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Welcome to the Haffenreffer Museum blog, a place for museum staff and guests to reflect on the work of the museum. Visit the museum web site to learn more about us.

Using RTI and Digital Epigraphy at the Haffenreffer

Today’s post is from Jen Thum, doctoral student in Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute, and proctor at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology.

Hello, readers!

As you may remember from my last post,  I’ve been doing on the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology’s Old Kingdom relief block, which is from an ancient Egyptian private tomb of the 5th or 6th Dynasty (ca. 2494-2181 BCE).

The block came to the museum through a series of donors, and we do not know its place of origin. It is in poor condition, with cracks, worn areas, and residue from reconstruction (at some point in its history, it broke into pieces and was repaired). It is hard enough to see the details of the carving on this block with the naked eye, and it is even harder to get a good photograph using conventional methods. All of these problems made the block an ideal candidate for Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) and digital epigraphy.

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It is difficult to read the inscriptions and see the figures on the block with the naked eye. The shiny sphere circled in red makes RTI possible (see below). Photo: Jen Thum

RTI is a light-based technology that merges a series of photographs, each with light coming from different direction, so we can shine light digitally over a composite image of the object. Note the shiny sphere I have circled in the picture above: it reflects the light in each photo, allowing the computer software to “read” the direction the light is coming from. In the photo below you can see a composite image of the object, with the color stripped out, as it appears in our RTI Viewer software from Cultural Heritage Imaging.

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A screenshot of the program displaying a composite image. Photo: Jen Thum

Epigraphy is the study of inscriptions through drawing and recording. Digital epigraphy is the computer-based version of epigraphy, where a tracing is made over a picture of the object using drawing software. To digitally draw our block, I am using Adobe Illustrator. But I cannot simply draw over ordinary pictures of it, since the details aren’t clear enough—instead, I am drawing on the RTI images. To get the best angle of light for each section of the block, I divided our RTI image into 16 rectangular sections, and took four “snapshots” of each one. These are arbitrary numbers that I chose after considering how much detail each section of the block would show.

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A mock-up of the block using RTI snapshots. Photo: Jen Thum

Each of the snapshots shows the same section of the block, but with the light shining from a different direction. Below you can see two of these snapshots side-by-side: see the difference the light makes! Now, when I want to draw a detail on the block that I cannot see too well in one snapshot, I can “turn on” the other three to see if one of them will give me a better view.

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A side-by-side image of two RTI snapshots from the same section of the block. Photo: Jen Thum

I’ve already started to draw the block—not just the figures and hieroglyphs, but also the damage and restoration. Here’s what it looks like so far:

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My drawing progress to date. Photo: Jen Thum

On the final line drawing, I will mimic the effect of raised relief by adding some shadow, as in the picture below.

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In the circled area, I have added shadow to show that this is raised relief. Photo: Jen Thum

This project will take a while longer, but I’ll keep you posted—in the meantime, come see the block on display in Manning Hall‘s CultureLab, and follow my progress on the Museum’s Twitter account at, with the hashtag #EgyptoloJen!

Thanks Jen!  Readers, if you’d like to hear more about this, Jen is giving a short talk TODAY, December 9th, for Brown University’s Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies Colloquium at 1pm on the 3rd floor of Wilbour Hall (home of the Egyptology Department).

We welcome guest bloggers! If you are interested in writing about your experience with the Haffenreffer, please contact Jennifer Stampe, blog editor and Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology, at

Schevill Maya Textile Collection: Relationship Building, Collaboration, and Public Engagement

Today’s post comes from Robin Wheelwright Ness, Digital Production Specialist at Brown University Library.

Museums strive to partner and collaborate with other institutions, engage the public, and build lasting relationships within communities. There is no foolproof recipe for success, but there are indeed successes that demonstrate how collaboration and community relationship building can lead to active public engagement with museum collections.

Chichi weaver, 1985, Ikat tzute. Photo: Margot Blum Schevill

I am responsible for the coordination of work on digital projects in Brown University Library’s department of  Digital Production Services; I am also a part-time graduate student in the Master’s program at Brown’s Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage. These intersecting roles have allowed me a unique understanding of just how inter-institutional collaboration and public engagement intersect to expand what the museum is, what it does, and who it is for.

The Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology holds a collection of over two hundred hand-woven Maya garments collected by anthropologist and Brown alumna Margot Blum Schevill, a specialist in Guatemalan weaving practices. In the past few years, Schevill has also donated correspondence and thousands of slides and photographs documenting Mayan weaving practices and Guatemalan village life to the Haffenreffer.

Back-strap weaving demonstration at Museo Ixchel, Ciudad de Guatemala. Photo by Margot Blum Schevill

Recognizing the need to digitize Schevill’s many images, curators at the Haffenreffer approached Digital Production Services in the fall of 2012. It proposed that the Schevill slides be scanned and added to the Brown Digital Repository, to which the museum plans to link as it builds its online collection database. Digital Production Services has previously provided digitization and metadata services to, and preserved digitized components of, projects including Mashapaug Pond and the Fox Point Project. The library was pleased to join in the effort to help make the Schevill materials available to a larger audience.

Two Public Humanities students, Anna Ghublikian ’13 and María Quintero ’13, took the opportunity to work on cataloging the textile component of the Schevill collection. I taught Anna, María, and another Public Humanities student already in our employ, Jacqueline Harris ’13, to digitize the collection (using our Nikon Super Coolscan5000 slide scanners) and to use our internal tracking system to record metadata about the images. Schevill was meticulous in recording not only the locations and dates of her visits, but also the types of looms, materials, and weaving techniques employed in the creation of textiles she photographed. This information can be used to create metadata records, providing a variety of access points and, ultimately, adding value to the user’s experience with the digitized collection.

Anna and María’s work paralleled a documentary and arts project, led by Brown undergraduate Alexander Crane, which partnered with the Maya-Guatemalan Weaving Collective Oxib’ B’atz, located in nearby New Bedford, Massachusetts. Oxib’ B’atz was formed, in part, in order to keep alive the tradition of the immigrant’s native Guatemalan practice of back-strap loom weaving. The connection to, and overlap between, the Schevill collection and the ongoing work of the collective inspired an exhibit at Brown University’s Carriage House Gallery, and planted the seed in Anna & María’s minds for further expansion of the project.

As the digitization work proceeded, Anna and María began building partnerships with institutions and weavers in New Bedford, MA. This ultimately led to an exhibition at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Weaving Stories, Weaving Lives: Maya Textiles from Guatemala and New Bedford, exploring Mayan weaving as a form of storytelling. Working as co-curators, María and Anna brought additional students into the project to form an exhibit team. They displayed garments from the Schevill Collection alongside contemporary examples woven by members of Oxib’ B’atz. The exhibit featured demonstrations of back-strap weaving by members of the Oxib’ B’atz, school vacation week programming, Spanish language content, and free admission to New Bedford residents.

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1960s huipil from the Haffenreffer’s Schevill collection on display at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Photo by Robin Wheelwright Ness

The work I performed conducting quality control and correction on the digitized slides facilitated the selection of images for use in the exhibit. Jacqueline has written about her involvement in the project on the DPS departmental blog, Curio, while Anna and María have written about the project in a previous post on this very blog. And — good news! — upon graduation, María Quintero became a curatorial fellow at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where she continues to work on enhancing ties between the institution and local communities.

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A member of New Bedford’s Oxib’ B’atz collective demonstrating back-strap weaving at the exhibit’s opening. Photo by Robin Wheelwright Ness

One of the next steps in working with the Schevill Collection is to make the digitized images of the collection available to the general public so that those with interest in ethnographic costume and Maya Guatemalan weaving traditions worldwide can make use of this valuable resource. Stay tuned for updates on the digital component of this project as it enters the Brown Digital Repository.


A woman weaving in the Guatemalan mountains. Photo by Margot Blum Schevill

Thank you Robin. We love this project, and are excited about making these images available to the public in the Brown Digital Repository. More on that soon!

Meet the Postdoc: Sean Gantt

Today’s post is from Sean Gantt, Postdoctoral Fellow in Native American Studies at Brown University.

Halito, Sa-hochifo yát Sean Gantt. Charlotte, NC si-aiálhi. Chahta hicha Na Hollo siyah. Iksa Comby akanomi. (Hello, my name is Sean Gantt. I am from Charlotte, NC. I am of European and Choctaw descent. I am related to the Comby family.)

I am the new postdoctoral fellow in Native American Studies hosted in Anthropology at Brown University. I am happy to join the department for the 2013-2014 academic year. I am very excited to be at Brown University and I look forward to working with the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, as well as the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America (CSREA), Native American and Indigenous Studies at Brown (NAISAB) , and the student group Native Americans at Brown (NAB).

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Sean Gantt defending his dissertation on July 29, 2013 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Photo courtesy of Sean Gantt

I am new to the area, recently moving from Albuquerque, NM where I completed my PhD in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. My dissertation, titled “Nanta Hosh Chahta Immi? (What are Choctaw Lifeways?): Cultural Preservation in the Casino Era,” investigates the long-term impacts of tribal economic development programs on the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (MBCI) reservation in East-Central Mississippi. Before going to grad school in New Mexico I earned my BA in Anthropology from Davidson College in North Carolina.

I am a visual and public anthropologist with training in both archaeological and ethnographic research methods. I specialize on Southeastern U.S. Native American Studies and focus on tribal economic development, Indigenous self-representation, and identity. My work builds on the growing body of theory and research in Decolonization and Tribal Critical Race Theory, as well as critical Indigenous scholarship.

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Sean Gantt recording in the field for his video project “New Mexico Flintknappers: Breakin’ Rock,” (2008) 13 minutes. Photo courtesy of Sean Gantt

In the spring I will be teaching ETHN1890H: Introduction to American Indian Studies at Brown, and look forward to the opportunity to work with students in an engaging class looking at some of these issues. The class will certainly approach Native American Studies from a critical perspective, but there will also be flexibility for students to investigate research areas of their own choice as well. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about the class to contact me via email at

If you are interested in learning more about me, my research, or my video work please check out my website:

Yakoke, hachi pisa la chine (Thank you, see you all soon)

– Sean E. Gantt, PhD

Thanks, Sean — we’re glad you could join us!

Readers: we welcome guest bloggers! If you are interested in writing about your experience with the Haffenreffer, please contact Jennifer Stampe, blog editor and Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology, at

Last chance to see “Reading Love Medicine

“Reading Love Medicine: Beads, Bark, and Books from Ojibwe Country” closes Thursday, October 24 — so you have a few more days to visit the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library on the Brown University campus to see it. If you are not a Brown id-holder, please be prepared to show some form of identification for entry.

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“Reading Love Medicine” supports the 2013-2014 Big Read in Rhode Island, a set of programs dedicated to Louise Erdrich’s novel Love Medicine. The exhibit focuses on stories that can be told about objects from Ojibwe country. Drawing on objects from the collection of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, including beaded bandolier bags and birch bark baskets, the exhibition highlights the role that objects play in establishing and maintaining identity and relationships over time and across space. It foregrounds connections between tribes across the woodland regions of North America, and between American Indian and non-Indian communities. The exhibit is curated by Jennifer Stampe, Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology at Brown University (and Haffenreffer blog editor). It is informed by her research with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota.

The Big Read is hosted by the Tomaquag Museum, a Native-operated museum that tells the stories of Rhode Island’s Indigenous peoples. Sponsors include Brown University’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, its Third World Center, Native American and Indigenous Studies at Brown, and Native Americans at Brown.

Join us at the next Big Read event, on Friday October 25, 5:00 – 7:00 pm, when Loren Spears, Director of the Tomaquag Museum, speaks at the Providence Athenaeum. Her topic is “Native Arts: Healing Communities”; she will address themes such as family, community, historical trauma, and intergenerational trauma. She will reflect on how Native communities are addressing these issues today by using traditional arts to build a vibrant future.

And stay tuned for more information about a Round Table Discussion of Love Medicine to be scheduled for November and hosted by Native Americans at Brown. Hope you can join us!

For more information on Big Read events, see

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Welcome, New Director Bob Preucel!

A belated welcome back and best wishes for the new academic year at Brown and beyond! HMA Blog kicks things off with greetings from our new director, Robert Preucel.



Kuwatsi Hopa!

I am very excited to be the new director of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University. I owe a great debt to the past directors and past and current staff members who have made this museum such a wonderful beacon of light for the study of anthropology.

The Haffenreffer Museum is one of the leading anthropology museums in the country. It was founded by Rudolph F. Haffenreffer, the industrialist and philanthropist, as the King Philip’s Museum around 1920. His main interest was Native America with a special focus on the archaeology and history of Native New England. Upon his death in 1955, the museum was donated to Brown University and J. Louis Giddings was hired as its first director. Giddings transformed the museum into a modern institution and expanded its archaeological and ethnographic reach to encompass the world’s cultures.

Anthropology museums have a special role in our society today. They are uniquely positioned to serve as key intellectual sites for the production of global understanding of the world’s peoples and cultures both past and present. Such museums provide unparalleled opportunities for students and faculty to explore social issues in all their complexities and nuances. “Teaching with things” can give students hands on experience of these issues in ways that they might not otherwise acquire. These museums also are the loci for didactic exhibits that can engage students and general public with contemporary topics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, heritage, health chances, urbanization, population flows, and globalization.

One of my goals will be to make the collections even more accessible. One way we are doing this is through our new Faculty Fellows program. This program gives faculty an opportunity to use our collections in their teaching. We are using CultureLab as the venue for students to encounter museum objects. Another way we are doing this is by digitizing our collections. Putting photographs online enables anyone with a computer  to see these remarkable objects and to potentially conduct research on them.

I also hope to develop some exciting new exhibitions that help mediate our experiences with the modern world. We are already doing this and a good example is the City-Plaza-People exhibition that opened last fall. This exhibition, prepared by Professor Rebecca Carter’s class, examined public spaces in transition and used Providence’s Kennedy Plaza as a case study.

I also want to reach out to descendant communities, the people whose ancestors made the objects in our collections. For example, we recently hosted a group of expatriates from the Kingdom of Bangwa in western Cameroon. They came to examine a collection of 19 masks that were collected in the mid-1960s. They wanted to reconnect with artwork that could serve as important inspiration for current and future generations.

I would like to build ties with local museums and institutions. One way to do this is to develop collaborative exhibitions that take greater advantage of our mutual interests in art, history, and society. For this reason, I also want to expand our program of acquiring contemporary Native American art. It is a powerful way to show that Native peoples are still here and that they have profound things to say not only about their communities, but also about world events and issues.

I feel honored to be part of the distinguished history of the Haffenreffer Museum. Indeed, I feel a special connection with Giddings since, like him, I come to you from the University of Pennsylvania. Please feel free to contact me about your thoughts about the museum. My email is

Robert Preucel

P.S. Kuwatsi hopa means “hello everyone” in the Cochiti language.


Thank you, Bob! We’re happy to have you, and look forward to hearing more about these initiatives over the coming year.

We welcome guest bloggers! If you are interested in writing about your experience with the Haffenreffer, please contact Jennifer Stampe, Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology, at

Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology in the News

The Providence Journal urges readers to visit the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology to see our new exhibit honoring donors Dwight B. Heath, emeritus professor of anthropology at Brown, and Anna Cooper.Heath. The exhibit showcases collections from  Mexico, South America, and Africa.


See the exhibit, The Spirit of the Thing Given, in our gallery at Manning Hall, Tues. – Sun., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m

Read about Heath’s research, not treated in the exhibit, on cultural variation in drinking practices from Malcolm Gladwell and the New Yorker.


Meanwhile, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has recently reported on research on Viking travels in Newfoundland conducted by Kevin P. Smith, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Haffenreffer. Smith argues that, a thousand years ago,  Vikings traveled further into the Northern Peninsula than was previously thought; there, they were turned back by the Beothuk in a confrontation that might be  “first big encounter between [indigenous people] and the western world.”


Hope to see you in Manning soon!

Reflecting Change: “City • Plaza • People” Revisited

A group of students in “Methods in Public Humanities,” a course taught by Steve Lubar at Brown University this spring,  have been working to bring a version of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology’s exhibit “City • Plaza • People” to Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence, Rhode Island.

Raina Fox, writing on behalf of her fellow students Ann Kremen, Lara Savenije, Selen Senocak, and Nate Storring, reports on the group’s work to both expand the audience for the original exhibit and participate in an ongoing conversation about the plaza’s redevelopment.


The Haffenreffer’s exhibit City • Plaza • People was researched, designed, and mounted by students in Rebecca Carter’s course “Urban Life: Anthropology in and of the City,” last fall. Based on ethnographid research in Kennedy Plaza, it was structured to highlight the history, present use, and possible future manifestations of the plaza; it included a series of panels, a video of people moving through the plaza, an iPad with digital content, and a series of photographs of people holding signs reflecting their hopes for the plaza. The exhibit was an impressive feat, though its reach was somewhat limited by its location on Brown’s campus, a concern shared by students who worked on the original exhibit. As students in Public Humanities, our goal was to explore ways to make this project more public, by linking the information explored in the exhibition to those for whom it might be most relevant.

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“City • Plaza • People” on display at the Haffenreffer this spring.  Photo and illustration by Nate Storring.

Our project coincides with an important moment in Kennedy Plaza’s ongoing development: a new plan for the space, revealed by Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy (DPPC) on April 18, will soon begin to reshape the plaza and the ways that people interact with it. In this new vision of the plaza, the bus operations that currently make up the heart of the space will be moved to its outer edges, allowing the middle of the space to be reimagined for public use.

CPP_GKP1Kennedy Plaza “Before” and “After.” Illustration by Union Studio Architecture.

The plan envisions the plaza as a more pedestrian-friendly environment with trees, public art, activities, dining and shopping opportunities, arts and cultural events, space for public organizing, and safer, more pleasant travel experiences for those using mass transit. By increasing the number of simultaneous activities in the plaza, DPPC hopes to embrace the concept of the power of ten – originally developed by Project for Public Space – which holds that successful public spaces have at least ten complementary activities at any given time, with visual access between them. Depending on funding, reconfiguration of the bus stops and improvements in front of City Hall could be completed as soon as 2014 with other elements likely to be completed by 2017. According to a study by the Rhode Island Transit Authority, 45,000 people pass through the plaza each day, making these changes relevant to tens of thousands of people. As an extension of the Haffenreffer exhibit, we see our project as an opportunity not only to share some of the changes the plaza has experienced in the past, but to help people to shape their own informed opinions about the changes coming to the plaza.

In our initial meetings, we struggled to identify the shape and goals of our project, most notably due to the complexity of the needs we sought to address. One of the most persistent challenges we encountered was the need to identify and then respond to an incredibly diverse and undefined audience. This diversity is not only a question of age, gender, language, or ethnicity, but also of use. People come to the plaza for many different reasons- to eat lunch in the middle of their workday, to wait for a bus, on their way home from school, to pass the time when there is nowhere else to go. We found it difficult to identify an approach that would be multiply meaningful to these many different audiences.

We ultimately decided to create a series of thematic panels to insert into Kennedy Plaza itself, which would be light, quick, and cheap to implement. We thought carefully about the design and placement of these signs to make them as accessible as possible, and brainstormed a series of themes that could potentially encompass elements of the plaza of interest to viewers.

We researched, wrote, and designed eight panels; sought appropriate rights and permissions for all images and quotes included; researched and priced materials to print and install these panels; and built connections with DPCC. Upon receipt of the appropriate funding and approval the panels can be easily printed and installed in the plaza.


Envisioned Kennedy Plaza exhibit. Photos and illustration by Nate Storring.

Each panel follows a similar format, including a title, large image, smaller text broken up into easy to read sections (in the form of a quote, caption, and short body paragraph), and smaller images.  The eight panels focus on the following themes:

  1. The Unfinished Plan for Downtown Providence, 1970
  2. Occupy Providence and Political Movements in the Plaza
  3. Words of Our Presidents: Political Speeches at the Plaza
  4. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument
  5. The Statue of Ambrose Burnside
  6. Getting Around Providence
  7. Providence’s “Superman Building,” the Industrial Trust Tower
  8. The Struggle of Life: The Bajnotti Memorial Fountain

Our engagement with “City • Plaza • People” began as an attempt to bring an exhibition to Kennedy Plaza. Yet the experience proved to be more about the process than the product, and about learning to work with a variety of student colleagues and community partners. We were inspired throughout by the enthusiasm with which our ideas were received by people in the community, and encouraged that our efforts seemed to be of interest to the general public.


Thank you, Raina! We’ve enjoyed working with you and are glad to be involved in both the ongoing conversation about the redesign of Kennedy Plaza and the effort to engage with Providence’s many constituencies. And we look forward to seeing your panels installed downtown soon.

We welcome guest bloggers! If you are interested in writing about your experience with the Haffenreffer, please contact

“Toys: Curated by Small Hands”

Today’s post is by Alexandra Goodman, Master’s student in Public Humanities at Brown University and Education Intern at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. She reports on her recent education and exhibition project, “Toys: Curated by Small Hands.”


“If you’re in a museum. . . whisper hooray (hooray!), If you’re in a museum, for many awesome reasons . . . If you’re in a museum whisper hooray!”

Students from the Redwood Classroom singing the Museum Manners song at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology

The sound of four-year-old children singing the Museum Manners song echoed in the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology this spring, as they participated in a program that resulted from a partnership between the Museum and the Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education. During my studies in Public Humanities, I have focused on ways to provide learning opportunities for young children in public institutions. I began working with Haffenreffer staff in the fall of 2011 to develop a program for early learners in the Museum. Our first partner in this project is the Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center, whose supportive and innovative teachers and staff encourage preschoolers to learn through play and interaction with peers, teachers, and places outside the classroom.

With the assistance of Emily McCartan, my fellow Education Intern and Master’s student in Public Humanities at Brown, and under the guidance of Geralyn Ducady, Curator of Education and Programs at the Haffenreffer, the program evolved in the fall of 2012 into a year-long series of sessions conducted in the classroom and at the Museum for all four classrooms at the Center. The exhibit featured here is the final project prepared by the four-year-old classrooms at the school, the Redwood and Willow classrooms. During the fall, Emily, Geralyn and I led sessions where students began learning about the Museum, anthropology, and object handling. We brought objects from the education collection at the Museum to the classroom for students to handle and explore.

In the spring of 2013, Redwoods and Willows students began visiting the museum. Their first visit provided a chance for them to get familiar with the Museum and interact with objects from the collection in the museum setting. Before their second visit to the Museum, teachers brainstormed with students to select a topic for their exhibit. Students decided they were interested in learning about the types of toys children use around the world. With the support of the Museum curators, we brought a large number of toys from the collection to the Museum for the group to choose from during their second visit. Once they selected objects for the exhibit, the two classes worked on text and interpretive materials. Some of the children’s labels were displayed beside the objects, while the additional labels, drawings, and responses by the students are featured on an iPad which is included in the exhibit.

Students from the Willow classroom handling a toy truck from the collection

The result was amazing. The exhibition reflects how four-year-olds view and understand these objects. At the opening event, students appeared to take ownership over the exhibition and enjoy showing their work to their families and friends. This project is the culmination of a lot of hard work by all those involved: the children, teachers and staff at the Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center, and staff at the Haffenreffer. It has been a wonderful partnership. In the future,  we hope to continue to promote the Museum’s involvement in early education programs and exhibits curated by small hands.

Alex Goodman (left) and Emily McCartan (right), standing with the final exhibit curated by students at the Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center


Thank you Alex, and congratulations to you and Emily on a great project and fun exhibit (and the squirmiest opening reception of all time)!

For more information about the exhibit, see  “Toys” is on view at the Haffenreffer’s galleries at Manning Hall, open 10-4 Tues-Sun.

Connecting Collections to Communities

This week’s blog post is from Anna Ghublikian and María D. Quintero, Master’s students in Public Humanities at Brown University.

The sense of wonder that begins while driving to the Haffenreffer’s Collections Research Center in Bristol, Rhode Island culminates as you get lost in the rows of objects collected from around the world. Amongst the collections, over a dozen light blue archival boxes are full of recently acquired hand-woven Maya garments. This donation consists of approximately 200 textiles, thousand of images, and several boxes of correspondence. It reflects a lifelong project of Brown alumna, anthropologist, and Maya textile expert Margot Blum Schevill.

As we made our way through this collection of textiles we realized that we wanted to share it with the public. A practice rooted in tradition, Maya weaving remains an essential form of expression to this day. Nearby in New Bedford, Massachusetts, a group of Maya immigrants from Guatemala have formed a collective to continue weaving on the back-strap loom. Building on Maya weaving as a form of storytelling, we were interested in exhibiting these textiles to share the lesser-known history of Guatemalan immigrant groups. According to census data, the population of Guatemalans in New Bedford has exponentially increased over the last decade to 1,532 people in 2010. We created a space for a contemporary community to connect with this collection with the extraordinary assistance of an amazing student team, Haffenreffer staff, New Bedford Whaling Museum staff, and the Brown University Center for Public Humanities.

Weaving Stories, Weaving Lives opening reception on March 1, 2013 at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. From left: Co-Curators María Quintero and Anna Ghublikian with NBWM Director James Russell. (All photos courtesy of Brown University’s Center for Public Humanities.)

The colors and motifs of Maya textiles reflect meaning both personal and collective, local and transnational. Weaving Stories, Weaving Lives: Maya Textiles from Guatemala and New Bedford was on exhibit at the New Bedford Whaling Museum from February 18 to April 7. We selected some textiles and images from the Haffenreffer collection and textiles woven by the local collective Oxib’B’atz’ (Three Threads) so that visitors to the exhibit could see their similarities and differences for themselves. We wanted to showcase the impressive craftsmanship of the Maya weaving process. The objects carry with them meanings that are inscribed by the makers. The creative practice approach of our exhibit allowed viewers to both engage with the inscribed meanings and histories and also reflect on their own experiences. The textiles themselves proved an incredibly powerful medium from which to engage and form connections across various communities.

Weaving demonstration by Oxib’B’ats’ weaving collective

The most rewarding result of this exhibit was providing a space where this immigrant community was represented in a positive manner. The textiles on display build pride in the local Guatemalan community’s historic artistry. This exhibition was merely a first step in promoting appreciation and understanding across cultures. The museum welcomed the local Maya community, providing a new place of access. The textiles on loan from the Haffenreffer were connected to that of Oxib’B’atz’ forging a links across time and space: joining the past with the present, and Guatemala with New Bedford. With the vast collections at the Haffenreffer there are endless possibilities to use the artifacts in order to open dialogues across communities.

~ Anna Ghublikian and María D. Quintero, co-curators of Weaving Stories, Weaving Lives

More photos from Weaving Stories, Weaving Lives


Thank you, Anna and Maria! This is a great project, and we’ve enjoyed working on it with you, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and the Center for Public Humanities. You’ve made important contributions to our understandings of the Schevill collection, and connections to other institutions and contributions.

Learn more about Margot Blum Schevill’s work in the Haffenreffer catalogue Costume as Communication.

We welcome guest bloggers! If you are interested in writing about your experience with the Haffenreffer, please contact

Arctic Research at Brown and the Haffenreffer

Model kayaks at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology’s Collection Research Center in Bristol, RI. From left: Kirk Dombrowski (CUNY) and Thierry Gentis (HMA Curator). (All photos by Christy DeLair.)

A few weeks ago, Kirk Dombrowski (Associate Professor of Anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center and John Jay College) visited Brown University to give the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology’s Shepard Krech III Lecture, on “Understanding Arctic Communities on the Brink of Self-Governance,” and a workshop on “Reaching ‘Hard-to-Reach’ Populations for Research in Anthropology, Sociology, and Public Health.” While he was here, Dombrowski visited the Haffenreffer’s Collections Research Center in Bristol. Dombrowski’s visit was funded by donors to the Shepard Krech III Lecture fund, the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs, and ARCUS, the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States.

Looking at halibut hooks in the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology collection, Bristol, RI. From left: Thierry Gentis (HMA Curator), Kirk Dombrowski, and Nate Dombrowski.

Kirk Dombrowski describing use of halibut hooks.

These Northwest Coast halibut hooks (above) inspired a wide-ranging discussion about locally caught halibut, connecting reflections on Dombrowski’s upbringing in the Northeast to his work on the Northwest Coast and comparing 19th century Haida fishing technology to contemporary Northeast fishing techniques.

Kirk Dombrowski touring the Haffenreffer’s Collections Research Center.

These Nunamiut or inland Inupiat caribou skin masks (above) also caught our attention. Made in the mid-20th century in Anaktuvuk Pass in the Brooks Range in northern Alaska, they were collected between 1973 and 1991. These masks, and the other objects pictured here, are part of the museum’s extensive collection of Arctic and Sub-Arctic materials, and a part of a 55-year history of Arctic research at Brown.

You can learn more about this history, this relationship, and the Arctic itself in upcoming lectures sponsored by the Haffenreffer. Douglas Anderson (Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Laboratory for Circumpolar Studies, both at Brown) will give the Barbara A. and Edward G. Hail Lecture, entitled “Initial Peopling of the Americas: New Questions, New Answers,” on Wednesday, April 10, at 5:30 in Salomon Center Rm 001. Kevin P. Smith (Deputy Director of the Haffenreffer) will speak on “Volcanoes, Gods, and Men: REVEALing a Viking Age Ritual Landscape beneath Iceland’s Interior” on Wednesday April 24, at 5:30 in Salomon Center Rm 001. Further information about both talks is available on our calendar page.