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Congratulations on 30 Years: Traveling Near and Far with Thierry

by on January 29, 2013

Back in December, Thierry Gentis, Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology Curator, celebrated 30 years with Brown.  Things were busy then — we finally get around to offering Thierry our belated but heartfelt congratulations with this post from Rip Gerry, HMA Exhibit Designer and Archivist.

When I was asked to write something short about working with Thierry in the “early days” at the Haffenreffer Museum, my initial response was: “sure, no problem.”  Then I thought “wait . . . do I have to be nice?”  In that case it will have to be short!”

When I think back to those early days, the first thing that comes to mind are road trips.   Thierry and I always seemed to be traveling in the museum’s van to pick up wondrous donations.  One of the journeys that comes to mind is a trip to Washington D.C. to pick up a West African collection being given by Bill Mithoeffer — and struggling to load up some very large heavy stone sculptures. During one trip to Philadelphia to pick up Cameroonian artifacts from Igor Kopytoff we were treated to a behind the scenes tour of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.   More than once we found ourselves in New York City to pick up donations of African art from William Brill, and were “forced” to join Mr. Brill for a martini lunch.  And there was a trip to central Ohio to retrieve Ferdinand and Beverley Bach’s donation of Northwest Coast model watercraft.  This drive is especially memorable because of the summer heat: we were on the lookout for a lake so that we could take a refreshing swim. These journeys and more are filled with good memories.

While we also took a fair share of short trips out to Cape Cod or up to Boston for the day, many of our road trips required overnight stays, and we benefited from some free time to explore the local sights.  We of course ventured into the museums and galleries to critique the displays, and I often also found myself in curio and antique shops with Thierry.  In our prowling of the shops as in our visits with generous donors, the thing that amazed me, as it still does, is Thierry’s ability to identify any artifact, no matter how obscure, and then to relate some little known fact about that type of cultural treasure.

Those who are lucky enough to be part of a tour or class led by Thierry  will know that I am not exaggerating when I say: “No one knows the collections as well as Thierry.”

~ Rip Gerry, HMA Exhibit Designer and Archivist


–Thank you, Rip.  And congratulations Thierry — here’s to many more happy years at the Haffenreffer!

See pictures of Thierry’s recent travels around campus below.

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  1. Elizabeth Hoover permalink

    It will be a dark, dark day when Thierry decides to retire…. Having worked with Thierry as a graduate student, and now as a faculty member, I can whole heartedly agree with David’s comment above, and Rip’s closing remark that no one knows the collection as well as Thierry. Even mundane museum proctor tasks like vacuuming the dust out of African masks were made interesting with stories about the masks’ original purposes, and the ‘death watch beetles’ that made the dust. This past spring I taught my first museum class, and honestly Thierry deserves half the credit for the class– each week he brought in a wonderful assortment of objects that illustrated the themes we were discussing. And then he would stay for each class so he could share stories about the objects with the students. No one else would have been able to carry out the job in this way- I was ever grateful and the students were enthralled. I can only hope to know a fraction of what Thierry knows about those collections by the time I’m posting a 30 year blog…

  2. David Gregg permalink

    I remember installing exhibits with Thierry, beginning with Thinking About Things in 1990 and going until the James Houston exhibit in ?2000. It usually went something like this: overly enthusiastic student curator requests of Thierry some artifact that “symbolizes the mis-appropriation of this-or-that”, or “the struggle of the so-and-sos against this-or-that,” or even “helps fill up the rest of this shelf” or “corner of this case.” Thierry rolls his eyes and silently disappears into storage shortly to emerge carrying the PERFECT object and full of all the information about it that we need. Despite the fact we invariably chose inferior objects and used them atrociously, Thierry never complained (that we heard). He’s been THE best sort of teacher to scores of students.

  3. Colin Porter permalink

    Congrats, Thierry!

  4. What a great read! I love catching up on the exploits of Rip and Thierry! Congratulations Thierry on your milestone of awesome work at the museum. I miss you guys with great frequency! All the best!

    ~Catherine Haigler

  5. Geralyn Ducady permalink

    Thierry knows all!

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