Tag Archives | Artifacts

Hidden Collections No Longer Hidden!

In 2009, under Principal Investigator Harlan Greene, the Avery Research Center received a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Hidden Collections grant totaling over $200,000 to address the center’s backlog of unprocessed archival collections.  These funds provided staff, equipment, and other resources necessary to complete a variety of projects that have improved access to our diverse archival materials.

Mia Fischer transcribing and editing an oral history.

Mia Fischer transcribed and edited oral histories.

I am happy to report that this project came to its successful completion in June 2011!  Under the CLIR grant, the Archives team was able to process over 400 linear feet of archival material; photograph and digitize Avery’s material culture collection; and transcribe and convert to digital format 35 oral histories.  Collections processed and finding aids encoded with these funds include the papers of renowned anthropologists Joseph A. Towles and Colin Turnbull; local journalist Herb Frazier; civil rights activists James E. Campbell and Bill Saunders; former South Carolina Representative Herbert U. Fielding; psychologist and educator Frederica Daly; and renowned architect Herbert A. DeCosta, Jr.  These and the numerous other collections processed during the project are of considerable research value on both a local and national level.  A full listing of our published finding aids are available from Avery’s website, and the results of the material culture project may be found at the Lowcountry Digital Library’s website.

Melissa Bronheim processing architectural drawings from the H. A. DeCosta Papers.

Melissa Bronheim processed the H. A. DeCosta, Jr. Papers, which included a number of architectural drawings.

I had the fortunate opportunity of being a part of this project in various capacities from start to finish, but the work could not have been completed without our Assistant Archivists and previous Project Archivists, who deserve much more recognition than what I can provide in this blog!  Please join me in congratulating them and the Avery Research Center for the successful completion of a project of incredible scope and size.

Project Archivists:

Jessica Lancia

Amanda T. Ross

Project Assistant Archivists:

 Melissa Bronheim

Rachel Allen

Mia Fischer

Andrew Grimball

Joshua Minor

Project Registrar:

Susan Jacoby

Project Photographer:

Liz Vaughan

Project Cataloguer:

Anne Bennett


Thanks again to everyone who made this project possible!

Ordinary Objects, Unexpectedly Profound

To many of us Westerners, African art exudes an aura of otherworldly mysticism.  We think of intricate masks and figures that resemble beings not human, or ritual objects with mysterious powers that we are unable to exploit.  These ritual objects, of course, have incredible cultural value; but in some cases, the everyday and seemingly mundane can communicate an even deeper, richer part of a civilization’s existence.

An example that I have found to be unexpectedly profound is African stools.  Some are simple, some are elaborate, and the scope of variety is incredible.  Aside from the aesthetic value of these objects, they symbolize much deeper aspects of daily life.

Not to over-glorify what is often merely a carved piece of wood, many stools are simply furniture, a place to sit, with no deeper significance.  But others serve very particular purposes for milestones in life such as births, initiations, deaths, or marriage.  Often they are status symbols of the political or spiritual elite, similar to a Western king’s throne.

Dogon stool

Wooden stool, ART 1996.001.008, Muriel and Marcus Zbar Collection

The stool featured above, part of the Muriel and Marcus Zbar Collection, is from the Dogon people of Mali.  Traditionally, the Dogon worship ancestral spirits called nommo, represented here in the center of the stool.  The bottom disc represents the earth, the top disc represents the heaven or sky, and the nommo are the essential beings that responsible for holding the universe together and providing a link between the two worlds.  These stools used to be symbols of authority for hogons, or priests, and were never actually used as seats.

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