Jim Schevill and I moved to Providence in 1969 for what we thought was one year, as he was invited to develop Brown’s Creative Writing Program with Edwin Honig. My previous career had been as an opera and concert singer in the Bay Area, and I had attended the University of California for one year before I married the first time. We both enjoyed living in Rhode Island, and Jim was offered a tenured position in the English Department.

He resigned from S.F. State and we moved to the east side of Providence. I met Charlotte Lowney who encouraged me to attend Pembroke College and finish my undergraduate degree – which I did majoring in Music and Spanish. During that time, with Gerard Shapiro, of the Music Department, we formed The New Music Ensemble of Providence that performed contemporary classical chamber music, and I was the singer.

Upon graduation in 1972, I was certified to teach music in the Providence Public Schools, and I got a full time job. I was also teaching voice privately at home. At that time I learned how to weave on a loom, as I had always done hand-work. Within a short time I met William Beeman who had just come to Brown. He was a singer too, so we enjoyed singing together. I wanted more intellectual stimulus, and Bill suggested taking courses in Anthropology, which I did, one a semester as I was working full time. The second course I took was, Tribal Arts, with Jane Powell Dwyer (who had recently arrived as director of the Haffenreffer Museum) and the class had RISD students in it too. I had always been interested in Tribal Art, so this course showed me another career—museum anthropologist—that I could work towards. Jane was so encouraging, and finally in seven years I completed my Master of Arts degree, 1981.

However, for thesis fieldwork we were encouraged to travel elsewhere, not stay at Brown if possible. My interest in Maya textiles had been piqued, when Jim and I traveled to Chiapas in 1974, where I saw Maya men and women wearing their incredible clothing. But another friend suggested we travel to Guatemala, so we took a very short trip. And that was that!!! Jim took a leave to work on a novel, we found a little rental house outside of Antigua, and three days a week I traveled to San Antonio Aguas Calientes to study backstrap weaving with a Maya family. I also volunteered at the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena. I am still in communication with this museum. The direction of my life was altered by this experience. When I returned to Providence, I retired from my public school job and volunteered at the Haffenreffer Museum, as I had taken Jane’s course in Museum Studies. I also curated a small exhibition of photographs and textiles, that with a travel loan from the Haffenreffer Museum, I had purchased for the collection. I was definitely hooked!

As the staff was small and under Barbara Hail‘s excellent direction after Jane Dwyer’s death and while Doug Anderson was on leave, I learned how museums work and was able to contribute to various projects. Then came “Costume as Communication,” first as a symposium, then a catalogue (available for free online), and finally a traveling exhibition. That experience taught me that being a museum anthropologist was the role for me. After Jim’s retirement, we moved to Berkeley where I continued working on museum projects at the then Lowie Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, now the Hearst Museum. After that I free-lanced, writing books and articles on Maya Textiles, curating other exhibitions, and my last professional job was at the San Francisco Airport Museums, where the focus is on ethnographic and popular arts. I continue to do appraisals of museum and private collections. Recently, I contributed 200 Guatemalan textiles to the collection with the support of Thierry Gentis, and I returned to give a talk a few years ago.

All this was possible because of my initial experiences at the Haffenreffer Museum.


[editor’s note: Margot Schevill’s contributions to the Museum  have provided the Haffenreffer with a magnificent collection of Guatemalan textiles and accompanying photographs and notes that would be the envy of any museum of comparable or larger size. We are indebted to her for her dedication and long-standing support of the Museum and its goals.]