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Linfield College
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Sociology & Anthropology

Linfield Anthropology Museum Past

All museums have two starting points: from the exterior come the objects, artifacts of the human hand and imagination; from the interior comes the impulse to collect, order, and communicate. The Linfield Anthropology Museum began with unlabeled, unknown, and unwanted boxes of objects gathering dust in Melrose basement cabinets: a motley assemblage donated over the past century and a half by friends and alumni. Their value was for the most part as uncertain as the provenience: a "genuine" pith helmet with a twenty inch brim, a "ceremonial tomahawk," two hundred pounds of stone mortars and pestles, a World War II-vintage ammunition box filled with hundreds of flint spearpoints with initials of states written on them in indelible ink.

During the 1984 remodeling of Melrose these objects fell by default into the hands of a few anthropology students and faculty, who shared packrat personal inclinations and an interest in "antiquities." In makeshift "laboratories," the objects were sorted, cleaned, labeled — some even positively identified. With word circulating that an unofficial repository for artifacts now existed at the college, other objects made their way into the collection. In 1988, Northrup Library passed on an assemblage of boxed and labeled artifacts, including pieces of the Acropolis, an arrow “made of sacred Palo Santo wood,” a Balinese earring, and an "Icelandic pony whip" — that had rested all but unseen for years in its basement. Other pieces were of more obvious ethnographic and cultural value, such as Dr. Elaine Skill's gift of a Plains clay calumet pipe and beaded vest, belt and bag.

In 1989, a friend of the college, Mr. James Tobin, expressed interest in an eventual exhibition of indigenous New Guinea art, and donated to the college a stone axe from the Grand Valley of the Dani. A year later J.J. and Ruth Laughlin of Carleton donated Mr. Laughlin's handmade bookbinder. As the collection expanded, so did ambitions, and the move to the fourth floor of Melrose permitted completion of the inventory and the possibility of exhibitions. Three charming cabinets were resuscitated by the efforts of volunteers Darrel and Dorothy Moses, and these housed in 1990 and exhibit of selected artifacts under the theme "Objects of Wood, Artifacts of Culture."

The turning point for the Linfield Anthropology Museum came in 1991, when Mr. John E. Dulin of Harrisburg contacted Linfield and expressed an interest in donating to the Museum a significant part of his magnificent collection of Southwestern Indian art pieces. With this generous donation, and the college’s commitment to including room for display, storage, and laboratory work in the South Riley building, the outlines of a genuine Anthropology Museum took shape. With this remarkable opportunity has arisen the responsibility to formulate what the purpose and goals of such a museum should be.