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Ethnographic Busts at the Haffenreffer Museum

Ethnographic Busts at the Haffenreffer Museum

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Published by Steven Lubar

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Published by: Steven Lubar on Jul 09, 2011
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07/09/2011

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1StevenLubarBrownUniversityJuly8,2011“LifeCastsofTypes”ThesebustsweremadebyCasparMayer
1
,asculptorattheAmericanMuseumofNaturalHistoryinthelate19
th
andearly20
th
century.Theyweredisplayedinvarioushallsatthemuseum(includingtheAfrica,Philippines,andNorthwestCoasthalls),andwereexchangedwithothermuseums.
2
Bustslikethesehavealonghistoryinanthropology,
3
andtheyweremadeattheAMNHstartingaround1895.Theywere,accordingtoFranzBoas,partofa“systematiccollectionsofplastercastsofvarioustypesofman.”
4
PlastercastsforthesebustsweremadeonMuseumexpeditions,includingtheJesupNorthPacificExpeditionandtheHydeExpedition,aswellasattheSt.LouisExpositionin1904andperhapsatthe1903CumminsIndianCongressatConeyIsland.
5
By1906therewereover500moldsatthemuseum.“Thegreaterpartofthemolds,”accordingtoa1906article,“representtypicalindividualsoftheNorthAmericantribes...”Therewerealso“Aino,Chinese,JapaneseandseveralSiberiantribes...[and]Philippine,AfricanandSouthAmericannativetribeswhowereattheSt.Louisexposition.”
6
Theywereplacedinexhibits“intendedtoillustratethephysicalcharacteristicsofapeople,asshownbytheirskullsandskeletons,andbyplasterbustsandcastsofpartsofthebody,byphotographs,bysamplesofhair,etc.”.Themuseumwasveryproudoftheaccuracyandartisticvalueofthesecasts:the1896
 AnnualReport,
celebratingtheopeningoftheEthnologicalHallthepreviousNovember,notesthat“anumberofadmirablefull-lengthfiguresandbusts,preparedbyMr.CasparMayer,havealreadybeenplacedonexhibition.”
7
 
2Thebestdescriptionofthepurposeofthebustsisfroma1906Museumpublication:ItisthepurposeoftheDepartmentofEthnologytomakeacollectioninwhichallthephysicaltypesofmanshallberepresented.Formanyyearsthevalueofacollectionofskullsfromthedifferentraceshasbeenappreciated,buttheexperienceofinvestigatorsisthatskullsalonegiveinadequatedataforthestudyofarace,sincedifferencesintheformandsizeoftheskullarenotcorrelatedwithvariationsinthesizeandformofthehead.Theidealmethodofstudyingthefacialcharacteristicsofaraceisbymeansofdirectmeasurementoflivingsubjects.Since,however,suchsubjectsarenotalwaysavailable,andanopportunityforrepeatingmeasurementsisnotoftenoffered,properlypreparedmoldsoffacesprovidetheethnologistwithareliablerecorduponwhichtobasehisinvestigations.
8
Mayerreceivedapatentonhismethodformakingtheselifecasts.Patent803,004(October31,1905)describeshismethod,anditsadvantages:a“morenaturalreproductionfromlife,”lowerprice,andashortertimerequiredforthesitter.“Mymethod,”henoted,“isintendedtobeusedprincipallyforscientificpurposesasfortheexhibitioninmuseumsofnaturalhistoryorthelike,inwhichcasesthemodelermustputmostweightonthelikenessofhisworkwiththeoriginalsubject,andhemustalsobeabletoproducesuchbustsintheshortestpossibletime.”MayerwonaSilvermedalin“Anthropometry”forhislifecastsattheLouisianaPurchaseExpositionin1905.
9
Itseemsasthoughotherartistshadsimilartechniques;FranzBoas,Mayer’sbossatAMNH,andAlešHrdlička,attheSmithsonian,exchangedheatedwordsaboutwhoinventedthistechniqueinthe
 AmericanAnthropologist
in1905
10
ItisuncertainhowlongthebustswereonexhibitattheANMN.(AsimilarsetofbustsandlifegroupsattheFieldMuseumofChicago,createdbysculptorMalvinaHoffmaninthe1930s,wasdisplayedthroughthe1960s.
11
)Bythe1960s,theywereanembarrassingreminderofanthropology’spast,referring,asMaryBouquetwrote,“to‘past’ideasaboutthe‘familyofman’whichareremoteforcontemporaryanthropologistsandwhichtheywouldprefertoforgetabout.”
12
Theseexamples,duplicatesoriginallymadeforexchangetoothermuseums,weredistributedtouniversitymuseumsbytheAMNHinthe1980s.
13

Secondaryliterature:
ThomasRossMillerandBarbaraMathe,“DrawingShadowstoStone,”inDrawingShadowstoStone:ThePhotographyoftheJesupNorthPacificExpedition,1897-1902,byLaurelKendall,StanleyA.Freed
 
,andThomasRossMiller(Author)IraJacknis,“FranzBoasandExhibits:OntheLimitationsoftheMuseumMethodofAnthropology,“inGeorgeW.Stocking
 ,Objectsandothers:essaysonmuseumsandmaterialculture
(UnivofWisconsinPress,1988)

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