Inventory Complete!

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Well, we did it. After about four years of focused work, the Peabody Institute collections team has finally completed the inventory project. 

This project has been a labor of love (and frustration, and tears, and headaches…) over the years. And I am thrilled to share that the last drawer was inventoried last week!

The project was originally designed back in 2016 to gain full physical and intellectual control over the collection. We knew that the Peabody Institute was home to thousands of items that had not yet been cataloged and were therefore inaccessible to researchers, classes, and tribal partners. 

Over the course of the project, we more than doubled the catalog records in our internal database, counted just over 500,000 individual items, and rehoused items from over 2,000 wooden drawers into archival boxes.

I considered linking to all the past blog posts about this project, but honestly, that got ridiculous pretty quickly! Instead, I will direct you here to find everything tagged as part of the reboxing project to learn more about our process.

A massive thank you must go out to everyone who was a part of this incredible project. This includes all Peabody Institute staff – including those who have had to move on over the years – our volunteers, and dozens of work duty students. 

Our deepest appreciation also goes our financial supporters – the Oak River Foundation, the Abbot Academy Fund, and Les ’68 and Barbara Callahan for their generosity and support of the Peabody’s goal to improve the intellectual and physical control of the Institute’s collections.

Hopping into the Collection

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Several months ago, I was connected with a PA alum who wished to donate a piece of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican jewelry to the Peabody Institute. It is a gold pendant in the shape of a frog with a slightly unclear origin. It had been passed down within the family and was variably attributed to the Maya, as well as cultures in Panama and Columbia. The owner had the pendant appraised for insurance purposes in the 1960s and again in the 1980s. Each appraisal identified a different culture of origin and left me a little confused.  

Now, admittedly, I know relatively little about Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican jewelry and was out of my depth to evaluate this potential donation. Thank goodness for networking!

My first step was to reach out to a couple members of the Peabody Advisory Committee who have expertise in Mesoamerica and Peru. Even if they could not identify the cultural origin of the pendant, I knew they could point me in the right direction. In collaboration with the Peabody’s director, Ryan Wheeler, it was decided that I should reach out to a professor emeritus, Dr. John Scott, at the University of Florida for evaluation. That was a solid plan.

Lots of photos were taken of every part of the frog pendant. 

The final piece of the puzzle was to determine if the frog was actually made of gold. Again, that is outside of my expertise and I needed to find some help. Fortunately, Andover is home to several amazing jewelry stores. The wonderfully helpful Vice President of Service at Royal Jewelers, Dina, came to my rescue. She hooked me up with a jeweler who had technology to identify the metallurgic components of the pendant without causing any damage.  Technology is great!

The result is that the frog is a mixture of gold and copper that is typical of tumbaga. Tumbaga is the name for a non-specific alloy of gold and copper that is very common in Lower Central American manufacture. The frog is 1,200-500 years old and probably originated in the Central Highlands or Atlantic Slope of Costa Rica.

The next step is to present all this information to the Peabody Collections Oversight Committee (PCOC) in October. The PCOC will then vote on whether or not to formally accept it into the collection. Hopefully, this frog will be making an appearance in a classroom soon!

Note – if you would like to learn more about Latin American art, check out some of Dr. Scott’s publications:

Before Cortes: Sculpture of Middle America by Elizabeth Kennedy Easby and John Scott (1971)

Latin American Art: Ancient to Modern (1999)

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!

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.

Halfway there…and funding for the finish!

Contributed by Marla Taylor

I am thrilled to share that we have officially inventoried half of the collection!

As of mid-June, the collections team has inventoried 1,079 artifact drawers – half of the 2,159 that hold our collection.  Those drawers translate to 243,967 individual artifacts that have been counted and rehoused in the process!

A massive “thank you” goes out to all of the staff and volunteers who have contributed to the inventory so far: Rachel Manning, John Bergman-McCool, Emma Cook, Annie Greco, Alex Hagler, Quinn Rosefsky, and dozens of work duty students.

With excitement and deep gratitude, we also announce that funding has been secured to complete the inventory by our target deadline of December 31, 2020.

The Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Illinois has renewed its support for a temporary inventory specialist for another two years.  Our deepest appreciation goes to the Oak River Foundation for its continued generosity and commitment to the Peabody’s goal of improving the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections.

But that is not all!

Barbara and Les Callahan have agreed to provide critical funding to extend the appointment of our current inventory specialist – John Bergman-McCool.  Les graduated from Phillips Academy in 1968 and is an active volunteer on campus. Barbara has served on the Peabody Advisory Committee since 2013.  Both have been steadfast advocates and supporters of our mission and we cannot thank them enough for providing this deeply meaningful gift.

We hope these acts 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.

#PAGivingDay

We are delighted to share that we reached our goal of matching Peter Hetzler’s (Class of 1972) generous $10,000 challenge during PA Giving Day 2019!

Andover__PAGivingDay__SamPhil__LinkImage__2019

Jenny Elkus (Class of 1992) also successfully challenged her class to match gifts up to $1,000 to fund a Peabody Institute Adopt A Drawer!

The final dollar figures and donor counts are not in yet, but this was a big milestone for us, and contributes significantly to our current use fundraising.

Many thanks for all the support received and an extra special thank you to Peter and Jenny for the challenges!

The overall day netted $2,348,896 from 3,624 donors for Andover financial aid, academics, the arts, and outreach programs.

PA Giving Day is March 27, 2019!

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Make your mark on PA Giving Day 2019!

Mark your calendars! The third PA Giving Day is Wednesday, March 27, 2019! Last year the Peabody Institute garnered 60 gifts, nearly doubling PA Giving Day gifts in 2017! This year we hope to have more challenges, more social media posts, and even more support!

 

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.

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!

Oak River Foundation continues support of Peabody collections

A storage bay with a mixture of drawers and boxes

Contributed by Marla Taylor

In 2016, the Peabody Museum received a generous grant of $100,000 from the Oak River Foundation of Peoria, Ill., to support work pertaining to the intellectual and physical control of the museum’s collections.

The grant was spread across two years and initially supported the work of an archivist to whip the Peabody’s 100+ years of archives into shape.  With that funding, Irene Gates was able to share archival collection records online and process over 140 linear feet of material.  She also created three finding aids to the material belonging to prominent directors of the Peabody’s past.

The second year of funding is designated to supporting the work of a temporary inventory specialist – Rachel Manning.  Rachel will be spending her time inventorying drawers of artifacts and rehousing them into archival boxes as part of our larger collections storage project.  While she only began her work in early August, Rachael has already been making steady progress.

Rachel inventories a drawer from Massachusetts.
Rachel inventories a drawer from Massachusetts.

And we are pleased to announce that the Oak River Foundation has stepped up again and provided additional funding for Irene to return and spend another year in the Peabody archives!  This second year will facilitate processing the remaining 150 linear feet of material as well as addressing the photographic and map collections.

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.