I came to Brown in 1992 with undergraduate degrees in Africana studies and Sociology & Anthropology – I knew I was going to work in the African continent for my dissertation fieldwork and was interested in gender and health – but my interest in African arts and museum studies in general were sparked by my work at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology and the collections opportunities I received.
During my time at Brown (1992-1999) I focused in medical and demographic anthropology and conducted my fieldwork in southern Africa, and in Botswana in particular. My research is on HIV/AIDS and fertility and I have continued this work for over the past two decades. What was clear from the very start of my work was that one of the best ways in which I could learn about the community, about the ins and outs of everyday life, of intimacies and lives was through learning what women do. In northern Botswana this meant learning about basket making.
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.
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.
Professor Laurie Weinstein with Gladys Tantaquidgeon, 1993.
Photograph by Barrie Kavasch.
The Haffenreffer was an important research facility to me during my years, first at Plimoth Plantation, when I was studying Wampanoag and Plymouth Colony relationships for my dissertation, and then, when I moved to Providence and began teaching at a number of regional universities. With Barbara Hail’s help, I curated an exhibit about the Wampanoag people in 1984, using collections from the Haffenreffer. Barbara and her staff were great, the museum was great; it was a wonderful place and I will always have fond memories of my work 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.