Inside the Peabody Museum: March 2012

Two Women: The Native Basket Weaver and the "Curio" Dealer

elizabeth hickox basket

A basket by master weaver Elizabeth Hickox.

In honor of Women's History Month and National Craft Month--both of which occur in March--we bring you a pair of women whose  work together in the early 20th century created an awareness and appreciation for Native American basketry among collectors and others.

The baskets of Northern California's Elizabeth Hickox (Wiyot/Karuk) are sought after for their beauty and workmanship. She's considered one of the finest basket makers of her time.

Born in 1874, Hickox sold many of her baskets to Grace Nicholson, a noted "curio" dealer based in Pasadena, California, specifically as works of art.  Most utilitarian Karuk baskets of the time had simple decorations and traditional forms, but Hickox's work featured more elaborate designs and unusual shapes.

"Hickox's baskets are immediately identifiable," wrote Marvin Cohodus in his book, Basket Weavers for the California Curio Trade: Elizabeth and Louise Hickox. (Louise was Elizabeth Hickox's daughter.) "They display unique characteristics of shape (the high, narrow knob), technique (superfine stitching with limited color scheme), and design (complex interrelation of primary and secondary motifs)."

Nicholson's early interest in Native American art and culture led to her election to the American Anthropological Association in 1904. Author Cohodus noted that Nicholson purchased Hickox's work between 1908 and 1934, keeping records that "provide an almost unparalleled documentation of the work of a single weaver."v

Ethiopian Musical Instruments: A Recent Acquisition


A relative of the tamborine, the senasel, a liturgical rattle or sistrum, was used in Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church rituals. When shaken by its wooden handle, the metal discs of the senasel produce a rhythmic rattling sound. Senasels are still used in Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church rituals today.

In December 2011, the Museum was fortunate to receive a donation of Ethiopian musical instruments and related objects from Kay Kaufman Shelemay, G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music and of African American Studies. Professor Shelemay collected the instruments during her ethnomusicology fieldwork in Ethiopia 1973‐1975.

This Week: From Kodiak, Alaska, Alutiiq Visitors Bring Native Lifeways to Cambridge

alutiiq kayak model

Historic three-hole kayak model now on view in the galleries.

One of the highlights of the ongoing kayak conservation project in the galleries takes place this week. On Tuesday, March 6 through Thursday, March 8, the Peabody Museum will host three Alutiiq consultants for the project to conserve Alaska's Native heritage in the galleries.

On Tuesday between 3:00 and 5:00 PM, watch how a Native kayak model is constructed with Alfred Naumoff, a traditionally trained Kodiak Alutiiq kayak maker, and Sven Haakanson, Director of the Alutiiq Museum.

Susie Malutin, a skin sewer, will join them. All three are key collaborators in the project to conserve over 100 Native Alaskan objects, working closely with Peabody museum staff. The team has been consulting on materials and methods by Skype and email for months.

"We are all looking forward to meeting them and working together at the Museum," says Peabody Museum head conservator T. Rose Holdcraft. "We want to understand more about Alaska native kayak technologies. There are so many factors to consider: the sea mammal skin preparations, carving wood kayak elements, and sinew sewing techniques."

Even after the Alutiiq consultants return to Kodiak, conservators will continue to work in the gallery and be available to answer questions on Mondays from 9 to 5 PM, and Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 2 to 5 PM.

But don't miss the opportunity to talk with the Alutiiq team. "I'm eager for the public and the Harvard community to interact with our visitors," said Dr. Patricia Capone, Associate Curator. "The gallery/workspace was constructed just for this kind of experience."

This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Save America’s Treasures is a federal grant program made in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, IMLS, and Save America’s Treasures’ private partner, the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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Did you miss lectures in the Trash Talk: Anthropology of Waste series? You can listen to them here or download them to your mobile device through iTunes U. Look for Harvard's Peabody Museum lectures. More will be posted throughout the year.

Mar 17

1-4 pm


Drop-in Family Event

Fabulous Flutes, Marvelous Music with "Dr. Loco"

Mar 22

6 pm

Hallam L. Movius Jr. Memorial Lecture

"Recent Discoveries in the Altai: Evolution of The Physical and Genetic Modern Type" (in Russian with translation)

Mar 29

6 pm

Musical Evening

"Music of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands: Performance & Talk" with "Dr. Loco"