter of the twentieth century and hunker down on description and classification of artifacts. Moorehead published at least three volumes that highlighted objects, mostly those held by artifact collectors. His most expansive was the 1910 two volume The Stone Age in North America. Moorehead also published more detailed studies of particular artifact types, like his 1906 The So-Called “Gorgets,” an early bulletin of the Phillips Academy Department of Archaeology, and his 1899 The Bird-stone Ceremonial.

Image of a large pop-eyed birdstone from the Peabody Institute collection.
A magnificent example of a pop-eyed birdstone in banded slate, Warren County, Ohio.

Townsend’s 719-page book is nothing short of monumental, and depicts thousands of birdstones from public and private collections. He also covers the ideas about what these objects are, which are myriad and diverse, as well as how they were made, distribution patterns, cultural affiliations, and fraudulent specimens.

Image of birdstones.
A selection of birdstones from the Peabody Institute collection. Note that some are broken and repaired.

So, what is a birdstone? As Townsend notes, this is not an easy question to answer, since there is no clear agreement on how they were used in antiquity. In terms of form, birdstones are often described as highly stylized depictions of birds. A variety of distinct forms are all described in detail by Townsend. The virtuosity of manufacture, incredible symmetry, and sculptural quality have often elicited comparison with modern art. Sizes range from an inch or two to larger examples that are five or six inches in length. A common feature is the presence of bi-conically drilled holes, one at either end of the birdstone’s base. These holes are often the site of breakage and repair. Most birdstones are made of banded slate, especially the greenish-gray banded Huronian variety, but other stones were used as well, including porphyry. Many have projecting eyes or ears. Few if any have come from secure archaeological contexts and most are known as field finds. Townsend’s distribution map indicates that the vast majority of birdstones in his sample come from areas around the southern margins of the Great Lakes, especially in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New York, and Ontario. Cultural affiliations of birdstones vary across this area and include a number of Late Archaic and Early Woodland cultures like Glacial Kame and Red Ochre, circa 1500-500 BCE.

Image of a large birdstone preform showing an early stage of manufacturing birdstones.
A birdstone preform, showing one stage in the manufacture process.

Townsend does a nice job of summarizing the diverse opinions on birdstones. The ideas range from Charles C. Abbott’s notion that they were worn as hair ornaments by women during maternity to use as a spear thrower (atlatl) counterweight. Other ideas include attachment to flutes or similar musical instruments, game pieces, hair or clothing ornaments, staff mounted religious symbols, and atlatl handle grips (Townsend’s preferred idea). Considering the diversity of forms, it seems likely that different styles were used in different ways and there are probably layers of meaning that we are unable to detect. Many contemporary archaeologists have accepted that birdstones are, in fact, associated with atlatls or spear throwers (for example, this is how they are described by David Penney in his essay on Archaic art in the 1985 exhibit catalog Ancient Art of the American Woodland Indians). Many articles about birdstones have been added to the literature since the 1959 publication of Townsend’s book, often proposing new ideas or offering further support or evidence for an existing hypothesis.

We were particularly excited to acquire a copy of Townsend’s Birdstones because the Peabody collections contain many examples of this enigmatic and interesting artifact. Only a few, however, are illustrated in Townsend’s book, including two from Ohio that had been salvaged after breakage (see Townsend 1959: Plates 76s and 77h). A few other fine examples from the Peabody are illustrated here.

It’s unlikely that we will unlock the secret of the birdstone anytime soon, however, we are immensely grateful to Peter Hetzler for his generous gift of the Earl Townsend book, which nicely complements our object collection!

Cats in the Collections

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

The collections staff at the Peabody keep telling me that I can’t have a cat. Which I guess was fair, until I found out that all this time they have been hiding a jaguar in our basement!

A JAGUAR!

Panthera_onca_zoo_Salzburg_2009_09
An adorable jaguar cub who would love to live at the Peabody and get belly scratches. Look at those mitts!!! By User:MatthiasKabel – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8837354

A few weeks ago I was approached by Elizabeth Aureden, instructor in music, to design an interactive class for her Music 410 course, The Musical Brain. While looking through our collections for musical instruments, I learned from collections assistant Samantha Hixson that she had just found and catalogued some effigy rattles.

The objects were made of clay and painted a variety of colors, and some still rattled.

This new find seemed very promising and so I wanted to learn more about them. Research indicated that these objects were from the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and most likely date from AD 1000 – 1350.

Gran_Nicoya
Map showing the Nicoya cultural region. By Rodtico21 (Own work)[CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0
The parts we have are clearly broken and part of a much larger artifact. These are the remnants of the tripod legs of a rattle effigy vessel. Each of the three legs would have contained three clay balls and had openings on the side for the sound. When shaken a rhythmic sound can be heard.

1024px-Vessel,_Nicoya,_Costa_Rica,_800-1350_AD,_ceramic_-_Naturhistorisches_Museum_Nürnberg_-_Nuremberg,_Germany_-_DSC03996
Image of a complete vessel. Notice the holes in the side of the legs.  By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
That’s pretty neat! But the story became even cooler as I found more information about this style of pottery.

The bowls were used to add a percussive sound to a ceremony. And the sound it made was not an accidental rattling sound, but rather a deliberate and meaningful one. When the bowl is shaken or moved about, and the clay balls rattle together, they create a deep, rumble. This sound is mimicking the low growl of an actual jaguar!!!!! Researchers have even noted that when the bowl is tilted and moving forward – like a jaguar lunging at prey – the sound is more prominent.

If your interest is now piqued about other objects from the Nicoya Peninsula, check out Dr. Rebecca Stone’s book, The Jaguar Within.

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So next time you are at the Peabody be on the lookout, because you never know what other predatory animals might be lurking!!!

Lion
Scary lion from the 1995 movie Jumanji.
Sometimes the Peabody seems like it’s playing its own version of the game Jumanji, with all the random artifacts that mysteriously present themselves to staff members.

 

 

 

Containing the Past

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Archaeologists are known as a creative and frugal bunch, and this is evident in the many ingenious ways that we have found to store artifacts and samples from recovery in the field to processing in the lab to long term storage on the museum shelf. Prior to the plastic bag, soil samples were housed in everything from feed sacks to paper bags. Glass food and condiment jars were a great way to keep charcoal samples, especially if you didn’t have a ready supply of tin foil. Metal, and then plastic, 35mm film canisters were highly prized for retaining tiny objects, like beads (the slightly opaque Fuji film canisters allowed a peek at the contents, unlike the black and gray Kodak canisters).

Image of cigar boxes.
A selection of cigar boxes once used to house Peabody Institute collections. Note the site information and catalog numbers visible on some boxes.

Nothing, however, is more ubiquitous for storing artifacts than the classic cigar box. These sturdy wood or cardboard boxes with a built-in hinged lid were highly prized by generations of kids for storing marbles, coins, arrowheads, and other treasures. Perhaps it’s not surprising that as adults these boxes remained as the go-to storage solution. The Canadian Museum of History has a great interactive website about cigar boxes that explores the significance, history, art, and general usefulness of these containers. Much has been written too about cigar box guitars, which apparently go back to at least the 1840s through 1860s when cigars were first being stored and marketed in wooden boxes—see, for example, http://cigarboxguitars.com/about/history.

Image of soil samples from Mexico stored in two large food our sauce jars.
Food or sauce jars used to store soil samples from Richard “Scotty” MacNeish’s Tehuacan Archaeological-Botanical Project, 1960s.

The collections of the Peabody Institute are no exception, and vast numbers of stone points, tools, and pottery fragments were once kept in legions of cigar boxes. Most, if not all, our artifacts have been rehoused in cardboard boxes and now we are working on a massive rehousing and cataloging endeavor that will improve our intellectual and physical control over our collections (museum-speak translated as “we will have a better idea what we have and where it is”). Our current strategic plan, developed in 2014 and 2015 identifies this as one of our most important objectives, and one we plan to accomplish in the next few years.

Image of new storage cartons and old wooden storage drawers.
Side by side comparison of new archival storage cartons and older wooden drawers. Peabody collections personnel are transferring the collections to the new boxes with the help of students and volunteers.

There are, however, still a small collection of cigar boxes and other biscuit, cereal, and medicine boxes and tins that were once used to house objects and photographs. Handwritten labels, pasted over the decorative and distinctive cigar box art, identify sites and catalog numbers. A small collection of these boxes has been retained.

Image of 1970s-1980s shoe box with purple and orange mid-century design.
A groovy Zodiac shoe box from the late 1970s or early 1980s once housed a small, woven bag donated by Dorothy Byers. Note the two part accession/catalog number and other notes written on the lid.

A recent effort to address a backlog of objects awaiting cataloging turned up a groovy mid-twentieth century shoebox that contained a woven bag, apparently given to the Peabody by Dorothy Byers, widow of former director Douglas Byers (1903-1978). Byers worked at the Peabody from 1933 until his retirement in 1968, and served as director from 1938 through 1968. Zodiac was a brand of Encore Show Corp. and first debuted in the late 1970s and has had a recent revival. The woven bag—unfortunately bearing little information—has been rehoused and is now in storage. The shoe box is in my office.

The Peabody’s cataloging and rehousing project is made possible through a grant from the Abbot Academy Fund, continuing Abbot’s tradition of boldness, innovation, and caring, and the generous support of the Oak River Foundation, and Barbara and Les’ 68 Callahan. For information on how you can contribute to this project, please contact Peabody Institute director Ryan Wheeler at rwheeler@andover.edu or 978.749.4490.