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.
The Slavery and Freedom inaugural exhibition is at the physical heart of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The exhibition invites visitors to explore the complex and intertwined histories of slavery and freedom through the personal stories of those who experienced it. Chronicling the early 15th century through 1876, the exhibition explores the cultural, economic, and political legacies of the making of modern slavery and the foundation of American freedoms. Visitors will encounter both free and enslaved African Americans’ contributions to the making of America in body, mind, and spirit. They will glimpse a vision of freedom—an American freedom—pushed to its fullest and most transformational limits through the everyday actions of men and women. Most importantly, they will walk away with an understanding of how the story of slavery and freedom is a shared American history with deep roots linking all people together and that still impacts American society today.
The discovery of Lucy Foster’s homestead was an accident in 1945 as archaeologists Adelaide and Ripley Bullen were looking for evidence of an ancient Native American settlement. Lucy’s early nineteenth century homestead was instead one of the first African American archaeological sites excavated in the United States. To learn more about the excavation and the artifacts recovered, check out these sources:
A partially reconstructed mug from the Lucy Foster site
Five buttons from the Lucy Foster site
Knife from the Lucy Foster site
Padlock from the Lucy Foster site
The Lucy Foster site objects are displayed in Slavery and Freedom in “The Northern Colonies: Expanding Merchant Capital” section of the museum. These objects allow the NMAAHC to tell the story of women and their work in the north and bring to light the personal voice and story of Lucy Foster. Foster was born in Boston in 1767 and was sold into the household of Job and Hannah Foster at age four, in 1771. She worked as a domestic in their household until Job’s death in 1789, when she moved with Hannah to her new husband Philemon Chandler’s household. After Chandler’s death, they moved back to the Foster household until Hannah’s death in 1815. Lucy then established her own household on land willed to her by Hannah. Lucy died of pneumonia on November 1, 1845. Occasional mentions of Lucy in historical documents, coupled with the archaeological remains, has allowed a glimpse into her life.
The NMAAHC requested these objects because Lucy’s story is unique. She is one of two People of Color from this area with documentary and archaeological records to tell her story. Lucy was part of both free and enslaved communities in Andover, and these objects show how she continually used her sewing and cooking skills to carve a place for herself in the Andover community. These objects embody the presence of women and their work as fundamental to the northern states and are a rare example of objects from the early nineteenth century concretely connected to an enslaved person.
If you are in the D.C. area, be sure to stop by and say “hello” to Lucy!
Exhibits and exhibitions are not the focus of the Peabody. However, once in a while a unique opportunity presents itself.
Visual artist Angela Lorenz (’83, P’14) reached out in early 2017 to suggest a collaboration with the Peabody. Angela’s newest art book, r.ed monde in r.ed engender.ed, explores the world around us through pointy-shapes and r.ed.
After spending decades in a drawer in the artist’s studio, r.ed steps out on a journey of self-identity. r.ed identifies with pointy-shaped objects and images from around the world – many of which are similar to pieces in the Peabody’s collection.
Angela Lorenz’s newest art book
r.ed holding a sherd that will be part of the upcoming exhibit
Angela and I surveyed collection and collaborated to create r.ed in residence: r.ed monde visits the Peabody. This short exhibition will have an opening reception on Saturday, October 21st from 1-4pm. Angela will discuss r.ed and her work from 1-2pm and be available to talk with visitors. Refreshments will be served and we will have hands-on activities for all ages.
Come by to explore a new way to examine archaeological artifacts through the lens of contemporary art!
The central staircase of the Peabody includes a mural of American Indian life and history titled “Culture Areas of North America” by Stuart Travis (1868-1942). Travis was an accomplished and prolific American artist, illustrator, and designer who studied at the Académie Julian in Paris. His works—mostly drawings and watercolors—appeared frequently in magazines, books, and advertisements in the early twentieth century. Travis first came to Phillips Academy in 1928 to create the mural “History and Traditions of the School and Vicinity” in the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. He continued to work at Phillips Academy, where he painted a total of three murals; he also designed the stone and wood gate that now leads to the Moncrieff Cochran Sanctuary.
The Peabody mural measures 13’11” by 10’2” and reflects ideas about anthropology and archaeology in the 1930s and 1940s. Major elements include the Maya Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal on the left and a totem pole of the Northwest Coast on the right, with a map of cultures areas of North and Middle America occupying a central position, surmounted by six portraits across the top of the mural. Details and insets abound, illustrating artifacts, archaeological sites, ethnographic items, and scenes from Aztec and Maya codices. Illustrations of artifacts are drawn from the British Museum, the Museum of the American Indian (now the National Museum of the American Indian), the American Museum of Natural History, the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, as well as several other prominent institutions.
Major Maya archaeological sites are labeled on the central map, but the majority of the map surface only depicts watersheds and topography, suggesting that Travis may have planned to add even more detail to the mural. The shadow of a thunderbird is painted over the central map, with a note explaining the widespread belief in supernatural birds in the Americas. Other details include an inset illustrating details of the Cahokia, Etowah, and Hopewell sites—likely a nod to long-time Peabody Director Warren K. Moorehead’s work. In all, there are over 30 American Indian artifacts illustrated (some in low relief), ranging from an example of Mi’kmaq writing on birch bark to a Tlingit “raven hat.” Many of these artifacts were probably drawn from contemporary books and articles on archaeology, while some may have been suggested by Museum staff. Detailed notes about the artifacts were likely included so the mural could be used as a teaching tool for visitors.
Stuart Travis Mural at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology. Photography by Gil Talbot.
Map key and artifacts in the Travis mural. The large pottery vessel was found by Jesse Brewer at the Cape Cod Canal in 1942 and was exhibited at the Peabody Museum; it is now in the archaeological collection of Plimoth Plantation. Photography by Gil Talbot.
Artifacts illustrated in the Travis mural include baskets from California, a Katchina, and Iroquois and Algonquin musical instruments. Photography by Gil Talbot.
Hopewell and Mississippian artifacts and sites are likely a nod to the research of Warren K. Moorehead. Photography by Gil Talbot.
Illustrations of Aztec and Tlingit artifacts were drawn from major museum collections and publications. Photography by Gil Talbot.
Stuart Travis modeled the Tuxtla statuette in low relief, highlighting this Olmec figurine’s glyphs and bird-like costume. Photography by Gil Talbot.
Maya and Costa Rican artifacts likely reflect the research interests of Museum Director Douglas Byers and and Curator Fred Johnson. Photography by Gil Talbot.
Travis dated the mural 1938, but continued with additions through 1942. The mural was restored in 1997 by Christy Cunningham-Adams through the generous support of the Abbott Academy Association.
Archaeologist Richard S. MacNeish—known as Scotty—devoted his career to untangling two of the biggest questions of archaeology: when did people begin domesticating plants and how did that act impact and influence the development of civilization? During his tenure at Phillips Academy’s Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology MacNeish led multidisciplinary expeditions to Mexico and Peru to search for the heartland of domesticated maize or corn. Before his death in 2001 MacNeish had searched for the origins of rice cultivation in China, studied early cultures of Belize, and planned to look at wheat domestication in Turkey. Evidence for domestication often could be found in dry caves, where ancient plant remains were preserved. Speaking of his research in China, MacNeish quipped, “I’ve crawled in and out of more caves than a Neanderthal caveman.”
Despite MacNeish’s indefatigable quest for the origins of the world’s most important crops, answers remained elusive. In Mexico’s Tehuacán Valley, near modern-day Puebla, MacNeish and his team reconstructed ancient environments, devised chronologies, and documented a sequence of corn domestication from tiny, primitive cobs to those that look much like the corn that was growing in the area during the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. MacNeish’s suggestion of an early date for corn domestication, however, was met with skepticism, as many archaeologists believed that these crops were developed after significant strides in social organization, urbanism, and the other hallmarks of civilization. A debate ensued, but much of MacNeish’s Tehuacán research was sidelined as other scientists found evidence for even earlier sites of corn domestication in the Mexican lowlands, pushing the dates back to at least 8,700 years ago.
MacNeish’s collections, preserved since the 1960s at Phillips Academy’s tiny Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, have continued to attract the interests of scientists. A November 21, 2016 article in the journal Current Biology reconstructs for the first time ever the complete genome of an early domesticated plant, based on a tiny, 5,310 year old cob from MacNeish’s Tehuacán project (Catalog number 90.184.36). The specimen was removed from an old exhibit case several years ago and loaned to the Smithsonian Institution’s Bruce Smith, a co-author of the new study. Statistical analyses of the DNA data indicate that the study specimen, dubbed Tehuacan162, is “a step that links modern maize with its wild ancestor.” Of particular interest were genetic markers for domestication—some of which were already exhibited in this early specimen—while others were not. This challenges previous models for corn domestication that focus on two major steps, countering that the history of domestication is more gradual and complex than currently believed. In conclusion, the study finds that Tehuacan162 is an ancient form of maize that is closely related to the ancestor of all modern maize, yet distinct from teosinte, a wild grass that is the closest living relative to maize.
MacNeish’s Tehuacán exhibit featured hand painted images like these of early plant domesticates.
Part of Scotty MacNeish’s 1970s era exhibit about his work in the Tehuacán Valley of Mexico–note the corn cobs and kernels.
The tiny corn specimen 90.184.36, also dubbed Tehuacán162, used in the recent study.
Corn cobs from Scotty MacNeish’s projects in Tamaulipas and Tehuacán Valley, Mexico.
Today the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology provides educational programming to the high school students of Phillips Academy, ranging from classes to work behind-the-scenes with our significant collections. Researchers also are encouraged to use the Museum’s holdings and often share their results with students.
Updating spaces at the Peabody is like playing with a giant sliding puzzle. In order to rearrange one room, you have to make space in another for everything that will be displaced. We wrestled with this puzzle as we recently updated two major spaces at the museum – our basement work room and our main exhibit gallery.
The basement work room is the center of most of the collections work at the Peabody. It is where work duty students, volunteers, and collections staff spends most of their time. And, until recently, it was home to several staff work spaces too. But it was time to refresh the space and make room to spread out the collection as we transfer artifacts from the old wooden drawer to new archival boxes.
Peabody basement work room – before
Peabody basement work room – before
Peabody basement work room – after
Peabody basement work room – after
Updating the gallery space was no small task! First, all the old exhibit was dismantled and objects were returned to storage. Then the exhibit cases were removed. And finally, the false walls that confined the space were demolished. Patching and painting is now underway. Future projects will see updated lighting and restoration of the windows.
Peabody gallery – after
Peabody gallery – taking down the walls
Peabody gallery – taking down the walls
Removing the debris
Newly visible collections on display
Peabody exhibit gallery – before
Conversations are on-going about how to utilize this newly empty gallery space. The added space has already benefited our community family days and will hopefully provide space for student curated exhibits and larger student and alumni events.
If you haven’t been over to the Peabody for a while, now is the time!
A brief exploration of Etowah, an archaeological site in Georgia, is now on display in the Peabody Museum lobby thanks to the efforts of work-duty students.
Along the Etowah River in northwestern Georgia, three massive earthen mounds mark the Etowah site. Etowah was occupied from approximately 1000 to 1600 AD as part of the Mississippian culture that dominated the southeastern United States at the time.
While only approximately 10 percent of the site has been excavated, Etowah has yielded thousands of artifacts ranging from projectile points to elaborate ceramic vessels. These objects reveal a culture with extensive trade routes and an appreciation of fine craftsmanship.
The culture of Etowah is explored through four artifacts—a ceramic vessel, a carved shell gorget, a ceramic pipe, and several shark teeth—researched by four students: Alex Hagler ’16, Jacob Boudreau ’16, Katherine Hall ’17, and Daniel Yen ’18. These students worked hard to write the exhibit text and determine the layout of the case.
Stop by the Peabody to take a look at their work and learn more about Etowah!