Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology

Mellon Seeds: Ask Thierry

This is the fourth 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.

One of the goals of the Mellon inventory project is to gain better physical and intellectual control of the collection. Condition assessments will allow the collection team to pack and move objects safely. Enhanced documentation will allow the team to track location changes throughout the relocation process. Gradually new information becomes available to researchers, students, and a broader public audience through the online catalogue.

When the Collection team comes across an unidentified object in the collection or a missing storage location, they voice a common refrain, “Ask Thierry.” Thierry Gentis, Curator, has a good memory; he holds institutional knowledge acquired over the past forty years. Thierry will help sort out problems. The rhythm of the “Ask Thierry” dialogue goes something like this:


Q: Have you seen the whereabouts of the interior wall of a Tuareg tent?
A: “Look on the north wall. I remember rolling it and placing a picture on the outside. It’s very large and is used for special occasions like weddings.”  

Rolled textile in the Museum storage, wrapped in tissue paper and labeled.
Tuareg Tent, HMA 2012-14-1

Q: Would you help sort out the accession number for this African vessel? It’s too heavy to move.
A: “Look at the photographs from the gift from William Simmons received in 2000. You will find it there.”

Dark photo of African vessel in collections storage.
African vessel, HMA 2000-22-56

Q: Do you know what happened to the Deed of Gift for this figure?
A: “I’ll find it, don’t waste your time.” Thierry evaporates, then moments later a file mysteriously appears on the workspace.

Photo of Curator Thierry Gentis in the collection storage, holding a carved wooden figure.