Inside the Peabody Museum: March 2014

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One Object, One Blog

Museum Pilots Skype Class for K-12 Students

Coming up at the Peabody

One Object, One Blog

 horse effigy by butch thunder hawk

Blue roan horse effigy stick by Butch Thunder Hawk, carved to honor a blue roan horse killed in battle as depicted in the accompanying reproductions of drawings by a 19th-century Plains warrior.

Imagine having months to explore one single museum object, with time to research and access to curators. Ah, to be a Harvard student. Stella Fiorenzoli ('15) had her chance as part of a History of Art and Architecture class taught by Suzanne Blier. Her assignment? To select an object and get to know its history and the story behind it. Fiorenzoli chose the Lakota (western Sioux) horse effigy stick shown here, featured in the exhibition Wiyohpiyata: Lakota Images of the Contested West. Of course, being at Harvard, she had to write a paper, but she also had to track her progress on a blog

Peabody Museum staff heard about Fiorenzoli's informative blog, and got in touch to ask her about it and what she learned about the horse effigy.

Peabody Museum: How did you happen to choose the horse effigy?

Stella Fiorenzoli: They gave us tiny pictures to choose from. The effigy was absolutely was my first choice. Thankfully I got it, but I had no idea what it was.

PM: How did you approach the research?

SF: Piecing together the information was very exciting. When I Googled the effigy, there was literally only one page. I felt like I was one of the first people to pay attention to this really beautiful piece of work. I found books on Native American culture, and by reading them and looking at other Lakota effigies, I could learn more about the Peabody's. I also learned more about it from Castle [McLaughlin, Peabody Museum Curator of North American Ethnography and co-curator of Wiyohpiyata], and had an interview with Butch Thunder Hawk, [the tribal arts educator who created the horse effigy and co-curated Wiyohpiyata with McLaughlin]. Butch told me about the work of the past, and how his ancestors are a major inspiration for his present-day work.

PM: Let's conclude with a short excerpt from your blog, from the post in which you imagined writing like a curator...

"Suppose I were its curator, what label would I place by the object, and how would I exhibit it?

The Blue Roan Horse Effigy shown here is a placeholder for a courageous, loyal, and strong horse that once lived amongst the Lakota Sioux warriors of the late 1800s. Butch Thunder Hawk, the artist, was inspired by a series of ledger drawings, bound together in a book titled The Half Moon Ledger, that were created by at least five different individuals. In response to such a beautiful and recently rediscovered historic gem, Thunder Hawk was inspired to react to the art by honoring its beloved subject. The detail with which it was created is personal and spiritual in meaning; its blue/black color and the lightning bolt that runs along its side represent the direction West, which was considered sacred, while features such as the red holes scattered across the body are literal representations of where the horse being honored was shot. The Horse Effigy also had a physical purpose-- it was used as a dance stick in war society ceremonies, in which the owner of the horse would dance with the effigy in hand and recount stories of its successes on the battlefield and of his own relationship with the deceased yet highly respected animal."

Read more of Fiorenzoli's discoveries about the horse effigy on her blog.

Museum Pilots Skype Class for K-12 Students

skype class

Seventh grade students in Vermont watch Education Specialist Andrew Majewski show oyster ear flares in a live videoconferenced class from the museum. Photo courtesy Amy Moriarty.

This week, two groups of seventh graders visited the Peabody Museum without leaving their desks. The Mount Anthony Union Middle School students' classroom is in Bennington, Vermont--about 150 miles away--but they chatted with Museum Educator Andrew Majewski about the world of Aztec emperors and Maya lords while Majewski walked through the galleries showing the museum's extensive collection from the region, including life-size casts of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma’s throne and colorful murals depicting Maya life. With a consumer-grade camera mounted on a rolling cart, he focused on a large model of the ancient Maya city of Copan in present-day Honduras.

"This is a city, with buildings and places like you would find in any big city. What might you find in a big city?"

In Vermont, the students watched the scenes from Majewski's camera, and answered "theater" and "shops" while Majewski zoomed in on the corresponding buildings and important features of the ancient city. The museum and the classroom were connected by Skype, a free video-calling program.

"Today was a once in a lifetime event for a lot of these kids," said Mount Union social studies teacher Amy Moriarty, who worked with the museum Education Department to develop the live interactive visit to the museum. "The kids were fully engaged, they were listening hard, and they could be in the real museum and experience real museum expertise."

Ciarra, one of the students, volunteered, "My personal favorite part was the map of Copan, how the city was laid out. He compared the ball court to Fenway Park." Another student, Chris, recalled how the court was aligned on an east-west axis so the rising and setting sun was copied by the ball moving across the field. But he was even more impressed with the casts of monumental Maya stelae, covered with carved glyphs. "The construction, and seeing what each part meant, like the alligator glyph; it was just so amazing."

The experiment did have one technical challenge. Moriarty was fortunate her school had David Hansen, a technology specialist, on hand to make sure the class went according to plan. He set up a microphone for the kids and two large screens: one showing Majewski's camera work, and the other showing supplemental images sent earlier. "There was a dead spot in the museum, but we had planned not to panic," said Moriarty. "David was able to re-establish contact while I used the time to recap and build anticipation for the Aztec throne."

"I am very excited," said Majewski. "We proved with this successful pilot that we have the resources and technology to bring our programs to schools that could not otherwise come here. We've heard that economic reasons, distance, and other factors have been challenges for some schools. I am looking forward to seeing what else we can do."

"It beats 3-4 hours traveling, plus money for the buses and the extended day," said Moriarty.. "There is no way we could have got the $1,000 for bus money to get 90 kids there in person. I love that the museum was in the classroom."

Peabody Museum Education Manager Polly Hubbard was pleased. "Amy and Dave were great partners for this. We were looking for an opportunity to think about these challenges and to try out some new pedagogies in our spaces. Pilot tests give you so much information and allow for great conversations about what is working and why." She sees more pilots for video classes at the museum ahead. "We have some interest from two other schools and hope to refine this model based on feedback from them so that we can offer the program more widely and bring the Peabody to some new places. It was a fun day, wasn't it?"

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




Did you miss any lectures? You can listen to them here or download them to your mobile device through iTunes U. Look for Harvard's Peabody Museum lectures.


Thursday, March 27

6:00 pm

Gordon R. Willey Lecture

"Forgotten But Not Lost: Unearthing an Ancient Village Preserved by Mexico’s Popocatépetl Volcano"

Gabriela Uruñuela and Patricia Plunket Nagoda, Professors of Anthropology, Universidad de las Américas Puebla, Mexico


Saturday, March 29

2:00-4:30 pm

Family Cultural Event

Dominican Carnival!


Saturday, April 12

9:00 am

New Exhibition

The Legacy of Penobscot Canoes: A View from the River