Jane Pickering Named New Director of Peabody Museum

Related stories

As announced on May 21 by Claudine Gay, Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Jane Pickering will transition to her new role as the William and Muriel Seabury Howells Director of Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology on July 1st.

She will serve a five-year term, reporting directly to Dean Gay, and collaborating closely with a newly appointed faculty executive committee to develop an institutional vision for the Peabody Museum’s collections that is “strategic, inclusive, and enabling, as well as meeting the teaching and research needs of the University,” according to Dean Gay’s statement. The faculty executive committee will also report to Gay.

Pickering has served as Executive Director of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture (HMSC) since 2013. The position was created six years ago to direct the public-facing roles–including exhibitions, public programs, and K–12 offerings–of the six HMSC partner museums: the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Harvard University Herbaria, and the Mineralogical & Geological Museum (which collaborate as the Harvard Museum of Natural History), the Harvard Semitic Museum, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, and the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.

Pickering previously held leadership positions at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the MIT Museum, and in 2016, was appointed to the National Museum and Library Services Board by former president Barack Obama.

“From the overwhelming number of responses to the canvass, it was clear that the Peabody has a large and engaged community invested in its future and that to fully realize our collective vision we need both the leadership of a world-class museum professional and robust faculty engagement,” Gay wrote in her announcement. “I am excited to have more faculty directly engaged in supporting the Peabody through this coming period of self-reflection and planning for the future.”

During her time at HMSC Pickering has seamlessly supported the important research work of the partner museums, and built an impressive legacy, including significantly increased admissions (more than 300,000 visitors annually), 21 major exhibitions, diverse public programs, such as the Evolution Matters Lecture Series endowed by Drs. Joan and Herman Suit, and online K-12 programs, as well as leading cross-museum efforts in collaboration with faculty, staff, and students.

In her new role, Pickering will make key decisions concerning the curation, conservation, and programming for one of the first anthropology museums in the world, well known for its significant collections of archaeological and ethnographic materials.

The collections comprise over 1.2 million objects, including the only surviving collection of objects acquired from Native American people during the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804–1806, early collections from the Pacific Islands, extensive archaeology collections from North America, premier collections of Maya and other Mesoamerican artifacts, Peruvian textiles, and a photographic archive with over 500,000 images.

“One of the most exciting aspects of the Peabody Museum is that there is enormous cross-campus interest in the collections and their potential. The museum is significant to faculty and students from across the University,” said Pickering. “The museum is also at a very critical point in its history. There has been a transformation in how we think about anthropological collections and how we address the profound challenges of their stewardship and interpretation. I look forward to building on the superb work that has already begun at the Peabody to take a leadership role in that arena.”   
 
The search for Pickering’s successor will begin this summer.

Jeffrey Quilter, the current William and Muriel Seabury Howells Director of the Peabody Museum, will be retiring from his position as of July 1. During his seven-year appointment to the position, Quilter successfully guided the museum through the American Alliance of Museums accreditation process, significant collections stewardship and conservation projects, and created new curatorial and collections staff positions. “Jeff is an enthusiastic champion for museums and the vital role they play at a university,” said Pickering. “He has been a dedicated and thoughtful leader for the Peabody and it’s an honor to follow his tenure.”