Six Decades at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology

Donald H. Holly, Ph.D. (2002) – Professor of Anthropology, Eastern Illinois University, and Kristen A. Holly – Principal, Carl Sandburg Elementary

Don, Kristen, and Jordan Holly at graduation (2002)

Kristen and I arrived in Providence in a moving van in the summer of 1995 with very little money and no prospects for earning any. But I don’t recall us being too concerned about it; moving to Rhode Island was a grand adventure that gleamed through the rosy colored glasses of the young and newly-married. The plan was that I would start at Brown in the fall semester with a heavy student loan to cover the first year of graduate school and no assistantship, and Kristen, lacking any real experience in her field, would go looking for a job in education. But before that, I’d leave my wife immediately after our honeymoon—surrounded by unopened moving boxes in our new apartment in Providence—to spend the remainder of the summer on an archaeological excavation on the island of Newfoundland. What could go wrong?

Enter Shepard Krech III, then director of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. Shep quickly assessed our “plan” and then generously offered Kristen work organizing some of his wife’s research papers. He also helped get her some summer work in the Haffenreffer’s education program, where, among other things, she trained docents. While Kristen was there she caught the attention of former deputy director Barbara Hail, who enlisted her to transcribe interviews she had conducted with the Kiowa for her research on cradleboards. This work formed the basis of an exhibit and book, Gifts of Pride and Love (University of Oklahoma Press, 2001).

At the end of the summer I returned from Newfoundland and we put our “plan” into motion. And as my mom would have prophesized, everything ended up working out just fine. Kristen got an awful job teaching preschool in our first year in Providence, and then the next year merely a dismal job at a charter school in Boston, and then the following year a fantastic teaching position in Barrington, RI. I eventually secured tuition support and a series of assistantships that paid for groceries and the occasional take-out dinner (date night!).

Excavating in Stock Cove, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, Summer of 2016. Don Holly has been working here for the last seven years with Christopher Wolff, a research associate at the Haffenreffer Museum.

Some of these assistantships involved working at the Haffenreffer. In the well-lit and air-conditioned building that housed the museum I digitized slides from Kenneth Kensinger’s research on the Cashinahua (now Kaxinawa) of Eastern Peru (see former Haffenreffer director Jane P. Dwyer’s edited volume The Cashinahua of Eastern Peru, (Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, 1975) and helped assemble Krech and Hail’s edited volume Collecting Native America (Smithsonian, 1999). But most of my time was spent in the dimly-lit and uninsulated attic getting the Haffenreffer’s archaeological collections ready for the impending move to the museum’s downtown Providence location (spoiler alert: this didn’t happen).

As David Gregg describes in an earlier blog, the attic collections were in a state of disarray. Stone tools filled cigar boxes, wooden trays, and buckets; others were affixed—in rather creative designs—to ply-board for the purposes of display. And usually it was not apparent which collections were which and if the artifacts found in one box (or bucket) necessarily all belonged together. David began the hard work of trying to figure this out, and then passed the torch on to Jarmo Kankaanpää, then a graduate student at Brown (see, also, his wife’s Tuija Rankama’s contribution to this series). When I arrived on the scene Jarmo had been doing detective work on the collections for a few years, and when he explained to me where he was with the project, it frankly scared me. For instance, he explained to me how he was once able to link an unlabeled artifact to a collection by identifying the object among a mass of other artifacts in an old black and white photograph. Apparently this took him hours to accomplish. I scanned the sea of dusty artifacts surrounding us. Then I ran Shep’s working timetable for the move through my head and decided on a different plan—I’d simply box up the collections. As David had done before, I did my best to preserve the original context of each assemblage. If there was a pile of artifacts in a bucket then the entire pile made it into the same shipping box along with a note describing the original context (i.e. these were found in a bucket). Then I carefully arranged and stacked the boxes for a move that never happened.

The Haffenreffer Museum didn’t relocate downtown, but everything ended up working out just fine there, too. In the fall of 2005 the Haffenreffer opened a gallery space in beautiful Manning Hall, right in the center of campus. Kristen and I have never seen it. Earlier that summer we packed another moving van full of boxes, loaded the old car with our two young daughters, and drove west toward our next adventure.  



Don Holly, Stock Cove, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland (2013)

Don Holly (Ph.D. Brown University, 2002) is a Professor of Anthropology at Eastern Illinois University and adjunct Professor of archaeology at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. Don’s research focuses on hunters and gatherers and the history and archaeology of the eastern subarctic of North America, with special attention to the Beothuk people of the island of Newfoundland. He is the author of History in the Making: the Archaeology of the Eastern Subarctic (AltaMira 2013) and co-editor (with Ken Sassaman) of Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology as Historical Process (University of Arizona Press 2011).


Kristen Holly, Fogo Island, Newfoundland (1997)

Kristen Holly began her career teaching preschool in East Providence, and then first and second grades in Somerville MA and Barrington R.I. (Sowams) before moving on to literacy coach, media specialist, and assistant principal for the Charleston, IL school district. She is currently principal of Carl Sandburg Elementary school.   




1 Comment

  1. Kathryn petrillo

    What a great story. I am so proud of both of you as I am sure your families are… congratulations on a job so well done.

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