Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology

Mellon Seeds: Field Collections – A Bigger Picture

This is the third installment of "Mellon Seeds". In the ongoing series, the Museum’s collection team shares stories emerging from their current work on two inventory projects funded by the Mellon Foundation: “Engaging the Americas” and “Transforming the Haffenreffer.” The projects will culminate in the Museum’s move to Providence.

Field collecting has been a practice at the Haffenreffer Museum since the early days of the museum –– even before being part of Brown University. By lending support to students and professors, both Brown-affiliated and otherwise, researchers are able to acquire objects, conduct interviews, and research diverse global cultures, later accessioning the objects and notes into the museum’s permanent collection. 

A wonderful example is a field collection of needlework material from the Azores, collected by Anne Page McClard and Ken Anderson in 1991. Buoyed by copious notes and interviews, the collection comprises over 130 beautiful crochet, lacework, and other traditional textiles from Azorean artisans, raw materials such as thread and flax, in-process samples and finished items, and the original tools used including a tiny marine ivory crochet needle –– made by the artisan’s grandfather in the traditional way. 

Recently inventoried during the textile boxes inventory phase, the Azores collection highlights the process of making these delicate and intricate laces and details the artisans’ stories, demonstrating how field collections can provide a larger context to practices and crafts throughout the world.