Inside the Peabody Museum: December 2010

One Day Only: New England Native Arts and Craft Show and Sale

wampum medallion and disc beads by Elizabeth PerryBarry Dana birch bark basketbasket by sarah sockbesonwampum earrings by berta welch

Have you started your holiday shopping yet?

On Saturday, December 4, the Harvard University Native American Program, Peabody Museum of Archeology & Ethnology, and Gedakina present Native American artists from across New England and beyond. Jewelry, baskets, wampum, carvings, and more will be available for purchase, offered with music, storytelling, and book readings.

The artists bring a wide variety of styles and skills to the Show.

"It takes 20 to 40 hours to make a single basket," says basket maker Sarah Sockbeson. The hours include locating just the right brown ash tree in the woods and harvesting it. She creates traditional Penobscot woven baskets of ash and sweetgrass. "I'm one of a very few young basket makers, and I'm trying to keep it alive by integrating new styles into traditional techniques. My great-grandmother wove baskets, but we almost lost the art of it in my family." Sockbeson preserved the knowledge by apprenticing with another member of the Penobscot tribe.

Aquinnah Wampanoag Berta Welch gets vivid purple-colored wampum for her jewelry straight from the quahog clams in Menemsha Pond on Martha's Vineyard. "My family has run an American Indian jewelry business here for decades, and my designs are inspired by Wampanoag and other Native American communities," she says. Welch inlays the wampum along with pink mother-of-pearl, turquoise, lapis and onyx to create her designs.

Barry Dana, another Penobscot, was making birch bark canoes when he decided to try making baskets from the scraps. "I never throw anything away," he says. "Growing up, I'd seen baskets of ash, sweetgrass, and elder, but I'd never seen birch bark. The material makes sense as a traditional resource because it's used in canoes and wigwams." Now Dana makes birch bark baskets with both traditional Northeast Woodlands floral designs and contemporary designs. "With contemporary you capture the culture," he says. The etched designs include blueberries, loons, wolves, chickadees, and dragonflies.

For more information call the Harvard University Native American Program at 617-495-4923, Gedakina at 603-673-3089, or the Peabody Museum at 617-496-1027.

Top to bottom: Wampum medallion and buttons by Elizabeth Perry; Birch bark basket by Barry Dana; Ash basket by Sarah Sockbeson; wampum earrings by Berta Welch.

Amazing Aztecs Family Program is a Team Effort

aztec market materials

The shopping list includes raw turquoise, cactus cloth, and a Mexican flag. The to-do list includes constructing quilted cotton armor and a child-safe reproduction of a weapon called macuahuitl. Oh, and a pronunciation guide to words like macuahuitl.

No wonder Education Manager Sheila Sibley has spent months testing materials and shopping for a new family program, Amazing Aztecs, debuting January 15. It's part of the Museum's Third Saturday Family Program. Amazing Aztecs is adapted from a new class offered to school groups.

In the quest for authentic materials suitable for ages 8 and up, Sibley and Education Specialist Andy Majewski recruited help throughout the Museum and beyond. Dom Rampton, former Peabody education specialist created a custom map. Pete Money, another former Museum educator, is constructing the macuahuitl of carved wood and obsidian. Research Associate - Maya Hieroglyphics Marc Zender consulted on program content and supplied pronunciations for words like macuahuitl (ma-KWA-weetl). Exhibitions Director Sam Tager and Exhibit Coordinator Sarah Otto are helping create a true-to-life-size color codex, an ancient text. External Relations Director Pamela Gerardi is sewing the cotton body armor worn by the Aztecs into battle.

The search for authenticity ranged to Central America, where Museum Director Bill Fash was temporarily stationed. Fash was able to stock the Aztec market with musical instruments, pottery, tiny figurines, and more.

Back in Cambridge, head of the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions Barbara Fash has been coordinating the effort to move a cast of a dedication stone for the Templo Mayor at Tenochtitlan into the galleries. Andy Majewski located agave cactus fabric (used by the Aztecs for clothing) at a store with organic beauty supplies, and experimented to recreate an Aztec culinary dish made from algae and formed into a ball.

"This challenge has really brought out the resourcefulness of the Museum staff," says Sibley. "We're fortunate to have experts in so many departments willing to make programs for students and families possible."

Whimsical Mexican Folk Art

carved peccary and drawing

Alice B. Melvin described her three cats as “pottery wreckers.” Melvin’s large and fragile collection of modern Mexican folk art was “under siege” by Sir Minky, Miss Amiga, and Pyewacket, leading Melvin to offer the collection to the Peabody Museum years earlier than planned. In a wry dedication, she declared the gift was “a desperate attempt to rake up the pieces, glue them together, and protect them for posterity.”

Fortunately for the pottery, the Peabody Museum is a cat-free zone. The collection of over 200 Mexican folk art objects includes Day of the Dead pieces, chia planters (yes, like Chia pets of late night TV fame), and this model of a ship complete with sailors and Mexican flags.

The artist who crafted this particular piece, Candelario Medrano, is known for his whimsical decorative ceramic buses, planes, and apartment buildings filled with people and animals . His fame attracted buyers and would-be apprentices to his shop in Santa Cruz de los Huertos in Jalisco state. In "Folk Treasures of Mexico: the Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection," Medrano recalled how he had been adopted by "the best toymaker in Santa Cruz,  Julio Acero." In the months before the big holidays, he would take a burro to collect clay nearby, then spread the clay in the street for traffic to break it down. The crushed clay would be mixed with water and fashioned into toys. As an adult, Medrano was a professional pipe maker, forming clay pipes for sewage. He made imaginative ceramic works on the side, but eventually his artistic success convinced him to make folk art instead of pipes. Medrano passed away in 1986.


See what's coming up in the Calendar of Events.


Winners of the Talking Aztecs caption contest are posted on Facebook and our website. 

December 2

5:30 pm


The Alphabet: Its Origins and Early History
Peter Machinist, Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages, Divinity School, Harvard University


 December 9

5:30 pm

Yenching Auditorium

2 Divinity Ave.

Founder's Lecture

Technology, Tombs, and Texts: Uncovering the Ancient Maya Past at Caracol, Belize

Arlen and Diane Z. Chase, Co-Directors of Caracol Archaeological Project (Belize), University of Central Florida (Orlando).

December 18

Family Program

Family Fun Saturday
Free with Peabody Museum admission.