Inside the Peabody Museum: October 2011

Masters of Zuni Fetish Carving


zuni fetish

Contemporary frog fetish carved from jade, maker unknown. Collected by Oscar Branson. PM 2011.12.300

Associate Curator Castle McLaughlin takes us behind the scenes for a peak at some of the most masterly fetishes from a recent donation to the collections.

A recent gift from the Ward family includes three hundred twentieth-century fetish carvings from throughout North America. The term “fetish” describes carvings of animals, birds, and other beings that play a significant role in indigenous religions and philosophies. Traditionally, fetishes were used by individuals and in community rituals to ensure successful hunts, increase herds, and provide protection. Southwestern fetishes are especially well known to the public, because traders there encouraged pueblo artists to make them for non-Indian tourists and collectors. In this context they are generally called “carvings.”

Most of the fetishes in the Ward family donation were made at Zuni pueblo between 1940 and 1995. The Wards acquired them from Irma Bailey, a trader and collector from New Mexico. For several decades, Irma and her late husband Wayne staged annual Native arts shows at museums across the country, including the Peabody. They are best known for promoting the career of Cochiti pueblo silversmith Joe H. Quintana, who made a concho belt that the Baileys sold to Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors, during the 1960s. She purchased these fetishes either directly from Zuni artists or from other traders, such as C.G. Wallace and Oscar Branson.

The Ward family donation includes a range of historic and contemporary carvings. The highlight of the collection consists of a group of traditional carvings made for trader C.G. Wallace by Leekya Deyuse (1899–1966) and his family and by Teddy Weahkee (c.1890–1965) between the 1920s and 1960. Leekya and Weahkee were among the most important Zuni artists of the twentieth century, and both played an important role in reviving traditional lapidary arts, including stone-to-stone mosaic inlay jewelry. Trader C. G. Wallace encouraged them to make stringing fetishes for jewelry, small “pocket” carvings and larger “table fetishes,” and he provided them with high-quality turquoise, shell, serpentine, and jet. The traditional-style fetishes they produced during the period 1930–1960 often represent prey animals such as mountain lions and bears, some of which are wrapped with turquoise, coral, and shell beads and miniature arrow points. They also made ornate jet and shell frogs, snakes, and horses accented with “petit point” turquoise inlay. They carved in a minimalist style, making animal forms that are rounded and three-dimensional, but have few details.

Wallace also apparently inspired them to begin carving human figurines, some of which are portraits of actual people. This was a new and more detailed approach to carving. Few such figurines survive in museum and private collections, but the Ward donation includes at least half a dozen examples. It may well be that Wallace commissioned most of these for himself.

The donation also includes a number of contemporary fetish carvings. Today, Zuni artists carve in a much more realistic, representational style. They also use more exotic imported materials such as jade, and they have expanded the repertoire of forms to include animals from around the world, mythological creatures, cartoon figures, and even dinosaurs. Several members of the Leekya and Weahkee families, however, still carve in the older style. The donation includes a wolf made by Leekya’s daughter Alice Homer, a travertine bear carved by Leekya’s son Frances and two travertine horses made by his grandson Hayes. —Castle McLaughlin

Want to learn more about Zuni fetishes? Click the frog image for a video of Castle McLaughlin talking about several legendary carvers.

Trash: From the Archaeologist's View to M.I.T.'s Tracking Program

Ceramic sherds from the archaeological excavation in Harvard Yard

This month, discover why both archaeologists and scientists treasure trash. Two more lectures in the Trash Talk: Anthropology of Waste lecture series explore exactly what trash tells us about our past, our present, and possibly our future.

On Thursday, October 6,  Richard H. Meadow, Director of the Peabody Museum's Zooarchaeology Laboratory and Senior Lecturer on Anthropology, unearths "The Archaeologist's View of Trash." Using examples from his own excavations in Pakistan and from other sites worked by Harvard affiliates, Dr. Meadow will look at ancient trash through an archaeological lens, discussing trash generation, deposition, and preservation, and how recycling and redeposition can cause problems for the study of the past.

On Wednesday, October 26, we learn about a creative program at M.I.T. to tag trash electronically and track its path from the garbage can to--wherever it goes. The answer, in "Trash Track: Reverse Engineering the Removal Chain,"  may surprise you. The program, SENSEable City Lab, aims to help both manufacturers and consumers make more sustainable choices.

Bonus for Students, Teachers, and Scholars: Peabody Museum Images Now Available on  ARTstore

serpent columns at the temple of warriors, chichen itza

More than 3,300 images of Pre-Columbian, African, Native North American, and Oceanic objects from the Peabody Museum's collection are now searchable in ARTstor Digital Library's broad database. The Peabody Museum collaborated with ARTstor—an image library for the arts and sciences—to make many of its images available to students at educational institutions that subscribe to the non-profit service.

The ARTstor blog writes, "Through this collaboration, ARTstor will distribute a total of approximately 154,000 images from the Museum’s collection and approximately 44,000 digital images of the Carnegie Institution of Washington Photographs of Mayan Excavations documenting archaeological excavations throughout Central America." (Pictured: serpent columns at the Temple of Warriors, Chichen Itza, Carnegie Institution of Washington Photographs of Mayan Excavations.)

The Digital Library serves educators, scholars, curators, librarians, and students at more than 1,350+ universities, community colleges, museums, libraries, and K-12 schools in 46 countries worldwide. Collections are used for teaching and study in a wide range of subject areas, including art, architecture, music, religion, anthropology, literature, world history, American Studies, Asian Studies, Classical Studies, Medieval Studies, Renaissance Studies, and more.

In another important step that benefits students, teachers, and scholars, the Peabody Museum has been awarded a $150,000 Museums for America grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Over the next two years, the Museum will catalog, document, inventory, and photograph the Peabody's most important archaeological collections with the grant.

"Our collection will be more accessible to researchers, especially educators," says Senior Collections Manager David DeBono Schafer, who will manage the project. "These are among our most requested materials. Now researchers will be able to determine quickly and exactly which archaeological objects are in the collection."

The collection of approximately 20,000 objects includes stone tools from the Leakey excavations in Africa, organic archaeological materials (such as textiles, wood, leather, and basketry), ceramics from the American Southwest, and many historic artifacts from three decades' excavations in Harvard Yard. "The largest component is Neolithic animal bones from Europe," says DeBono Schafer.

The Peabody Museum has won generous support from The Institute of Museum and Library Services in the past to preserve the Museum’s collections and create better access to them. Previous IMLS awards to Peabody Museum supported improved teaching, access, preservation, and storage of the Museum’s Map Collection (2009); reformatting and rehousing original catalog and accession records (1996); and environmental improvement for photographic archives (1992) along with several other conservation projects for selected at-risk collections.

IMLS is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. Museums for America is the Institute’s largest grant program for museums, supporting projects and ongoing activities that build museums’ capacity to serve their communities.


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September 8-October 27


1-4 pm

Harvard 375 logo

Archaeological Excavation

Harvard Yard Archaeology Project

Free in front of Matthews Hall, Harvard Yard (weather permitting)

October 6

5:30 pm

trash talk lecture

Trash Talk Lecture

"The Archaeologist’s View of Trash"
Richard Meadow, Director of the Zooarchaeology Laboratory, Peabody Museum; Senior Lecturer on Anthropology, Harvard University


October 10

Noon-4:30 pm

Zooarchaeology Lab Open House

Columbus Day Drop-in Family Event

Free with Peabody Museum admission.

October 13

5:30 pm

Tatiana Proskouriakoff Lecture

"New Research on the Aztec Script: A True Writing System"

Alfonso Lacadena García-Gallo, Research Professor in the Department of History of America II, Universidad Complutense de Madrid

October 15

Noon-4:00 pm

Discovery Room

Family Fun Saturday Archaeology Discovery Room

Free with Peabody Museum admission.

October 17


Day of the Dead tickets available for November 2 Fiesta

Free, tickets required (Except for Peabody members!). Tickets available online or in person at the front desk: October 17


October 20

5:30 pm

Harvard 375 logo


"The Ground Remembers: Archaeology of Harvard’s Founding"
Christina Hodge, Co-Instructor, Archaeology of Harvard Yard, Peabody Museum

October 22

10 am-Noon

Harvard 375 logo

Open House

Harvard Yard Archaeology Project Excavation

Free in front of Matthews Hall, Harvard Yard; Free with Peabody Museum admission at the Museum, if rain.

October 26

5:30 pm

trash talk lecture

Trash Talk Lecture

"Trash Track: Reverse Engineering the Removal Chain"
Dietmar Offenhuber, SENSEable City Lab, M.I.T.


October 27

1:30-4:00 pm

Harvard 375 logo

Results Day

Harvard Yard Archaeology Project
In front of Matthews Hall, Harvard Yard (rain or shine)