ABF: We are Anna Bonnell-Freidin and Clem Wood, here on August 13th in the Peabody Museum at Harvard University with Professor Jeffrey Quilter to talk about his impressions and time at Dumbarton Oaks. So we’d like to begin by asking you how you first came to Dumbarton Oaks and what your initial impressions were of the scholarly and social atmosphere of the community.
JQ: I first came to Dumbarton Oaks – the very first time I came when I lived in Washington, D.C., in the late ’70s, and I came as a casual visitor. Of course, that’s very different than later when I came as a scholar attending the annual symposia, which I did for many years. And then in 1994 I applied for the directorship and was asked to come. So, I started being involved in spring 1995, when I accepted the job, and came to meet people and so forth. And Dumbarton Oaks is well-known by many people, especially scholars. It is interesting that in all three fields, it is common for scholars in each field to think that Dumbarton Oaks only does what they’re interested in. So, Byzantinists think that it’s only Byzantine Studies, pre-Columbianists think it’s only Pre-Columbian Studies, and many of the Garden folks think the same. I knew enough to know that wasn’t true even when I applied. And I knew it was a wonderful place in terms of its beauty and its historic presence, and I knew that the people who went there were bright and enthusiastic, and of course what impressed me was how bright and enthusiastic the staff was as well, and the community, not just of scholars, but the community of people who worked there. So, I was in seventh heaven. I came from a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. I’m a native New Yorker, but I had been teaching for fifteen years at Ripon College in Wisconsin. And even though there was no tenure, and it was a limited-tenure term as Director of Studies, it was a chance not to be missed, to be involved with that community. So, it was great, and it lived up to my expectations, if not exceeded them, in terms of the – it’s an interesting mix of a quiet, scholarly retreat in many ways and at the same time being a very dynamic place filled with people with interesting projects, interesting ideas, and very much engaged in their research.
CW: So how did you find the transition to not having students around as you had in the liberal arts college environment, being at Dumbarton Oaks?
JQ: Well, you do have students around. As Director of Studies, you have graduate students, of course. They’re not your graduate students; they are someone else’s. In a way that’s – there are advantages and disadvantages of that situation. I mostly found it advantageous. One can take an avuncular role, and I guess it’s in my nature to do so, so that you can be involved with their projects, you can counsel them on career choices or using the right computer equipment – though usually the younger people tell the older people about that – and be involved with them and have a nice long time – a year usually – to do that. And yet you don’t have – like an uncle, you know, you have the joy of interacting but not the weight of responsibility should they run afoul of their plans or projects. But most of them, of course, don’t. So, I found it fine. And after teaching for fifteen years in an undergraduate setting, that was plenty. And it was nice to have a change.
ABF: And what were the most important relationships for you?
JQ: Well, the relationships of course are different because – I guess it’s true for anybody in any position anywhere – you have different kinds of relationships with different people. So with the Junior Fellows in particular, which is the people to whom I was referring just now, you have that avuncular relationship. With the regular Fellows, who are usually peers or older scholars, distinguished scholars sometimes – one might argue whether they’re peers or not, I guess – the relationship can vary from somewhat formal to collegial to friends, depending. And I made a lot of friends, of course, there. So, that’s one set of relationships, the sort of scholarly relationships. The relationships with the staff are a different kind of relationship: more long-term, because the Fellows come and the Fellows go, but the staff basically stays the same over much longer periods of time. And so, there’re different kinds of dynamics going on. But I think everybody I met at Dumbarton Oaks was – whether they were Fellows there on short term or staff on long term – realized that they were privileged to be in this wonderful place, which had such great support and such great resources. So that it was a happy place, all in all, although, you know, there are always issues, as there is in any institution or any small community. Did that answer your question, or were you looking for something else?
ABF: I suppose that answers it, unless there are any specific relationships that –
JQ: Ah. Well, I found, of course, working with the Pre-Columbian staff was particularly important to me, and when I was at Dumbarton – and at least in my first years at Dumbarton Oak – the organizational structure was different, so that each Director of study basically had their own little fiefdom, if you will. And so Bridget Gazzo, for example, who was the librarian for Pre-Columbian, reported to me at the time, and I especially enjoyed working with Bridget. She’s a great person, very enthusiastic, very knowledgeable as well. And there was a woman named Carol Callaway who was the Assistant Curator at the time and who I was close to – unfortunately died my second year, which was rough on everyone. I enjoyed working particularly with Landscape Studies Directors. I was friendly with Alice-Mary and we had a great working relationship. I think that because Landscape and Pre-Columbian are the Junior Programs, though there was a kind of natural affinity there in some ways. And in particular I developed a very close friendship with Michel Conan, who was Director of Landscape Studies a few years after I arrived and stayed on after I left for a while – so, those in particular. I enjoyed working very much with Angeliki Laiou, the first Director who – we had a few rough spots, I guess, in understanding how each other worked, and that’s true for, I guess, everyone. But I think I was particularly engaged with those folks. Don Pumphrey’s another one, Hector in the kitchen, Carlos, house staff, were all just great folks.
CW: So it sounds as if you were very in touch with the other disciplines when you were there. And would you say that generally in your time there was a lot of contact between the three scholarly programs, or maybe you were referring more to kind of informal relationships?
JQ: Well, my understanding of Dumbarton Oaks and the relationships between the programs before I arrived is as historically based as yours, which is to say, I only know what people tell me, or what I’ve heard. There’s no sort of source to go to. And we all know the vagaries of history anyhow, in terms of trying to understand what happened in the past. It was my impression – and I think there was plenty of supporting evidence in all sorts of ways – that the three programs had been fairly separate entities in many ways, and to some degree there was a certain amount of tension between and jealousies between the different programs. Between the different – you know, the Byzantines got more Fellows than the other two programs. There were all sorts of little traditions that got developed. For example, I had a little fund that allowed me to have a party for local-area scholars once a year, at the beginning of the academic year, that neither of the other two programs had. It was just some mini-tradition that Pre-Columbian Studies got that the others didn’t get. And I eventually stopped having it, because it sort of became irrelevant at some point. They were fine, but the Fellows got to meet these people anyhow. And it became very clear that one of the – there were a few big issues. One, of course, is money and resources in terms of Fellows and how big a symposium you can have versus the other folks. And then there were issues on space. And everybody, everybody was crowded in terms of space, because books were stacked just everywhere. My attitude – I remember having a meeting with Angeliki at one point and saying something to the effect that, you know, Benjamin Franklin said during the Revolution that if we don’t hang together, surely we’ll all hang separately. And my attitude was that I found what the other programs did interesting. I didn’t find every Byzantine scholar interesting, of course. I didn’t find every Pre-Columbian scholar interesting. When I was about your ages, I took classes in medieval art history with Herb Kessler at Chicago when he was there very briefly. My background – my mother was English – I visited castles, I was very interested in the Middle Ages as a youth and I still have that interest. We do get Ph.D.s or Doctorates of Philosophy, we’re supposed to have a general, broad base from which we pursue our particular studies, and I thought having these three rather odd, peculiar programs all cheek by jowl was great. And that it offered opportunities for me personally to learn all these interesting things that were going on in these other fields. So, I hoped to find ways to bridge gaps and bridge these differences by reaching out to the other folks. Do you want to turn off the air conditioner? Let’s see, I think if I just crank it up hot enough. We are now in the twenty-first century, we have things called air conditioners. Is it getting warmer? It’ll actually go up. We’ll make it super hot.
ABF: 80, nice.
JQ: By the time it gets to 80 we won’t want to do this anymore, right?
ABF: So, would you say that you came in with a set of goals when you became Director of Studies?
JQ: Well, to tell you the truth, I was pretty overwhelmed at getting the job offer. I was delighted. I felt a great sense of responsibility to have the opportunity to do this because Dumbarton Oaks then, and I hope still now – you know, the publications that came out of Pre-Columbian Studies and the symposia that it held are not quite universally, but among the top-ranked scholars in the field, these are important events, these are important publications. It is a place of note, it is a leader, and what it does is significant, so to have the opportunity to play a leadership role in Pre-Columbian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, I felt was an extremely great honor and an extremely great responsibility. So that in terms of my having goals, especially to be truthful – now that I’m not there any more I can be totally truthful – I would say that I didn’t come in with clear goals of change. I wanted to continue the tradition that I saw established and appreciated, that Betty Benson and Elizabeth Boone had – the foundations that they had laid. I wanted to maintain them. I think also as a general principle that people who wind up in positions of leadership of institutions, of programs, of departments – and it’s true well beyond academics as well – they often want to do something new. They want to put their own stamp on things. But the hardest thing to learn to do is to leave well enough alone. You know, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And I wanted to be very cautious that I didn’t follow that path of trying to do something just for the sake of doing something when I thought that the program at D.O. worked very well. I thought it’s – obviously there were issues about, you know, “May I have more, please, sir?” There were opportunities to have more resources. One always likes to do more of the same, but not to radically change its character and move in some very different direction, when I thought that what was being done was the right thing to do in the first place. As I grew into the job, I did start to see things that I wanted to do because at the same time that you don’t want to change things for the sake of changing things, when you have the opportunity to mold something, to just let a ship go or a car go without any steering, without any direction to it, is also a waste of a valuable resource. So that maybe after my first, second year, I did start to develop some general trends that I wanted to follow. And those – I would say I had a philosophy that was as follows, which is that I wanted to maintain the general approach that Pre-Columbian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks had, but to expand the franchise somewhat. And Pre-Columbian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks as I understood it and still understand it is in a unique position in that it serves as a place where the ends of the spectrum – maybe not the extreme ends of the spectrum, but the ends of the spectrum of the field – can find common ground. You know, there is no such thing called Pre-Columbian Studies anywhere except at Dumbarton Oaks. I mean, these things are pursued here in the Department of Anthropology, in the Peabody Museum, in the History of Art and Architecture program. But Pre-Columbian Studies as a field or a discipline or area, realm, arena of discussion or interaction, really only exists at Dumbarton Oaks. So, by the very framing of the discourse as Pre-Columbian Studies, Dumbarton Oaks created a place and a space where art historians and field archaeologists and those who work in early colonial period on documents and those who work in remote antiquity can all – not always all at the same time, but over the long haul, over years – have a place to meet, exchange views, and interact in ways that they often don’t get to do, or at least get to do as easily, elsewhere. So that to me was a very precious thing, and that was something that I wanted to maintain. What I wanted to do that was in a – not a different direction, but have a greater emphasis on, was the definition of what “Pre-Columbian” is. Because Pre-Columbian as defined in the late ’40s and early ’50s, when Robert Bliss was beginning to think along these lines, really referred to the so-called “high cultures” of the New World, which of course are from Central Mexico through Central America to the Central Andes, and with particular emphasis on the cultures of Mexico and Central America and the Central Andes. I thought that, you know, Robert Bliss was a visionary, but he was a man of his time, and his goal was to try and demonstrate to the world that the art of pre-Columbian America was as valid and as valuable and as interesting as art anywhere, and so in some sense emphasizing the so-called “high cultures” had a point to it. I thought that fifty years later it would be advantageous to at least offer opportunities to explore commonalities and similarities between the ancient peoples of the New World in areas outside of those main, so-called “high cultures.” You know, there’s lots and lots of similarities between the ancient peoples of the Mississippi River Valley and Central Mexico. There are lots and lots of things going on in the Amazon that were directly relevant to the culture of the Inkas and their predecessors. So, I wanted to try and expand the franchise a little bit, not simply because of the theoretical reasons that I’ve just laid out, but also to offer the opportunity for scholars who were doing research on topics that were very much in harmony with the kinds of approaches that D.O. traditionally took, to have a chance to come there. For example, there are many people working on iconography and symbolism of the Mississippian cultures or the Pueblo peoples of the Southwest who were rather alone and by themselves, especially even five or ten years ago –I think it’s changed a bit now – didn’t have many people to speak to within their own fields but could find interesting conversation partners by talking to a Mesoamericanist or talking to someone who works in Peru. So, I wanted to give those people opportunities too. And I thought it was good for Dumbarton Oaks. I thought that by opening up a little bit our field, we enrich ourselves. It’s like a blood transfusion: get a little new blood in. And I’d say the third thing I tried to do was to be much more involved and pro-active in involving Latin Americans because ninety-five percent of the territory – whether it’s high culture or middle or low culture –of the ancient New World is in Latin America today. And increasingly the scholarship that is being done in Latin America is equal or sometimes better than a lot of what’s happening in North America and in Europe, and I felt that it was just – on a totally – it’s the right thing to do. We need to engage with our Latin American colleagues more. And also, frankly, on a political, realpolitik basis, I felt that in the long term it was crucial for Dumbarton Oaks and for Harvard to increasingly engage ourselves with Latin American scholars because, you know, anthropology and the kinds of studies we do are the children of imperialism and colonialism. I mean, there’s no way to get around that. It’s a fact. And we can’t erase that history; that history has happened. But we can try and do better in involving our Latin American colleagues directly with what we do rather than incidentally. So those were three things I attempted to do, and I think I was fairly successful in some ways.
ABF: Going back to something you said earlier, you mentioned that you were interested in continuing the tradition that you inherited when you became Director, so what exactly, what do you see as being that tradition?
JQ: That tradition takes a number of forms. One is, as I said, having a meeting place for scholars who approach the subject matter somewhat differently. Anthropologists, anthropological archaeologists tend to approach their subject matter from a cultural or social perspective, and they’re looking at the objects in the Dumbarton Oaks galleries in the social context. Art historians traditionally tend to look at the object and look at it outwards. So having a chance for those people too find topics, for example, for symposia, for workshops, for roundtables, where you could have this kind of mix occur – to the benefit of both, hopefully – is one of the traditions. One of the other traditions is to have those kinds of meetings. Betty Benson you know – many of the important first steps or critical steps in the cracking of the Maya code, as I’m sure Mike Coe will tell you, and as he goes over in his book – you might take a look at his book before you talk to him, Breaking the Maya Code – many of those initial steps occurred at Dumbarton Oaks – occurred with Betty Benson literally getting on the floor with other scholars and going over glyphs and working through these issues of—working on those hieroglyphs to break the Maya code. I hope that we can make similar kinds of achievements, although even coming close to that kind of achievement would be significant. So, I’d say those are the two main axes I see. One is having meetings that get the right people together and that focus on issues that are either the time is right to have a synthesis of discussion or the work has sort of reached a point where it’s the right time to have a meeting. And then being able to identify those points, or to have a meeting that pushes the discussion to that point, is one thing. And then the other one is to focus on – we – Dumbarton Oaks – I still say “we” – Dumbarton Oaks tends to focus more on the art, symbolism, religion side of the discussion than the sort of bare stones and bones approaches. So, those are the traditions.
CW: And you think that you met your goals for the most part, you said?
JQ: Well, you know, one always – maybe in scholarship we’re sort of used to always being overly critical on ourselves as well as other people, though a lot of scholars seem to mostly say it for other people. I always think of, “Gee, there are a number of things, other projects, ideas I had that I wasn’t able to do because my time was up.” I think some of those things were certainly – some of the things we did I felt were certainly heading in the right direction. One example – and you mentioned publications. There hadn’t been a major Inka symposium at Dumbarton Oaks ever. We had that in 1997, I believe it was. We did it with the top scholars in the field. As a matter of fact, we took a group photograph, and there were four scholars – John Rowe, John Murra, Maria Rostworowski, and Tom Zuidema – and two of those people, John Rowe and John Murra, are no longer with us, so that will be a historic photograph. And one of the organizers, Craig Morris, who was a leading scholar also, unfortunately at a very young age, is no longer with us either. And we did that symposium not only on a crucial topic, a major topic, the Inka, but also we did it with the wonderful cooperation and support from the Peruvian Embassy. So, that was fulfilling sort of two goals at once, which was working with Latin Americans and having the opportunity to do a major topic. Another one that I’m particularly pleased with is I organized with John Hoopes a symposium on southern Central America and Colombia -- “Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia” – and that symposium I think still stands for the record as having the greatest number of Latin American scholars participating that we’ve ever had before. So, that one I was very pleased with as well. And then last but not least, my last symposium was in Peru, done in conjunction with the La Católica University of Peru as well as the Rafael Larco Herrera Museum, and that was quite a feat to pull off. That was the first year that our facilities were closed because of the renovation, but it was a great opportunity to sort of take D.O. on the road and actually bring it to Latin America. So, that was a great chance again to do a major topic but working closely with Latin Americans.
CW: And then how did you find being the Curator and the Director of Pre-Columbian Studies at the same time? Did you integrate – it seems as if the relationships between the collections and the studies programs varied depending on the personalities involved at the times, but did you feel as if you particularly integrated those parts of D.O., since you held those roles at the same time?
JQ: Well, a lot has changed in terms of the way in which these things are configured and thought of. When I got to D.O., I was told quite clearly that we had a Collection. We didn’t have a museum. The galleries were only open from 2 to 5 p.m. And what’s the difference between a collection and a museum, you may ask? The difference between a collection and a museum is that a museum is an institution which is designed to have objects, artifacts, programs, to be available to the public, with specific mandates to educate, inform, provide aesthetic experience, etc. A collection is exactly that: it’s a group of objects which is not necessarily organized on the basis of anything other than itself, if you will. And the idea of making clear that we’re talking about a collection rather than a museum is that the brief hours and the way in which the collection was presented was intended to provide something for the public to see, but to maintain an emphasis that we were primarily a research institution in support of scholarship, and that our sense of commitment to the public came secondary, frankly. And I think that’s great, you know. I think that’s perfectly fine. I think that there’s all sorts of museums in Washington, D.C., all sorts of museums in any major city, and I don’t think every collection or every set of artifacts or objects should necessarily have to try and be the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian’s supported by public monies and it is obliged to serve the American public who helps keep it running. But I think having places that are designed primarily for research, I thought that was a perfectly logical idea. I think one of the things that’s happened between now and then is that at one point suddenly the Collection started being called a museum without any thought, without any discussion, as to what all that meant, what the consequences of that meant, what the obligations – and you might say, “Well, it’s just a name.” But you know, we’re scholars, we’re academics. We make our business being particular about what you call things and how you refer to things and the consequences of doing that. And I think it’s – I’m not saying it’s wrong that D.O. now calls its collections museums, but I think it was unfortunate that this change took place without any deliberated and deliberate deliberations on that whole issue and what it meant and what the options were. It was kind of done rather haphazardly and slapdash, if you ask me. So, for much of my time, being a Curator and being Director of Studies was not a major problem. Now there was constant care and attention to and interactions with the Collection. There were plenty of scholars who came to look at the collections. Not every Fellow wants to look at the collections, but there are always scholars who are coming to look at them. We also had a large-scale project for a catalogue series, and one catalogue was published just as I came into office, that catalogue was being finished, that’s the Andean catalogue, which was done by Elizabeth Boone. One of my great burdens and trials at D.O. was the catalogue projects, because – and it would take more than your tape has time to fill. It’s a long story as to why the catalogue project has been so onerous and difficult in terms of its production; but we did manage to get one volume out, which is the Olmec volume, and that was a major triumph. Unfortunately, there are a whole bunch of other volumes that should have come out that just never did, and I know there’s one that’s still being worked on, and I hope it comes out. So, I was fine with being Curator. I did have – in the old system, when the Assistant Curator reported directly to me – now you know Juan Antonio Murro, right?
JQ: You don’t. Well, Juan Antonio Murro is the Assistant Curator for Pre-Columbian. He reports to Gudrun. Well, I hired him because he at first reported to me. Before the reorganization, he reported to me. Prior to Juan Antonio, there was a woman named Loa Traxler, who you should also interview, by the way –
ABF: Yeah, we will.
JQ: – who reported to me and I hired. And prior to her there was this woman Carol Callaway, who I mentioned. And they – whether it was Carol, Loa, or Juan Antonio – they handled the day-to-day care and feeding, if you will, of the collection, so it was not a huge burden to me. I sort of made the executive decisions and so forth. It worked perfectly well. So it was no major problem.
ABF: Can you tell us a bit about the experience of putting together the Olmec catalogue?
JQ: Ah. Yes, I can tell you quite a bit about it; I can tell you – I told you – hours about it. Well, I guess this is for the record, so I’ll sit back and I’ll tell you. I think that the catalogue projects started before I came to D.O. It was initiated by Elizabeth Boone. My impression – I don’t know if this is a fact – my impression is that she convinced Angeliki that it was going to be a quick and dirty: “Oh, we’ll just publish some little books, you know, just little guides, user’s guides.” And while she said that, what really happened was is she went and she got some money, outside money, and produced this two-volume – show it to the camera, Jeff – and produced this elaborate, beautiful set of books on the Andean catalogue. And then she left. She left the job and she had a catalogue for southern Central America and Colombia set. She had a catalogue that’s supposed to be Maya and Olmec set to do, and she had a catalogue for Central Mexico supposedly lined up. And I got there and I said, “Well, I’m not going to publish a rinky-dink little handbook. I want to publish a catalogue that looks like this!” But the problem was that the budgeting and the timing for doing this were completely inappropriate. The budgeting, actually, was not a major problem, because Angeliki actually – when Angeliki saw these volumes, she got extremely upset. She actually said to me, she said, “I didn’t sign on to produce these big volumes. I agreed to a small publication.” And I said, “Well, I just got here. All I did was proof the color on the final proofs; that’s all. Everything else was done by Elizabeth.” So she said, “Well I –” And then she brought copies up here for the – what’s it called, the foundation, the people the Director reports to – the Fellows, Harvard Fellows, and they loved it. They just loved it: “Oh, this is wonderful, this is beautiful.” And so she came back and said, “Oh, it was great, a big success. They loved it.” So, I was given the go-ahead, basically, to continue publishing volumes in that format, but the problem was is that the scheduling was all messed up, and these things were supposed to be turned in at a much more rapid rate than was possible, which is another problem. At this point the problem lies not with anybody at Dumbarton Oaks – and this is of course a problem that is not just pertinent to these catalogues, but is a problem with all D.O. publications that I had to deal with, as well as any edited book I’ve ever had to deal with anywhere, which is that trying to get authors to produce the books or their chapters on time is extremely difficult. Because these scholars, most of whom are big names – very important, very busy – they say, “Yes, yes, yes” to ten different things, and then they only have time to do three. And if you happen to be number four on the list – you know, it doesn’t matter if there’s ten things that they said they’re going to do and you’re number four; if they can only do three, you know, I mean it’s as good as a mile: you might as well be number ten, because if the work doesn’t get done, the book doesn’t get published. So that’s the problem I faced with the catalogues. The main problem I faced had nothing to do with the directors of D.O. or anything at D.O.; it had to do with getting the authors to produce the materials on time. Their schedules were inappropriate, we extended them, they still didn’t come through, so we eventually had to cancel a few. That’s what happened. There’re chances that these things can be resurrected, perhaps, by Joanne, and I wish her a lot of luck. I mean, the one thing that I don’t miss from D.O. is – I mean, editing is a thankless job, basically. It’s an important job, and you can gain satisfaction from it, because this was an important symposium, this is going to be a landmark book, and you as an editor helped make it happen, but the amount of credit you get – you know, I believe it was Elizabeth Boone who said that editing books was like doing other people’s laundry. I think that’s absolutely right. It’s kind of a thankless job, even though everybody wants clean clothes. Although I’m still editing D.O. books here, you know. There’s still D.O. books that because I was involved with them, I’m still involved with this. I mean, it’s going to go on and on and on. I know Jan’s got the axe out, so supposedly I’m supposed to get these done fast. But that’s been a problem and it’s a headache.
CW: And you mentioned already being very aware of Robert Bliss’s legacy as a collector and of the role Betty Benson played in founding the collection, but how – I’m sure you were aware of that before coming in as director – but how did you encounter that inheritance in your role as Curator?
JQ: Well, there were many people there who still remember the Blisses. Sue Boyd knew the Blisses, Betty Benson knew the Blisses, so there the memory of them as the founding mother and father – still quite strong. Ask some of the guards and they’ll say they’ve seen them at night. If you want a really oral history, you should go ask Carlos about what they –
CW: Ghost stories?
JQ: Yeah, because there was lots of ghost stories. And of course Betty even now is still an active scholar in the field, and she came regularly to D.O. I always felt that, you know, it was my privilege to involve Betty as much as possible in the life of D.O., considering how important a figure she is in terms of her research as well as her importance in establishing the program. So, that certainly was the way I felt their presence, both in terms of conscious memory of – there were some folks who passed away while I was there too who also knew the Blisses. As well as the vision of having that beautiful Philip Johnson – you know, the Philip Johnson gallery has problems from a modern curatorial standard, but it’s still a magical place when all is said and done.
ABF: What are the problems as you see them?
JQ: Well, the main problem is light. Now, that’s been remedied, I believe, by the new glass that’s been installed. But Johnson wanted to have as much natural light and as much greenery as a backdrop to these pre-Columbian objects, and visually, it’s spectacular. The main problem is that most galleries, especially for things like showing textiles or for things that are subject to damage by sunlight, you can’t let all that light in. It’s like showing Rembrandt prints with a big searchlight on them or something. But that, I believe, has been remedied by the glass, or at least modified. The other problem it had, of course, is roofs. The roof leaked, which I suppose has also been fixed. Philip Johnson is famous – a lot of architects are famous – for beautiful buildings, but engineering – they’re disasters, like Fallingwater. So, the roof leaked a lot, and it was a big problem, but it’s still a wonderful building. And it is to be hoped that the leaking problem and the light problem have been at least ameliorated.
CW: I think Betty Benson told a story of going through the Gallery when it was being built and noticing that the acoustics were really bad, and Philip Johnson was there and he waved her off and said, “No, no, it’s fine, it’s fine; it’s not a problem.” And she said, “Well, yes, but you don’t have to give lectures in here.”
JQ: Yeah, you mean the echo problem?
JQ: Which, of course, most school kids or even older people, when they come, that’s the first thing – the thing they remember is standing and getting that weird echo effect, you know, where your voice travels and so forth. But the other interesting thing about that is, as I remember, that Philip Johnson knew of that effect, and the original design for the Gallery – there’s actually a photo – there’re a couple of photos around of him, and they actually installed these for a while – you know, each one is circular, and they did put cylindrical display cases in the middle of each of those pods, so if you put a cylindrical – and they were sort of white, painted white on the bottom. If you put a cylinder in the middle of each one of those pods, it negates the effect of the echo because no one can stand there. But what happened was is that when they put these cylinders in each of the pods they realized there wasn’t enough display space. And, of course, knowing basic geometry, if you have a circle, you can put more in a circle by putting it around the outer circumference than the inner circumference. So, they got rid of these cylindrical display cases, and then mostly put objects – you know, there’re some exceptions – but mostly put objects around the circumference of each of the pods, therefore they could put more in. But suddenly the center of each pod was now open, and the result was the echo effect. These are the things you learn.
CW: Were there any major acquisitions for the Collection/Museum when you were there?
JQ: There were no major acquisitions, because these days people are highly sensitive to purchasing pre-Columbian objects from galleries. Even those with supposedly so-called “clean passports” have potential problems. I mean, look at the supposedly clean passport of the Machu Picchu collections at Yale and the troubles they had. And I was sorely tempted a few times – I was even told by Angeliki in particular that there was money available for purchases – and I was sorely tempted to propose that we buy something. But I decided that the better course of wisdom was not to do it because I didn’t want to get the institution and myself in hot water by buying something and then having the hounds of Hades loosened on us. And I will say that in particular that the archaeologists here at Harvard are highly sensitive to that, and since D.O. is a Harvard-affiliated organization I didn’t want to wind up in a situation in which I was doing something which would not meet with the approval of the archaeologists here. And as you will find out when you talk to Mike Coe – and you may have found out from Betty Benson or will find out when you talk to her – this issue of collectors, collecting, purchasing, the ridge between archaeology and art history are all very hot button issues that surround the Pre-Columbian studies program at D.O., are related to Betty, are related to Mike, related to Harvard’s relationship with D.O. over the years, and I just didn’t want to get involved in any of that. I thought better just not to buy anything and stay out of it than to put my neck in a noose. Now there were a few exceptions. There were a few gifts of collections of mostly local D.C. people who wanted to give D.O. collections, but most of those things were few in number. There were a couple significant objects but no really sort of Bliss-quality objects by and large. There were some of these gifts. The other thing that we did is when Carol Callaway died we got – there was money given in her name to Pre-Columbian Studies at D.O. We came to the Peabody, we asked to find a piece owned by the Peabody that had clear papers, that was old enough that there was no question that it was legally in the country and we paid for the money to restore that object and then study it, we took a radiocarbon date and restored it, brought it to D.O. – it’s on a 99-year loan I believe to D.O. – and it’s got a plaque in – I don’t know if it’s in exhibit right now but it was given, well done in Carol’s memory. And it was very pleasing to me that Leonardo Lopez Lujan, who is a big name in Mexican archaeology, deliberately mentioned in an article he wrote the great example that Dumbarton Oaks did in doing this as opposed to, he said, that nasty museum in France that just opened which is dealing with antiquities and dealers and stuff. So, we came out smelling like a rose in doing that, and it was the right thing to do.
ABF: But were there any other serious repatriation issues that you had to deal with?
JQ: No. In actual fact I believe that the collection at Dumbarton Oaks all came in well before the UNESCO agreements. There may be a few things that might – I think they’re all legal. There might be a few things that, you know – there’s two dates. One, which is the ‘best practice,’ which is I think 1971, and then there’s a later date which is the absolute cutoff date. And some may have come in after the ‘best practice’ ’71 date, but generally they’re – actually, objects are quite clean – although, if you get in the law court you can argue six ways to Sunday that they are or they’re not, just like with the Yale collection. I mean, that is – depending on which lawyer you talk to, Yale has got an absolute title to the collection or it doesn’t and what we could – Dumbarton Oaks could wind up in the same kind of muddle if somebody wanted to make an issue of it. I think, frankly, that the fact that Dumbarton Oaks did reach out to Latin American scholars actively – and it’s not just me it’s Elizabeth Boone and Betty Benson as well – that we support scholarship in Latin America that we do these steps. I think, knock on wood, that the attitude is that whatever claims might or might not be made against an object or getting an object back here or there are not worth it, the good will and good working relationships that we’ve established and hope to maintain now. It reminds me, we had an exhibit here in the Peabody on Moche ceramics that I curated, and this distinguished Peruvian colleague Luis Jaime Castillo was here. He gave the opening address – so forth and so on – and we had a reception in the gallery and everything was going along fine. We were having a little wine and a little cheese. And I was there, Luis Jaime was there, I was here, and suddenly this woman comes up and says, ‘So Professor Castillo, is Peru planning to ask for all these back?’ And I went, “Uhhhhh.” And he said, “No, madam. We have plenty of our own, and better ones.”
ABF: From what you were saying it sounds like the position you were in as curator and the dealings you had with the Collection dovetailed very nicely with your academic roles and that you were able to enhance the general standing of the Collection by reaching out in a scholarly environment.
JQ: Absolutely. I mean, not every Fellow who comes to D.O. is specifically interested in the objects. They have their own research projects. It’d just be like, if you were – you’re both classicists – you know, if you went to some – there’s the Hellenic center. I mean, everything that they’ve got isn’t necessarily pertinent to your interests but you may be casually interested in it because you’re generally interested in your field. Same thing’s true at D.O. I mean, the people that come there – I’m sure it’s true in Byzantine, too – the collections may or may not to a greater or lesser degree influence or be of interest to them, per se. But Betty Benson always makes a big point of talking about how the program and the library would not be there if it weren’t for the collections. The collections are the foundations of everything because it was Robert Bliss’s collecting of those objects that led to everything else. That for no other reason is why they should be treasured, as well as that they’re spectacular objects. They’re – many of them are unique and so forth. But yeah, I think that for me having the curatorial and the Director of Studies role was great because it allowed for a certain kind of synergy to occur that may not have occurred otherwise.
ABF: Do you think that set a precedent?
ABF: For more of that type of –
JQ: Well, it didn’t set much of a precedent because the reorganizations got rid of all that. It’s also true that even the Byzantines didn’t – see, that’s another example of the differences that existed because the Byzantines didn’t have this Director. The Byzantines had Alice-Mary as Director of Studies and Sue Boyd as Curator. They were two separate posts, though they work closely together.
CW: We should take a minute to change the tape.
JQ: So where were we?
ABF: We were talking about the synergistic –
JQ: Synergy, ah, synergy baby. For me it was – I liked working with the collections, I liked being Director of Study. I liked it all. The only thing I didn’t like, and that was that – and this is actually quite a big point of mine – is that I didn’t have a lot of time for my own research. I got two weeks of research leave a year, plus vacation – and the vacation was generous. And I used to use my vacation for my research, which didn’t make my wife very happy, but I had to balance those things. And I think that that is unfortunate because I think that one of the ways D.O. – and again I would submit that this is true not only for Pre-Columbian Studies but for the other programs too – one of the ways that the place remains a vital energetic lively relevant center is if the relevant Directors of Studies are active scholars and have plenty of time to do their own research. And two weeks a year doesn’t cut it. Furthermore, two weeks – now, of course, you may say – I mean, one of the arguments, one of the rationales I think for it is – well, you’re in the middle of this library, not every day is going to be a day filled with meetings and administrative responsibilities, so you do have time. And I was told by Angeliki that if you have time during the day to do a spot of your own research using the library or sitting at your desk by all means go ahead. We trust that you’ll take care of business in terms of making sure that all your responsibilities are attended to, that if you have some time you are free to devote it to your own research as you find the time whenever if occurs. That was fine and I did make some use of that. The problem is that by maintaining that approach and still keeping it only to two weeks a year you’re biasing the selection and even the likely applicants for future Directors of Study to people who are primarily book-oriented, library-oriented in terms of their research. And I think it’s healthy for Dumbarton Oaks in the long term that the Directors of Study should vary from being say art historians who are mostly library bound, or historians who are definitely library bound, to include field archaeologists who have to go out and dig. It’s a healthier environment for – it’s healthy for an institution to have that variation over the long term. And furthermore, I also think that it’s healthy for the institution if it and its people actively pursue research. That is to say, that the Directors of Studies are fully engaged scholars. I, in my darker hours at D.O., used to describe my job as that of a maître d’ in a very nice restaurant. You get to wear nice clothes, you get to work in a beautiful place, and you get to meet high-class guests and put them at the right table or maybe put them at a table next to a bathroom, but you don’t get to sit down much and eat yourself. And if the job winds up or becomes increasingly in that mode you’re not going to get good people who want to serve in that role. And the institution as a whole will suffer I think because the institution will lose the respect of other scholars who say, “Well so-and-so, you know, poor schmoe, he’s stuck there holding the door as we go out.” Now I think Joanne’s an excellent scholar. I think I was a pretty good one. I know Elizabeth Boone and Betty Benson were ones. But I think that this is something that has to be carefully considered in terms of the future of D.O. for the long term. And, I mean, I was guaranteed by word of mouth by Angeliki that I was supposed to get a year research leave between my two terms. I never got it because I was told that I was needed to help build the new library, to help be on committees, which I was. But maintain those kinds of commitments and maintain the kind of commitment that Directors of Study are active scholars and that their scholarship’s supported is something I think is very important. If I were Director of D.O., I would consider every other year closing the whole place down for the summer and letting the staff and scholars go off and do research. It could survive. Actually, they used to do that. Back in the ’50s and ’60s they did close for the summer. Or have a skeleton staff to take care of summer Fellows but let the Director of Study go off and if they want to dig or even if they’re doing art history, they want to go and look at sites for two months, let ’em go. I mean, you wouldn’t have to do it every year necessarily but I think having that kind of flexibility and having that kind of encouragement that you want the Directors of Studies to be active scholars and not simply administrators is critical, and I don’t think that was very well handled while I was there.
ABF: What are your thoughts on the new library?
JQ: Well, I had a lot to do with it. I was on a lot of committees that helped plan it and I don’t know what the new library’s like because I have visited it once, briefly, strolled through it. It was, I think it was my second – when did they have the big inauguration? Was that last October? I think so. It was like two or three months before that so I don’t know – how successful the library is depends upon how easy it is to use and how comfortable the scholars are in using it, and since I’ve not used it at all but sort of walked through it I can’t speak to it in that sense. I mean theoretically it’s a fine idea. I hear it’s very cold.
CW and ABF: True.
JQ: I think that the – I got a sense that things were moving to – I remember Ned Keenan saying the problem with D.O, now, which meant that when we were in the old system, was that the books are where the people should be and the people are where the books should be. That is to say, the books were all up on the upper floors of the main building in rooms that were getting plenty of sunlight and the people were down in the basement, a lot of them in the dark, and it should be the other way around, and that when the new library is built we’d fix that. And I thought that was right on. I think that the library should be there for the scholars. The scholars should not be intimidated or made to feel uncomfortable for the sake of the books. I don’t know why it’s so cold. If they’re keeping it cold for the books they should warm it up because the people are more important than the books. The books should figure out how to deal for themselves. Rare books I presume are in a rare book room, which is going to be differently controlled anyhow. But I don’t know these things except through hearsay, so I can’t say.
CW: You mentioned earlier that you were still working on some publications left over from D.O. years. Is that the main way you’ve been involved with D.O. still?
JQ: Mostly, yeah. I didn’t go to any – I have not been back to any pre-Columbian symposia for two reasons. One is – main reason was I wanted to give Joanne Pillsbury some space. I don’t think of myself as a big scary guy but having somebody looking over you, “Oh, there’s the previous Director of Studies. Are they going to think –?” One of the great things Elizabeth Boone did for me when I came is she left me alone. She didn’t come to D.O. for quite a long time. She just didn’t come. After a couple years she popped in once to use the library briefly, but she didn’t come to any meetings. And I presume that was done just to simply allow me to find my own path and to feel comfortable and so I’m just doing the same for Joanne. But maybe after this year I’ll – the second reason was that they’ve all heretofore been overseas and it just didn’t work out for me to be able to get away. And if you’re going to Guatemala for a conference, you want to spend three or four days looking around as well, and I just didn’t have the time. But I’ll go back eventually. I mean, I love D.O. It’s a part of me. I love D.O., I love the people there. I’ll be back. But I just wanted to give Joanne plenty of elbowroom to start with.
CW: Did D.O. play a role in any field work or did you have any oversight in that in your years?
JQ: Well, I mean, this is sort of picking up on what I was already saying. The interesting thing is I asked around, “Well, why doesn’t D.O. fund field work, why don’t we fund our own field work?” And what I was told was that back in the, I guess the late ‘50s, D.O. did fund a lot of fieldwork. It funded a huge amount of fieldwork in Byzantium-land.
ABF: Yeah, in Turkey. The Hagia Sophia and the Kariye Djami.
JQ: Exactly. And what I was told – and again this is all hearsay – but what I was told is what happened was that they didn’t keep good track of the books and that the money – no one was controlling the money and the money was going out the door and there was nothing to show for it and that the publications weren’t coming. I mean, what’s the product here? The product is some sort of publication. That wasn’t – supposedly there’s still a collection somewhere in Manchester or Birmingham – there’s a D.O. collection of pottery sherds from some Byzantine-sponsored excavation that’s still there waiting to be picked – maybe you could get that gig, a free trip to England. And that it just got so out of control that they said, “We’re just going to stop this altogether.”
ABF: There are some major publications on churches, but –
JQ: Right. No, I don’t think everything was a disaster – I think that – and again this is Byzantine, it’s not Pre-Columbian – but my understanding is that, yeah, there were some successful projects and publications that came out of it. But that there was enough chaos in terms of other things and the money was not being accounted for as well as it might have been that they just decided to cut it off at the knees, which is understandable. But I thought it was unfortunate that there was then this draconian policy of, well, we’re not going to fund any of this ourselves. They do give out these project grants for endangered sites or special projects that other people do, but again I think that – and again this is just my opinion – but I think that D.O. is in a vital place as a center to which other people come, other scholars come and do work and that’s good, it should always do that and should always be that, but I think it’s important that D.O. have its own research engine cranking as well. You don’t want to be just an empty vessel that is only filled up by other scholars. You want to have enough of an internal combustion, if you will, that you’re creating your own heat and hopefully light as well. And one way to do that is to have some projects. They have to be – you have to make sure you don’t go out of control and maybe pick the right ones and so forth, but I think that would be a good thing. And despite all my carping, D.O. actually did provide a small amount of money for my project, which I’m just winding up now, my initial project that I am doing in Peru excavating a colonial period church. So, I thank them very much. Thank you.
CW: And was there – what sort of transition was there between the directorships of Laiou and Keenan? Because you spent time –
JQ: Well, what do you mean by what –?
CW: Well, how did you – I guess, what was your experience of dealing with their different styles, or was there a smooth process, or D.O. as a whole –?
ABF: In transition –
JQ: Well, there were definitely differences. Angeliki’s philosophy as best I could understand it was frankly a kind of status quo. You’re pre-Columbian studies. You’re small, but don’t ask me for anything more than you’ve got. Be happy with what you’ve got. Yes, Byzantine’s bigger than you, too bad. Be happy with what you’ve got. And so long as that was understood I was pretty much free to do what I wanted to do in terms of working within Pre-Columbian Studies. That’s why I said to her one day, “Well, you know, we must all hang together or surely hang separately.” And she said, “Right. Yes. You’ve got it.” She wouldn’t say, “You’ve got it,” but – When Ned came, well, there was a transition period literally because he kept on coming up to Harvard. He was still teaching a class, he wasn’t really full-time at D.O. for a while and that was kind of frustrating because I think that – I know Jan is coming back too – but it seems to me that at least in those days D.O. really needed a full-time director. There was enough stuff that was happening. Maybe it’s not true now. Ned really kind of in the first few years – it was like, “Let’s rock and roll.” And the first few years with Ned were great because he was a much more open, engaged, dynamic person than Angeliki. Angeliki – I was, I think, three years there while she was Director – she came to lunch with the Fellows probably once. That was just her style. She wanted to have her own time. And I actually got along well with Angeliki, and she was great at parties. She gave great parties. When she was not in her focused mood she could be a lot of fun. But she was a scholar who wanted to maximize the amount of time doing scholarship. And there was a definite sense of hierarchy with Angeliki, but it was all clear and understood and once you understood the parameters in which we were working I think I got along fine with her. Ned was much more collegial, open, came to lunch every day for the first few years, met regularly with all three directors which was something that Angeliki didn’t do. We used to have directors meetings which would be the three Directors of Studies and Ned once a week, I think for the first few years. I said to Ned that I’d like to do a poster. Have you seen the pre-Columbian poster? I don’t know if they still sell it. It’s of the Wari mirror. Is the gift shop open again?
CW: It is open.
JQ: Well, they should be selling that poster because we’ve got stacks of them.
ABF: We’ll check it out.
JQ: Yeah. I said, “I’d like to do a poster.” He said, “Do a poster! Want to do a poster too? You do a poster!” So it was this great sense of excitement, anything’s possible, new programs, it was great. Things started to get – once – I was there for I guess that would be seven years out of Ned’s total – and once we really committed to the new library I think Ned carried a very heavy burden. It was a lot of work for him. He had to deal with architects, he started reorganizing things internally, and I think it was – I know it was a big stress on me. I was going to meetings. There were all sorts of committee meetings for all different aspects of the project, and I used to be annoyed that I didn’t feel I had enough time to do my own work, my own research. I was reaching the point at the height of the planning for the buildings where I felt I couldn’t even do the Pre-Columbian, I couldn’t even do the research, I couldn’t even do the administrative work for Pre-Columbian Studies. But that was getting out of my grasp because some days, two or three days in a row, I’d be going to meetings that were from nine to five or beyond, and still supposedly running this Pre-Columbian Studies program and trying to do some of my own scholarship. And of course I think it was ten times worse for Ned because he was at the center of it all. So, I think by the end, I mean he was partly tired and partly – and various issues came up that became touchy. I mean, I was annoyed that I didn’t get my research leave, some of the restructuring in terms of the organization of D.O. were things that I thought maybe deserved more thorough examination – that were done perhaps what I thought was a bit autocratically. For example, like I said before I thought that changing the collections to a museum might be the right thing to do, but it was done I thought without a real thorough discussion of what the implications of that were. One of the things that happened was Ned rationalized Dumbarton Oaks, and he rationalized it in the following way. When he got there under Angeliki and prior to Angeliki, Dumbarton Oaks was basically a mom-and-pop research organization. It was a research institute. Who was mom? Who was pop? Mildred and Bob. OK? And it was organized – if you wanted to draw an organizational chart of Dumbarton Oaks, you’d have the Director, which would be Angeliki or Ned, and then the next line down would be the Directors of Studies, and then – I mean you could draw the branches for Marlene in terms of finance and so forth and so on, but the core of it I would argue was that pyramid. Now each Director of Study was in charge of a librarian, and in Byzantine – well there were equivalents in Landscape too – and each in charge of basically some sort of curator in charge of collections, rare books for garden and objects for Byzantine and pre-Columbian. In rationalizing it, what happened was that instead of having three separate libraries basically we have one library. And the librarians no longer reported to the Directors of Studies – they now report to the head librarian, over there. And the curators no longer report to the Director of Studies, they report to the Director of the Museum, over there. So, now that’s how it’s been rationalized, on a model of function instead of program. I can understand why that was done, but I think this is very, very dangerous because it diminishes the authority and the role of the programs of this research and the scholarship and it elevates the functional roles. I mean, the second most powerful – outside of Marlene and whoever’s in charge of the grounds – and the garden’s a separate thing too, Gail’s great – but outside of the infrastructural functions and the financial ones, the second most powerful person of Dumbarton Oaks now is the head of the library. And that’s the way maybe most libraries are or most institutions in which the library – I mean, the main – we talked a lot about the collections but the real truth of the matter is that for the scholars who come there – Fellows and Junior Fellows and Visiting Scholars – the main reason they come, besides the food and the gardens and the pool in the summer, is the library. So it’s understandable why in a sense the rationalization leads to the Director of the library becoming the second most important person. But I worry that in that happening suddenly the whole raison d’être of the place has shifted and it’s shifted away from the study programs as being the core, before the study programs were the core of which that included the library and the collections, now it’s been fractionated in a way that I think could lead to trouble. So long as the current Director and future directors make sure that the centrality and importance of the Directors of Studies and the research that goes on there and the programs that go on there are maintained I guess it’ll be OK. But I think that’s a danger as a result of this rationalizing process. But I am not there anymore so I can’t worry too much.
CW: And I guess our, as I said, very broad final question which was asked of Betty Benson by Elizabeth Boone is how do you see the role – and you’ve touched upon this in many of your answers – but how do you see the role of D.O. in pre-Columbian studies? I think it’s very interesting what you were saying about bringing more Latin American scholars to D.O.
ABF: And also about D.O. being the only place where there really is pre-Columbian studies for everybody.
JQ: Well, I think that there’s – it’s hard to say for sure. I think D.O. still has that preeminent role. I think though – I think things have changed – I mean, a lot has changed in the landscape of scholarship in general, not just in the last ten or twelve years but in the last, say, twenty years. I mean, for example, twenty years ago everybody who was anybody waited for the next D.O. publication with baited breath. Of course, it was totally out of your field – you wouldn’t – but I think there’s a lot more being published. There’s a lot more pre-Columbian books being published by various – for example the Cotsen Institute at UCLA, very powerful, very well-endowed, very successful. It’s connected to a university directly – it’s at UCLA – so how it works it a bit different. Scholarly resources in general are more accessible thanks to the internet – not everything – but having those kinds of options to do bibliographic kinds of work or even primary documents didn’t exist even ten years ago. When I started at D.O., my secretary used to leave those pink “While You Were Out” slips all over my desk, and she’d still funnel calls to me, all this sort of stuff. I came to D.O. by the way with a second generation Macintosh laptop.
CW: About this big?
JQ: Yeah, and it was more powerful than the desktop Macintosh Classic that I was offered. You know what the difference was? Mine had 40 gigabytes, and theirs had 30 total memory. And they did upgrade in a year or two, but 40 gigabytes was considered huge. So, I think that D.O. is still a very important place for pre-Columbian studies. I still think it’s in the vanguard. I think it has to be careful – Pre-Columbian Studies has to be careful – because there is a lot more going on out there than there was. There’s a lot more research being done in Latin America and there are a lot more first-class scholars in Latin America than I would say there were in the previous generation. The quality of publications in Latin America is a lot better than it used to be. I mean, back in the ’70s in Peru and in the ’80s, partly due to the internal politics of Peru but partly just due to the lack of – I mean, you can publish a quality publication with a desktop and computer and printer these days in a way you couldn’t – it was mimeograph, mimeograph on paper that was like toilet paper back in – thirty years ago. So all the gray literature that’s available either on the internet or just by people doing these kinds of desktop publishing, it’s created very different kinds of landscape. So I think D.O. is still in a prime location, an important location, but it’s in a somewhat more crowded field. And it will have to be agile to maintain its position of leadership. But long may she wave.
ABF: Thank you very much.
JQ: Thank you. It’s been fun and illuminating. I hope I helped. Didn’t mean to say anything mean about anybody.
CW: Is there anything you were expecting to talk about?
ABF: Yeah, that we didn’t touch on?
JQ: No, I think you covered it pretty well.
ABF: If you have anything to add, let us know.