Jarmo Kankaanpää taking a break during an archaeological survey by canoe in northern Lapland, 2008. Photograph by Tuija Rankama.
Extremes in the attic and other stories – six years at the Haffenreffer
As a newly-arrived graduate student in the fall of 1990, my first contact with the Haffenreffer involved the reconstruction of the remains of a kayak frame that had originally been discovered abandoned and partially destroyed on the banks of the Noatak River in Alaska. Barbara Hail suggested the project to me after I mentioned having done my MA thesis on kayak typology and evolution. The Noatak kayak had been in storage at the Haffenreffer, first in the attic and later in the wine cellar (a cavern-like, semi-subterranean space behind the exhibit cases on the museum’s back wall). The kayak had been “rediscovered” in the latter the previous spring, but due to damp and insect damage it was in very poor shape. To arrest the insect damage, the disarticulated pieces of the frame had been packed in plastic tubing along with insecticide strips. Parts—specifically all the hull stringers and many of the ribs and deck beams—were missing and the ones still present were so brittle that it would have been impossible to actually assemble the frame. However, the remains did allow me to take measurements, study structural details, and reconstruct the form well enough to identify the type. Unsurprisingly, the kayak turned out to be an archetypal North Alaskan model with a narrow, cigar-shaped hull, a raised foredeck in front of the cockpit but a flat afterdeck, and the slightly upturned ends characteristic of river kayaks of the Noatak and also of the Nunamiut people further inland.
Chris Wolff at Þingvellir National Park, Iceland, 2009
As a Research Associate of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, I have had an interactive and collaborative relationship with the Museum’s Circumpolar Laboratory since 2011. The extensive history that the museum has with Arctic peoples and their material culture is, for me, one of the main attractions of the institution. As an archaeologist who investigates the complex relationship between northern hunter-gatherer populations and the dynamics of Arctic and Subarctic ecosystems, the collections of Louis Giddings, Doug Anderson, and others have been invaluable. Continue reading
I’d like to tell a brief story of my first encounter with Dr. Louis Giddings, because I think it gives good insight into the educator and extraordinarily kind, generous, and modest man that he was as both professor of anthropology and director of the Haffenreffer Museum.
David Gregg visiting the Haffenreffer Museum’s Collection and Research Center.
I first visited the Haffenreffer Museum in Bristol, RI, in conjunction with the Anthropology Department’s welcome back party, in September of 1989. It was just days after I’d commenced my Ph.D. studies at Brown which, little could I have guessed, would take the next 11 years, protracted in large part because of my involvement with the Haffenreffer. In late afternoon sun beside the Outing Reservation building, a handful of faculty looked relaxed and made small-talk while we grad students lounged around on picnic tables trying to look like we belonged there.
With Wilkie Rasmussen, MA Anthropology, The University of Auckland, circa 1993. Wilkie is from the Penryn/Tongareva atoll in the northern Cook Islands. He has subsequently been a journalist, lawyer, Cook Island’s Consul to New Zealand, Member and Deputy Leader of the Cook Islands House of Representatives.
I arrived at the Haffenreffer Museum of the American Indian, as it was then called, in 1958, after all but one of the cigar-store Indians had been sold and the proceeds used to create the lower gallery (four-sided stand-alone boxes for small items, a platform along one wall for large items, and a bank of four or five glass cases). Dr. Giddings had borrowed items for this display from the University Museum in Philadelphia where he had connections; other items were in the extant collection. That galley turned what had been a collection of Amerindian artefacts into an Anthropology museum. The rest of the building, including the entry room, had heavy glass cases filled with shallow boxes where arrowheads rested on yellowing cotton cushions.