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Elizabeth P. Benson

Oral History Interview with Elizabeth P. Benson, undertaken by Elizabeth Boone at the Dumbarton Oaks Guest House (Fellows Building) on May 13 and 16, 2008. At Dumbarton Oaks, Betty Benson was Assistant Curator of the Pre-Columbian Collection (1963–1965), Curator of the Pre-Columbian Collection (1965–1979), and Director of Pre-Columbian Studies (1973–1978).

EB: My name is Elizabeth Boone, this is Elizabeth Benson; we’re here in the Fellows Building at Dumbarton Oaks for this interview. It’s May 13, 2008. We’re being recorded, or Betty Benson is being recorded, by Joe Mills. So Betty, let’s get started talking about you and Mr. Bliss, and the National Gallery of Art, and how you came to know him, and what was that like?

BB: I was the assistant registrar at the National Gallery, and everything that came into the National Gallery or went out of it came through our office, so I saw all of those things. There had been a previous registrar, Charles Richards, some years before, who had been very interested in the pre-Columbian things and had worked with Mr. Bliss and his things. But largely the National Gallery was—still is—essentially a gallery of European and American painting, and they’re not terribly interested in other things, although they certainly show them and give attention to them, and they recently opened those good sculpture galleries. But –

EB: How did Mr. Bliss come to have objects at the National Gallery?

BB: Mr. Bliss felt very strongly that his objects were art objects, and at that time there were – Cleveland had, the Cleveland Museum of Art had a few pre-Columbian objects in it. I think it was 1947 that the Bliss collection came to the National Gallery on loan. But there was no pre-Columbian collection in any art museum. The pre-Columbian things were all in ethnographic museums, natural history museums, but not art, and Mr. Bliss felt that they were art and should be shown in an art museum, and he talked to David Finley, the Director, and John Walker, the chief curator, and persuaded them that they would like to have his pre-Columbian objects on loan there. And indeed they were on loan there from 1947 until 1962, when Mr. Bliss died. So that’s how they got there. Mr. Bliss was – I think sometimes probably things were sent in; I don’t really remember all the details of that, but I do remember Mr. Bliss coming in, sometimes with a little object in his pocket, a piece of jade or something, and he would say, “I want you to see my latest temptation,” or something like that. Or his chauffeur, a very nice man named Garrett, would come in with a basket or a box, or carrying some kind of package with another object to be seen, and these things were on deposit there. All these things were coming in after the 1947 installation of the collection, and they were beginning to pile up or – they weren’t pileable – but they were multiplying in storage in the registrar’s vault. And Lester Cook, who was a curator at the National Gallery, and I decided that we wanted to reinstall the collection, and we got the permission of John Walker and Mr. Bliss, and we had a great fun doing this. And there are some photographs, National Gallery photographs, of both installations, which can be compared. But the earlier installation had painted backgrounds. As I recall the general – the wall and the, most of the case backgrounds were of a sort of ecru color, but some of the case backgrounds were kind of brick red, and that was pretty good behind the gold. But we put in velvet and all sorts of textile-y things. We had a lot of fun with that. So we did use some of these things that Mr. Bliss had been bringing in.

EB: When did you do the reinstallation, Betty?

BB: I don’t remember the exact year; it was in the late ’50s.

EB: When did you – we’re perhaps jumping ahead – but when did you come to the National Gallery, and if you could talk about that a little bit, because that was actually prior to your meeting Mr. Bliss, or –?

BB: Well, but I worked in other parts of the National Gallery and had not met him. I only knew him, really, when I was working in the registrar’s office in the ’50s. I occasionally saw him at a party somewhere; but I think that was after I knew him at the Gallery. I remember once meeting him at a cocktail party, and I guess I had a glass in my right hand – I don’t know why I couldn’t switch it around, but for some reason he extended his hand – and I had to give him my left hand, and I apologized for giving him my left hand, and he said, “Oh, that’s very good: it’s closer to your heart.” He was a very elegant man, a very nice man. He was a good diplomat, I think. He was a tall man with very fine carriage, not really a handsome face, but a good face; and, a quiet man, but a very perceptive and humorous man. Often – and I think you’ve heard one story that he came in one day, and I took him into the registrar’s vault for some reason, where his things were – it must have been when we were doing that installation, where we had an object truck with drawers in it, and in one of these we had taken out the Wari things. And there was a Wari hat under these piled cloth hats, and I had put in it that tiny Wari mosaic man which is, I think, less than an inch tall. And I think I had put it in the hat because it had no case of its own, and that was a good safe, soft place for it. But when Mr. Bliss came in there with me, I thought, “Boy, that doesn’t look like very good curatorship, and so –” And Mr. Bliss looked at it and said, “He capsized.” So he was quite delightful. He was very well groomed, very well tailored, and he stood well and he looked good. Those were the days when men wore white shirts and occasionally, if you were doing something very informal, you might wear a blue shirt, and Mr. Bliss came in one day and I thought, “He’s got on a pink shirt!” And as I got closer to him I realized it wasn’t a pink shirt; it was a shirt of very fine white and red stripes, so this was the sort of elegance.

EB: A striped shirt was more formal than a pink shirt.

BB: Well, somehow it looked – a pink shirt, it had a sort of other connotation, but when it was a red-and-white striped shirt, that was rather finer – in my mind, anyway.

EB: So, when he would bring the objects in, he would bring them himself? Would he set up an appointment, or would he just arrive, or –?

BB: No, he had a secretary, Mrs. Hassan, I think she was Catherine Hassan, whom I knew on the telephone for years, but I didn’t meet her until after he died. But she would call and say, “Mr. Bliss would like to come and bring something in,” and I would say, “Fine.” So it was always set up.

EB: So, what was it like to work with him? You talked about some of your interactions, at the National Gallery, but are there others that are particularly memorable?

BB: There’s one memorable one, which is really a very tiny thing, and yet it made an impression on me. We were in the storeroom one day, in the wrapping room, and Mr. Bliss was in there with me, and I was apparently wrapping up something for him, and he was standing there beside me, and we were talking, I think, and as I got to the point where I had to tie the string on, immediately Mr. Bliss’ finger came down to hold this knot in the string. I mean, this is a very small thing, but there are an awful lot of people in the world who would not think to do that or not bother to do that, and that impressed me.

EB: I can certainly see why.

BB: But those are the kinds of relationships I had with him, and I –

EB: Did he talk to you at all about his love for pre-Columbian art or his particular interest in that?

BB: He made it obvious by his attitude toward the things he brought in. Now, what he brought in or what came in – I think some things were sent in by dealers. He didn’t acquire all these – some of them went out again – but some of them were things he was considering.

EB: So, he would have them come in on approval?
BB: Yeah, yeah. Well, he thought about it, and yeah, so. But we didn’t go into any long digressions about his attitude, and yet it was obvious from the way he handled objects and thought about them, and he has said this, of course, in print. He had a book done – it came out in 1957. It was a text by Samuel Lothrop and these extraordinary photographs by Nicholas Murray which have finger-painted backgrounds and other rather extravagant things, but there are wonderful photographs of the objects, so that – And he talks in that and in other places about his feeling that this was art and that these were fine objects. He was, I’m quite sure, the first person to collect from an aesthetic point of view. I was thinking about people who were collecting about the same time: George Hewitt Myers of the Textile Museum collected some fine objects, some of which Dumbarton Oaks later acquired, but those were things that just sort of appealed to him. He was seriously interested in textiles and probably mostly Oriental rugs. There was a man in Montreal named Cleveland Morgan, F. Cleveland Morgan, who gave some very good pre-Columbian objects to the Montreal museum, but there were just a few things, and he was not really seriously interested in that. And Heye, of course, was collecting – these were all collecting about the same time, and I can sort of imagine, you know, they were – which dealer would try to sell what to whom, and whether they were sort of rivals in these times – but Heye of course was interested in collected everything that was Indian. But Mr. Bliss wanted art objects. A little later Rockefeller came into this, but Bliss was earlier.

EB: So Rockefeller was later.

BB: Yeah.

EB: With the objects that came in, and some left again, do you have a sense of why those that left, left; does that tell you anything about the internal workings of his aesthetic, or his aesthetic sensibility?
BB: I have no – I don’t remember, really, what stayed and what went, now, and I don’t think it was always – I think probably there were one or two things that I thought, “Is he really going to buy that?” And he didn’t. So there was that sort of thing. But I think sometimes it may have been that he simply wasn’t that seriously interested, or something else, something other was offered, and –

EB: Can you talk to us about some of his advisors? Certainly Samuel Lothrop looms large, but I didn’t know whether there were other advisors, or did you have a sense of –?

BB: The other most important one was Matthew Stirling at the Smithsonian. And of course Mr. Bliss was particularly fond of Olmec things. His first piece was Olmec, and he collected a lot of Olmec objects. And Stirling came in often and was very interested. I’ve been looking through things recently to sort of revive my past, and someone had written – maybe, I think in an obituary of Mr. Bliss – it was an archaeologist who wrote this – possibly Clifford Evans – that Mr. Bliss’s main advisors were Lothrop and Stirling, two of the first rigorous American archaeologists. You know archeology, American archaeology was fairly new in those days, and Mr. Bliss got the best people to advise him, and I think that tells you something about him and his taste.

EB: Now Sam Lothrop was based here or in New York?

BB: No, Sam Lothrop was at Harvard.

EB: At Harvard. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

BB: Yeah, yeah.

EB: And of course Mr. Bliss was Harvard.

BB: Yes, yeah. And so Lothrop was influential, and I think we have to talk more about him I guess a little later, because although – well, I can say this now – he was on the advisory committee when the collection first came to Dumbarton Oaks, but he died shortly afterwards. But I think that he advised, after Mr. Bliss’s death – I think Lothrop advised Jack Thacher about setting up the committee and other things like that – people to use.

EB: Great. We can come back to that. But let’s talk about the collection at the National Gallery. Do you have a sense of what the reaction was on the part of the public or the National Gallery insiders to the collection? It was in the basement, I believe, is that correct?

BB: It was in that gallery space between where the restaurant under the dome is now and the central gallery, which was always the temporary exhibition space, the big long gallery. And so a lot of people went through that space, it was not just – we didn’t really think of it as in the basement – there’s a floor or two below that even – but it was in the lower floor just as you come in the Constitution Avenue door. And it stayed there for fifteen years, so the Gallery must have been reasonably happy with it, and I think that the public – it was, I think, a nice change of pace between looking at paintings and looking at paintings. And although the central gallery had other kinds of exhibitions too, but I think it seemed to be very successful there, and I think it surely did widen interest in pre-Columbian art, because a lot of people would go through without really seeing anything, but there were other people who would say, “Hey, that’s pretty interesting,” and it, I think –

EB: Was Mr. Bliss involved very much with the OAS? Because I think I remember the Inka tunic being first published, a fragment of it being published in the Américas magazine. Was this correct?

BB: I wasn’t aware of any particular association. He had – he certainly was interested in Latin America: he had been Ambassador to Argentina, he had traveled in Mexico, and I dearly loved the pictures that James Carder has in his files here of Mr. Bliss on a Mexican trip, standing bare-chested beside his horse or—I don’t know if it was a horse or a donkey he was riding, but – and he’s traveling through Mexico, and of course since I’ve just described how I knew Mr. Bliss, I think this is a marvelous picture of him.

EB: I’ll bet.

BB: But I mean he would have been interested certainly in what the OAS was doing and publishing, but I don’t think he had any special “in” with them.

EB: When the collection was at the National Gallery, were there lectures or programs or anything developed there?

BB: I don’t believe so; I don’t recall anything. I don’t think so.

EB: My other question was, and this is – I’ve just heard a story – probably false, that you and Julie Jones were both at the Gallery when the opportunity to work with Mr. Bliss became available, but also the Rockefeller collection was then being made public, and that one of you decided to come here, and one there. I just heard that story and I never knew that story.

BB: Well, some parts of that are right. Julie and I were at the Gallery at the same time, and we were friends there. I don’t remember – I meant to call her and ask her about this, I don’t remember exactly what her schedule was. But I left the National Gallery at the beginning, I think, of 1961, and went to New York, where I stayed for a year and a half, until I got – actually I was in Maine when I got the phone call from John Thacher, the Director of Dumbarton Oaks, asking me if I would come and set up the collection. And I really came down as a temporary job. I hadn’t intended to stay at Dumbarton Oaks. And Julie at some point – and I can’t remember how this coordinated – went to New York – and I don’t remember whether she first went – she had become interested in the Bliss collection too; that converted both of us, for two people – I don’t remember whether she was first at the Museum of Primitive Art and then started her doctorate at NYU, or the other way around, but I think – I don’t really remember seeing her in New York at that time, so she probably came a little later. I had talked to her about taking over at Dumbarton Oaks when I left, because I had planned to leave, and she had agreed to that. And then I decided that Dumbarton Oaks was a very nice place to stay, and I stayed on. I had to call Julie and say, “Is that all right with you?” and all of this went through Jack Thacher too, of course, but – so that’s that story.

EB: And then she went on to –

BB: Well, she was at the Museum of Primitive Art, and when that collection went to the Metropolitan, she went to the Metropolitan, yeah.

EB: So, when Mr. Bliss was thinking about bringing his collection to Dumbarton Oaks, were you in town at the time, or you were in New York?

BB: Oh, well I think it was always intended to come. He had given Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard. Dumbarton Oaks was their place, their heritage, and the pre-Columbian things would go with that, everything else came, went to Harvard, so –

EB: Do you have a sense of why he chose Philip Johnson to design the Pavilion, or what was the thinking there?

BB: I think the thinking there was John Thacher. Thacher knew Philip Johnson and admired him and was interested in what he was doing, and I think he said to the Blisses, “Look, here is somebody who could do something very interesting here” – something like that. I suspect that’s the way it goes. I have no proof for that except that I think it’s – it just looks like that.

EB: Because it’s interesting to think that the Garden Library and the Johnson Pavilion were being created at the same time in two very different styles.

BB: Yes, yes. No, no, it is interesting, because the Garden Library of course is much more traditional Dumbarton Oaks architecture. And the Philip Johnson wing, I think, looks not quite so much like a modern building in that atmosphere, but like a sort of garden pavilion, and I think it worked in that way. And in fact I think Mrs. Bliss – I think – I can’t remember what the early drawings looked like – but Mrs. Bliss contributed the idea of those little spaces where the plants are – I seem to talk about nothing but Mrs. Bliss’ love for plants, but she did do that. I’m sure that was added; I once saw some of the earlier drawings, and she had added that bit. So, she took to the design.

EB: I had heard they had had a scale model, a half-size model, of one of the pavilions, actually on display in the Music Room for a while. Is that true?

BB: I never knew anything about that. It’s possible, but I – well, it could be, because I don’t remember exactly when that started. Mr. Bliss died – was it in the early, early in’62, he was – Yeah, I don’t remember that. It’s possible, but I find it a little hard to imagine it.

EB: So, but you did get the sense that Mr. and Mrs. Bliss had a fair amount of input into the Johnson building?

BB: Yeah, well she certainly had input into the actual architecture, and I think Mr. Bliss obviously approved the plan, and I’d like to say that I think the Blisses were both very firm-minded people about what they wanted. They were open to ideas, they were open to Thacher’s ideas, they were open – and there’s a lot of this mentioned in the new installation – they were open to Royall Tyler’s ideas. Royall Tyler did introduce them to certain fields and certain things, but they weren’t going to go into that just because Royall Tyler showed this to them. And I think one thing – and this may have something to do with Royall Tyler – the Blisses did choose, in their particular fields of Pre-Columbian and Byzantine, to go into two rather unusual and unoccupied fields, you know. They didn’t start collecting Italian Renaissance painting or more conventional things. They collected fields that were less known, more open, and had much more room for scholarship, because I think they were thinking about that too.

EB: Going back to the Gallery itself, and then I want to talk – see if you could talk a little bit more about Mr. Thacher and Mr. Tyler – do you have a sense of other galleries that Mr. Bliss may have been particularly interested in or could have influenced the design, or is that just –?

BB: I just don’t know, because I was actually away during that period, for one thing.

EB: So, Mr. Bliss actually died before the building was completed.

BB: Yes. He saw it begun, I think, but he did, yeah.

EB: But he wouldn’t have seen the glass and he saw probably the –

BB: I don’t know what he saw, but he would have seen a drawing.

EB: Do you have a sense, or can you characterize Mildred Bliss’s impressions about the Johnson Pavilion, when it – her other responses to it at the time?

BB: When it opened, I think she was very much in favor of it, and as I say she did give Philip Johnson an idea for it, and she seemed to be sort of working with him, and I think she liked the idea.

EB: One of the things that struck me is that the pavilions always had – well, certainly plants in the planter’s sections – but also orchids in the middle of the pavilions, often. Is that a decision that Mrs. Bliss made?

BB: No, no, no. We did that as part of the installation, and maybe we’re approaching the installation now. There are lots of interesting things about that building, and one thing, I’m sure you’ve noticed, are the sound effects. And if you stand on one side and speak across, you sound loud to the person directly opposite to you. If you stand in the middle of the room, you come back at yourself, you scare yourself. Nobody else notices that. But we put things in the middle of the room really to keep people from having this experience of scaring themselves in there. And that’s how the plants got in there. I think all the plants that were in there were in the middle of the room.

EB: Let me ask you a little bit more about Jack Thacher, the first director of Dumbarton Oaks. What was his role in establishing Dumbarton Oaks?

BB: I think in a quiet way he was quite important. He was a person who had ideas of his own, but he worked well with the Blisses. I think it was a good match. They had a lot in common; they respected each other – that is as far as I can tell. And I think he made a lot of things work. He was good at finding people to do things, and he had very good ideas of his own, which were compatible with theirs. And I can’t tell you specific things – except, I think, Philip Johnson – but I think he had a great deal of influence and was a good creative means of putting their ideas in place.

EB: And so did he – so he was the one who called you and said, “Come and help us install and oversee this installation”? Did he also select the designer?

BB: They didn’t have designers in those days. The National Gallery didn’t have a designer in those days. When they hung a show, there was a guy, Fred Wreath, who was very good at hanging paintings, and he knew just how and where to hang them on the wall and in the space, and the curator of the show told him where to – what to put in the rooms, and that was how things – We didn’t have designers. If I may back up slightly on this, when I first – well, we’ll talk maybe about when I came down; before the building was finished I actually came to work for them – but when I first went into the building with Mr. Thatcher – as I called him then – and he took me around, and I said, “It’s a beautiful building. How do you put anything in it?” And we agreed that we didn’t want wooden cases; they would clash with the teak floors. We didn’t want metal cases; they would clash with the metal that was already there. Ideally we would float the objects in space, and about that time I read a newspaper story about an architect who took all his kitchen fixtures and held them up with jets of air. And I thought, you know, that’s what we might be doing, except of course one good power shortage, and we’ve lost everything. So, I think this put the idea in Jack’s head, and he found that, he talked to people at the Smithsonian – this is one of his ways of doing things – and he found out that they had some people on their exhibition staff who were working with clear plastic. And so we – I was going to say, “we borrowed.” I thought we were borrowing; I don’t think he ever went back. James Mayo, Jim Mayo, who came out, who was a sculptor, really – he didn’t get a chance to do much sculpture, but he was that and wanted to do that, and sort of made sculptural stands, I think — but for the installation I with consultation with Michael Coe – we haven’t got him in yet, but he was an important part of deciding what we would put in and where – and Thacher, who was involved in this too, and Jim Mayo, who made the cases and often had ideas about them. I would tell him, “I want a case this size, because we’re going to have these objects in this case,” and then Thacher and I had some arguments about how high the cases should be, and Jack wanted them, you know, proper height for his viewing, and I said, “Now wait a minute, I mean that’s fine for me, but there’re little kids who are going to come in here and look at some of these things,” so we tried to think of it in things that could be seen if they were at an upper level and things that were lower. It’s interesting. I was thinking today looking at this new installation, where almost everything is shown vertically, that that solves a lot of that problem, I think, because most of our things were shown horizontally. But the four people involved in the installation were Thacher and Benson and Coe and Mayo, and that was it. Now Jim Mayo was getting some help, I think, from other Smithsonian people, and one of them was Astor Moore, who later came in here. I – Astor Moore was a familiar face who would occasionally appear with Jim, but I didn’t really know him until he later came here as the cabinetmaker. One thing that Jim Mayo did very well was to glue those cases with glue that did not turn yellow. This we found out – there were two installations that Jim did not do. One was for the Kuna-Lacanha panel – whatever we’re calling it now, the horizontal one – and we had somebody in New York who did lots of cases for museums in New York, and we got him to make that thing. His seams turned yellow; Jim’s never did. Now Chris, who is here now, thinks it was Aston Moore who made that glue that didn’t yellow, that Jim was using. I simply don’t know that. I dealt entirely with Jim Mayo, and who developed that, I don’t know.

EB: So plexi-cases were just coming in, or was it –? I always felt that Dumbarton Oaks was one of the first, if not the first.

BB: I think it was. And I don’t know what the – I don’t think the Smithsonian ever did anything seriously with that. They may have made some vitrines, maybe that kind of thing, but I don’t think they were really into the other. The vitrine Plexiglas and the smaller mounting pieces you could buy by the whatever; the fatter ones had to be specially cast. Somebody mentioned the other day the name of that Plexiglas company, which is still apparently making Plexiglas in Rockville – I can’t think of their name at the moment, but that was – Oh, the other case was the big Palenque sculpture that we were looking at, and that was in three pieces. And somebody had filled out those damaged profiles on the figures, and we decided we wanted them as they were, as they had been, and not with this stuff put on it, but it was very soluble stuff that had been put on. And I remember one day – and this did not happen often – that Jack Thacher got down on the floor, and the two of us were down on the – the pieces were flat on the floor on a piece of canvas –

EB: And this was in the Pavilion?

BB: In the Pavilion. And we had some water and cloths, and we were down there – this stuff came off very easily – we were down there like two kids playing in the sandboxes. But we got somebody else to make that, because that just was not possible to do that in the Plexiglas mounting. It had to be bolted together and it had to be on a stand that would hold it seriously, and so we ordered this – or talked to the people about – this stone thing with the metal frame on the back, and I began to think about weight. How much weight was that floor meant to carry? Because that thing – I’ve forgotten now what it was going to weigh, but it was heavy. So I called up Philip Johnson’s office, and they sort of said, “Well, we don’t know. Call our engineers.” So I called the engineers, and they said that floor is designed to hold a hundred pounds per square inch, and I said, “Now wait a minute. I can go up there and stand on the ball of one foot, and that’s more than a hundred pounds per square inch,” and they said, “Well, yes, but that’s live weight; this is dead weight.” So, we had the thing made and we put it up there, and I must say that for a long time afterwards, every time I would go into what was then the Coin Room, where Alfred Bellinger had a desk right under that sculpture, and I would go and look at the ceiling above Alfred’s head. But those were some of the installation things. Philip Johnson – or I think it was probably someone in his office – designed a mock-up of a case. It was a round case about five feet wide, I guess, to go in the center of a room, and it was put in that room of the gallery, and I walked in there and I thought, “Uh-oh. This is just like being on a merry-go-round. This frame will not work.”

EB: Was it plexi, or –?

BB: I’ve forgotten. It was just something that they’d made as a mock-up. I think it was probably wood and something –

EB: – something else.

BB: Well, that was when I began to realize that that building is a square building. It’s made of circles, but it’s square, and it wants its squareness emphasized with anything you put in it. And this I kept saying to –

EB: So, that’s why you have the Palenque panel at one end and the Teotihuacan mural at the other end, in many ways sort of squaring off those –

BB: Yeah, well, because – well, one reason we put those in those places is that I think it’s sort of an attracting view. It draws your attention to have a big object at the end of your view and to go toward that, but those things should be that way anyway, and most of the cases – you can get away with the occasional diagonal case – but most of the cases we put flush with what would be the straight wall.

EB: So, Mr. Thacher found Jim Mayo.

BB: He found him. He found him, yeah.

EB: Now, I wanted to ask you about the opening, but you’ve mentioned Michael Coe several times, and he was so – I know we’ll talk about him later regarding the program – but it might be important to talk about his influence and his advice now about the installation and the collection.

BB: Yeah. He of course was not here, but he came down a couple of times, and he and I together went over the pieces that we did very much want to show and then talked about what should go with what, and he of course knew much more about these things than I did. So, he was invaluable on that.

EB: How was he chosen? Or how did he come to be a major advisor?

BB: He was the advisor; that was his title. And he was appointed early on, and I assume – he had been a student of Gordon Willey’s – and I assume that this was Jack Thacher and Lothrop probably asking Willey, maybe, something like that. I think that’s how he came in. He was at Yale but he had been at Harvard.

EB: So, did he advise Mr. Bliss also toward the end?

BB: No, no, no. Mr. Bliss died before Mike came on the scene. I’m quite sure there was no association there.

EB: So, are there other decisions about the aesthetics of the installation that would be interesting to highlight?

BB: Well, we simply tried to make things look as good as possible and to think of them as handsome objects and to show them off to their best advantage. I was thinking about the order that we did that in, and people say, you know, “Why do you come in on Aztec?” And Miriam and Juan Antonio asked this when they were starting the installation. And our idea, I’m pretty sure, was that you’ve just come from Byzantium, and this was what was going on in the New World at the same time, so you were in a totally different part of the world, but in the same era. And so, what they’ve done now – which I think is neat – they’ve also got some Inka things, as well as Aztec, in that room. And then we put Teotihuacan next door, I think partly because that mural is a good drawing card into that room and partly because it relates to Aztec as an important Central Mexican culture. And then Olmec is still in that next room, which throws you a little bit chronologically, but the two new people didn’t think of any better way to do that, I think.

EB: Well, the Mayan needs that far room.

BB: And well, that again was – putting the big sculpture at the end of the room was a way of drawing, I think. You’ve got to be drawn in by some big things, because there are an awful lot of little things in that collection, and that gets a little dull.

EB: Should we talk about the opening a little bit?

BB: Yeah.

EB: Do you want to take a break?

BB: We might as well go on, I guess.

EB: OK.

BB: The opening was scheduled for December of ’63, I think. I hope I’ve got the dates right. And not very long before that, of course, Kennedy was assassinated, and they had planned a more, you know – an elegant dinner party, and I don’t know what else, a much more elaborate opening for it. There’s somebody else I should mention in this too – is Thomas Baird, who is somebody I had known at the National Gallery when he was a Fellow there, and Tom was an art historian, but he was basically – he was a novelist. But for a while he went to museums that needed a curator for some special time to another. He ended up teaching at Trinity in Hartford, but he was at Dumbarton Oaks about the time of the installation, and I know he was there at the time of the opening. He probably contributed some ideas to that installation too. I don’t remember exactly when he came in, but I think of him at this moment because we sent out – invitations had been sent out for the big thing, which was being cancelled or reduced, and we had to send out a notice about this – and Tom, as a writer, was sort of in charge of writing this notice. And we all got into this big hassle over prepositions, which are always the most difficult part of any language, of course, you know, it was, “out of respect for,” or – so I remember that he was present and involved at that time. So, there were still a lot of people. President Pusey came down from Harvard, and I walked through the galleries with him before the crowd came in. And I’m not sure what he made of it; it wasn’t probably exactly to his primary taste, but he was always very good about what we wanted to do. And – I might as well throw this in now – that later, when we had the first conference, and Jack Thacher wrote an introduction, a preface to that Olmec conference volume, and he sort of as a courtesy sent it – his copy, his writing – to President Pusey, and Pusey wrote back and said, “That’s fine, except I don’t think you ought to call it the first in the series; you may never have another.” And as you know, we’ve had a conference every year since then, and they have all sooner or later been published. But anyway – But that was the only thing he worried about. It was a festive opening, it was a good party, I think a little subdued because of the circumstances. But it was – another thing – I think about these things in terms of the new installation where they have new ultraviolet filtering walls, which make differences in the light, but I think we had decided to have curtains. I know we had to have curtains in there anyway, which we used when the sun was coming in too strongly, and we realized at that first opening, which was in the evening, that we also needed in there at night the curtains drawn, because if you walked toward those curved windows in that lighted room, you looked like yourself coming at yourself in a funhouse mirror. And so there are always these little practical considerations in that – but that was one thing we learned. Oh, another thing we did that night – and I think this was sort of too hard to keep up – we put spotlights outside to light up the things so –

EB: – in the woodland?

BB: In the woodland, on the trees and things, so that they would outweigh the reflections. And I think that worked pretty well, but the keeping up of the spotlights was too much for later evenings, when it’s open for concert time and that sort of thing.

EB: There used to be bird cutouts in the woods.

BB: There was a problem with that glass corridor to the main building, because birds would try to fly through that glass, and they tried planting up around it, they tried – they were cutouts of hawks. They were trying to scare them, frighten them away from going through the glass. Yeah, that was a problem. Oh, there was another wildlife problem, and I meant to see what they’re doing now. But the first day I was in my office, there are these deep window wells, and there was a bird – I think it was a mocking bird – who got down in there, and who could not fly straight enough, long enough to get out. So, I called for help, and the gardeners came and put a ladder down in there, and the mocking bird simply flew up to one rung of the ladder and then flew off into the sky. So, they put little ladders in there; they were probably there when you were there. There was another time when a raccoon got down in there.

EB: I remember those squirrel – I used to call them “squirrel ladders.”

BB: No, they were put in really as bird ladders, but I guess the squirrels –

EB: Let’s take a little break. Do you mind?

BB: Fine. Can we break, Joe?

EB: Joe, we’re taking a break. [tape ends and then restarts]

EB: This is an interview with Elizabeth Benson, the second tape, May 13, 2008. I’m Elizabeth Boone. It’s being recorded by Joe Mills, and we’re in the Fellows Building of Dumbarton Oaks. Betty, we’ve talked about the first installation, we’ve talked about the opening. Certainly the collection did not remain static, but there were acquisitions and de-accessions a few. So, I was wondering if you could talk about how you continued to acquire selectively and shaped the collection and what was your thinking about that.

BB: My basic rule of thinking was to ask myself, “Would Mr. Bliss like this piece?” Mr. Bliss had not acquired his objects with the idea of having an example of this thing and that thing and the other thing and all of the things that he should. He was interested in buying fine objects, usually of fine materials, finely worked. And this was the way he did things. So, I tried to keep that in mind. He had acquired very few ceramic pieces. And I began acquiring ceramics because this was the time when fine Maya ceramics were beginning to appear. There hadn’t been very many up until that time. So, that was one thing that I did. But I acquired other pieces that I thought, “He would like this, he would have bought this.” And again, we weren’t trying to do a sort of well-rounded thing, necessarily. It was nice if a good piece came up from a culture that we didn’t have well represented, and OK, that’s fine – but that’s more or less what we were doing.

EB: Someone described Mr. Bliss – and perhaps it was you – who described him as a “polished stone man” [BB laughs]. Maybe that was Gordon Willey and I can’t remember.

BB: That’s certainly true. He liked gold too. But polished stone – he was a polished stone man – that’s very true, yes.

EB: Did he acquire any ceramics himself?

BB: A few, yeah. There’s a Maya round polychrome bowl and there’s that carved creamy-colored clay bowl – that’s a round one too. There were a few that he had, but not many. We acquired most of them.

EB: How were your acquisitions funded?

BB: There was money – I’ve forgotten how much – in the budget for acquisitions. And sometimes that was fine. When we’d already spent some money and there was something that Mike and I thought was very good, and that we should have – he looked at everything that I got and we did this together. But if there wasn’t any money, I’d go to Jack Thacher and say, “We want to acquire this,” show him this piece, and he would go to Mrs. Bliss, I think – I never did that. I’d shown her a number of pieces that we wanted and she knew that I knew and so forth, but it was Thacher who made the arrangements for that. And there was one time – I think I only did this once – and I went to Thatcher and I said, “I want to buy this piece.” And he said, “Talk to Sue Boyd, she just was going to get a piece and somebody else got it ahead of her,” or something like that. It was near the end of the fiscal year. So I got Byzantine money for one piece.

EB: Did she want it back the next year?

BB: No, no, she was very good about it. We got on quite well. That was the only time I ever asked her for anything.

EB: So, Mrs. Bliss saw all the pieces that you acquired, or just a few?

BB: I think we showed her all of them probably, maybe it was more than just a few. We may not have showed her every single piece, but most pieces we did. She came over for tea almost every day, not absolutely, but usually. Tea was served every afternoon at Dumbarton Oaks in the good old days in the hall of the old house in the round part that looks out over the garden—in the hallway, the center of the hallway opposite the main front door. And she would very often come for tea and sit down at the tea table where the urn was. We poured our own tea but she was sitting there. And so sometimes when she was here for that reason we would show her something at that time. And she came in at other times too.

EB: You mentioned showing her a mask.

BB: Yes, this was towards the end of her life – in one of her last illnesses – and she was in Sibley Hospital, and the late Maya mosaic mask was something we very much wanted. And she would have to get it for us. So Jack Thacher and I put it in a box, a shoebox, or a picnic basket or something, carefully wrapped with cloth and tissue paper, and carried it over. Jack had a very good driver named Albert, and Albert drove us very smoothly over to Sibley Hospital. And we took this into her room, and she was lying in the bed, and we showed her the mask. And as we were showing her this thing which she approved of and bought, a nurse came in. The poor nurse had never seen anything like this. What were we doing to her patient? – showing her this very scary strange thing.

EB: And it had canine teeth?

BB: Yes, but I guess nurses have seen everything along the lines – so she recovered pretty quickly. But we got the piece.

EB: Who were the principal dealers with whom – or the principal sources – from whom you acquired the material? Are there any that dealt in particular kinds of things more than others?

BB: That’s a good question. I’m not so sure about that. There were generally more Maya things around – at least, that were offered to us – I don’t know. Mr. Bliss had got things from Earl Stendhal and then his son Al Stendhal – we got occasionally something from him. Mr. Bliss had also dealt with John Wise who died shortly after I arrived – but I think we did get something from Wise. I don’t even remember from whom we got exactly all these things. But the dealers we dealt with mostly probably were Ed Merrin, Alphonse Jax, André Emmerich a little bit. Who else? We got a few things from John Stokes. That’s about it that I think of at the moment. Oh, I have to tell an Ed Merrin story. Ed Merrin brought something down to show us one day. I think it was a Maya vase. And he brought with him his young son who is now the head of the Merrin Gallery. And the kid was then about – his head was just above my desk level. And they – Ed came and sat across the desk from me and put this vase out, and the kid was standing there, and he said, “That cost $100.” And I said, “I’ll take it.” [laughs] And Ed – there was this momentary look of terror going across Ed Merrin’s face, you know –

EB: – because he was going to charge you much more.

BB: Oh, he was going to charge me enormously much more.

EB: Did you get it for $100?

BB: No, I did not. No, I relaxed him fairly quickly. But it was a moment that – I told Ed that story not too long ago.

EB: So, there was the sense that you had the funds to acquire within reason?

BB: Yeah, we didn’t have vast amounts but we could, if there was something.

EB: Were there any challenges – what were the major challenges to continuing to build a collection? I mean, were you in competition for works with other museums and individuals?

BB: Yeah, there of course were other people out there who were buying – many of them. I wasn’t – once at an auction, I was bidding against somebody who was bidding for me – Glassell, that’s the name of the Texas guy who built a big collection of mostly gold pieces. So, I was aware of him because he outbid me. But I think Rockefeller, of course, was collecting at that time, but I think he had his little world and we didn’t – there was no obvious competition there. And there were a lot of other people, but I was very rarely aware of kind of “so-and-so had seen that” or “so-and-so is going to get it away from us.”

EB: I am going to bring up the issue of cultural patrimony and how that affected collecting practices within Dumbarton Oaks and elsewhere. And maybe we could introduce a new – You are a member of a panel on the International Movement of National Art Treasures which was set up by the American Society of International Law in 1969–70. Can you tell us a little about this?

BB: Let me back up just slightly to your previous remark because that whole thing had not yet become a real issue when we were buying. Mr. Bliss always said that he never bought anything in the country of origin. And he did buy almost everything in New York, I think. He bought few things in Europe. But toward the end of the late ’60s, it was beginning to be obvious that this was going to be an issue. So that committee – that panel – was set up to advise the State Department lawyers who were then working on the treaty with Mexico and the UNESCO Convention. And that panel was interesting. Cliff Evans was on that, and he was very adamant. Clemency Coggins came on towards the end. She was not there at the beginning. And of course, those – Cliff may have died during that time. But there were lots of different kinds of opinions on this, and it was interesting what came out of the panel. Ernest Feidler, who was the General Counsel, I think, for the National Gallery at that time, I think he’s – no, or was he administrator – he was a lawyer, anyway. And he had previously had some experience with Chinese things, and somebody brought this thing that there should be certificates for everything that went out of a country. And Ernest Feidler said, “Look, they did that in China and all they did was create a large business in fake certificates.” So, many things of this kind came up – and the fact is that a lot of this thing is so much a part of the national economy of those countries. The little guy finds it and he gets some money from the guy who handles this, who gets some money from the guy who sells it to the dealer and – so, it was a very complex thing but it was fascinating and very interesting. But I could see that our buying days were just about over so – but we got some good things.

EB: Did the committee of Harvard museums or the consortium of Harvard museums have any impact on this?

BB: I didn’t exactly think of it that way, and I wasn’t so aware of those. But what I did realize was that Harvard was sort of watching us and was not going to let us do much after these things came into effect. I thought of it more in terms of their archaeological digging licenses, which was understandable, and we didn’t want to be lousing them up if they couldn’t get their licenses because we were buying objects. But that came really in 1970 on. But I’m sure that – that was certainly a part of it and it was part of our thinking.

EB: What about de-accessions? Did you –?

BB: I did very little of that, I think. There was something – I don’t remember what it was – but there was something that Earl Stendhal had sold Mr. Bliss, I think, shortly before Mr. Bliss died. And I can’t remember – I don’t remember what it was, whether –

EB: – mosaic mask with bad teeth –?

BB: Oh, there was that mosaic mask. Now, was that the Stendhal thing? That was one, yes.

EB: – bought by a woman some time ago and acquired later. I thought that was traded out for the little Maya mask, the mosaic mask.

BB: Well, there were a couple of things that we did trade out from it. I’m a little foggy on those. Because that Maya sculpture that is not very well carved – we’ve never shown it – it was downstairs. It can’t even be called a stele – it’s carved, it’s stone with rather faint carving on it. But it was real, at least, and we got that in exchange for something that was not real – or whether it was not real or whether it had been overworked later or whatever – but there were not many things of that kind, probably maybe three.

EB: Because there used to be a little cupboard downstairs. Well, not a little cupboard, but a cupboard where things were stored and there were a couple of trays –

BB: – in your office?

 

EB: – in your office, your office. There were a couple of trays, and I always just called it the “fakes cupboard.”

BB: Well, I guess they were questionable. What I remember that was – there were lots of jade beads and that kind of thing, which I think were perfectly good. But how do you install batches of jade beads? I think, you know, Mr. Bliss bought a big box of jade beads and took the best ones out for exhibition and the rest of them, I think, were OK. It was that kind of thing that was in there and there were some questionable objects, which I have happily forgotten.

EB: I have always found them fascinating, and even if they were fake, they were quite good – I mean, aesthetically.

BB: Yes.

EB: So, you didn’t de-accession very much.

BB: Not very much, no, no.

EB: Let’s talk a little about the kind of advice you got from Mike Coe on the collection. You worked really in collaboration – very closely with him. Is that correct?

BB: Yes. Well, Mike was a scholar in the field, which I was not at that point, really. I was beginning to be, I guess, but – Well, I called Mike fairly often about various things, and we worked together on all the accessions. We worked together on the installation – except that he was not here. He put in a good deal of information and then those of us who were here, did it, pretty much, without any more going on that. We worked together on the handbook that we put out at that time. And that was what we did in the early days.

EB: So, he would come down fairly often? Or –

BB: Well, it depended on what was going on and what the need was.

EB: It seems now you had what we would consider an extraordinary amount of freedom to kind of shape – and we’ll talk about the program later – to shape the collection and to essentially do what you wanted –

BB: I did, yes.

EB: – within reason and with advice and this and that. It must have been quite thrilling.

BB: I did, I did. We’ll talk about the Advisory Committee later, I guess, but I did use them for things that I was buying.

EB: So they advised – the Advisory Committee also advised on the purchases?

BB: Yes, because, Gordon Ekholm and Junius Bird at the Museum of Natural History in New York – they looked at things for all kinds of people. One covered Mexico and the other covered Peru. So, almost anything I bought, I would show to Gordon Ekholm, say, or I would call Gordon and say, “Have you see this thing that so-and-so has?” And he said, “Yes, I have and I think it’s good.” And I said, “OK.” Or I would traipse up to New York with this. So, we used these people in that way because I wanted to have as much backing as possible. And they were the two best people, really.

EB: So, what a wonderful team! Mike Coe, Junius Bird, Gordon Ekholm, and you.

BB: Yes. Well, it worked pretty well.

EB: I think we’re coming to an end of our discussion of the collection itself. Do you have any sense of where the collection stands in relation to other collections – private or public?

BB: It is smaller than a lot of collections, yet it’s big enough to be shown as an entity and as a thing with various kinds of things in it. It is a particularly fine collection, I think. It’s been collected from that point of view. And it has a kind of special character. It has most of the important kinds of things, but I think it’s a very kind of beautiful introduction to pre-Columbian art for people who haven’t seen it before – it’s the finest thing to see first. And also if you know pre-Columbian art, it’s a real treat, and it’s quite special in that way.

BB: And in some ways the Johnson gallery shares the same kind of character – characteristics – as the collection.

EB: I was just sort of thinking this as you were saying that because I think that the building is certainly part of the experience. And all together, it reflects the Blisses’ tastes and interests and ability to do the kind of thing that meant something to them and to other people.

BB: Thank you. Do you have any other thoughts you want to add?

EB: Not at the moment.

BB: It’s a good way to end.

EB: Thank you very much.

BB: Thank you. Thank you, Joe. [tape ends and then restarts]

EB: This is an interview with Elizabeth Benson. My name is Elizabeth Boone. It’s May 16, 2008. We’re taping in the Fellows Building at Dumbarton Oaks. Betty, let’s talk today, or begin talking, about the scholarly program in Pre-Columbian Studies. Was Mr. Bliss himself interested in establishing the scholarly program – or a scholarly program?

BB: Of course, I never talked about the Pre-Columbian scholarly program with Mr. Bliss, because he had died by the time I came to Dumbarton Oaks. But judging from the history of the Byzantine collection and center for studies, I think he would have been quite delighted – and also from his interest in pre-Columbian things. But I think he was rather proud of the fact that the Byzantine center here became Harvard’s center for Byzantine studies and a very serious thing. And he was indeed interested in pre-Columbian studies, and I – still, I think I talked about this a little bit before – but I think he and Mrs. Bliss deliberately collected things that were open for scholarly research, that a great deal had not been done in, so they were rather new and wide-open fields.

EB: Can you characterize the field of pre-Columbian studies at the time that you started this program?
BB: It was a very small field at that time. I think I emphasized before Mr. Bliss’s interest in pre-Columbian objects as art, and there were a few art historians who were still in training – in school, but up to that time, really, George Kubler was about the only art historian who was involved in pre-Columbian things. He was more involved in colonial, but he certainly had considerable interest in the pre-Columbian world. So, it was a field that was just beginning to come along, I think.

EB: How did the program begin? Was it a conference, a fellowship, or publications, or –

BB: I think I can say it began when I asked Mike Coe if he would give the first public lecture at Dumbarton Oaks, and he said, yes, he would, if I would publish it.

EB: Oh, really.

BB: So began the publishing program, and that was the first issue of Dumbarton Oaks Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology.

EB: And how soon was this after you came, or after the collection was installed?

BB: I think it was probably within the year. I don’t remember the exact date.

EB: Do you – did you have a sense from the beginning, did you have a sense of a mission, or –?

BB: I guess at some level I did. I don’t exactly think of it that way because things simply began to develop, and I got more and more interested and more involved. And there became more things that might be done, and I think I did – I certainly realized that this was something that was quite new then, and so, in that sense, yes.

EB: And maybe we should talk a little bit about the conferences. The first conference was the Dumbarton Oaks conference on the Olmec. How did the conferences begin?

BB: The conferences –

EB: Did you have a goal, and why?

BB: I didn’t have a goal, but Mike Coe was working on the Olmec site at San Lorenzo, and Robert Heizer and California people, from the University of California, were working at La Venta, and these were two major Olmec sites. And also at that time, carbon-14 had just come into being, and there were still people at the time of that Olmec conference who thought that Olmec was later than Maya. And so it was exactly the right moment to have that conference, and I think that was the main reason – not to start a series of conferences, really, but just to catch that moment and talk about it.

EB: How big – could you characterize it for us as a conference? Because my sense is that it was very different from the kind of conferences that are held today.

BB: Yeah. I had the idea – of course, again, the field was much smaller than it is now – but I had the idea that all of the people in the audience – we had an invited audience – should know just about as much about the subject as the people who were giving the papers. And I built in long discussion periods, which we taped, and we published several of those. I think that was – it was a problem to get somebody to transcribe the tape – but we published the Olmec one, and we published, I think, several later ones, and some good material came out in those published discussion periods. But that was my idea in having the small meeting, and of course, as I say, the field was so much smaller then, it was easier to do than it would be now.

EB: So this was a small group of invited scholars.

BB: Right. They were all invited. I did that all along.

EB: Was there a sense that this, the first conference, would be the beginning of a series, or –?

BB: Well, this was interesting, because John Thacher, the director, wrote a preface for the Olmec volume, and he said in it, mentioned something about the first pre-Columbian conference at Dumbarton Oaks, and he sent a copy to Derek Bok, the President of Harvard, just to sort of let him know –

EB: It was Pusey.

BB: Oh, I’m sorry! I’m sorry. Dear! Nathan Pusey. I’m thinking ahead.

EB: Derek Bok was later – he was a professor at Harvard for so long.

BB: No, well he came into our picture later on, but it was Nathan Pusey at that time, and Thacher sent this preface to sort of let President Pusey know what was going on, and the only comment that Pusey had was that – did we really want to call it the first conference because we might not have another one. Well, as you know as well as I do, that every year since 1965 or 6, we have had a pre-Columbian conference, and they’ve all sooner or later been published.

EB: The second conference was on Chavin. Was there a reason that that was selected? Did you see that as a – in comparison with the Olmec?

BB: Yeah, it was a good comparison with the Olmec, because it was contemporary with the Olmec, in Peru, and also there was work going on at Chavin, which was revealing a lot of new information about Chavin. Richard Lumbreras [sic: Luís G. Lumbreras] was working there, and we invited him to speak. He didn’t come – I think he had political reasons for not wanting to come – but Hernán Amat came, and that was more of a problem of getting papers for that conference than for others. But it worked well, I think. It was a good balance for Olmec and sort of a logical thing to do after Olmec, I think.

EB: It’s interesting that the Chavin conference never had the impact on the field that the Olmec one – well, well I say that as a Mesoamericanist – but certainly the Olmec conference was so fundamental to the development of Olmec studies.

BB: Well I think it was, and it was in large part because of the timing. It was just a critical moment in those studies, and there’s also something else about those meetings, in particular the Olmec one. We set that up, and I think the others too, for all day Saturday, and several people responded and said, “Yes, I would like to come, and if there’s any time, I would like to talk about something I’ve been working on.” So, Sunday morning became the volunteer paper session, and we taped those, as well as the discussion periods, and one thing – one paper in the Olmec Conference, I think, is probably one of the most significant papers, and that was Peter Furst’s were-jaguar paper, which had a tremendous impact on a lot of people, so it was not only the importance of archaeology, but some of these slightly side issues. And that was something I liked to do, and the thing I was doing anyway, was to do not just straight archaeology, but to concentrate on things that would reveal something about the art, for one thing. But this could come from all sorts of sources, and it could come often from ethnography, so I liked to think about bringing in a many-faceted kind of work.

EB: I’m trying to remember the first – I think the first conference I ever attended was the Late Post-Classic Central Mexico one in ’78, and I think there were still Sunday morning volunteer papers.

BB: Uh-huh. I think we did that straight through. At first it sort of happened – it happened by accident, but then we kind of planned it. And people knew about it and could come in, yeah.

EB: Did you have problems with people – because it was always invitational – did you have – how did you deal with the issue of people wanting to come and there not being room or their not having a sufficient scholarly background or interest, or –?

BB: There was very little problem with that. Once or twice people who wanted to come – and you know, you just have to handle that as it comes, but there wasn’t very much of that. I should mention that these things did not always go perfectly smoothly. The Chavin conference – I invited a number of people – there were people who either didn’t approve of each other professionally or had had some personal problems, and I thought, “Oh, my Lord, what have I gotten into? What’s going to happen?” And I had a very pregnant assistant at that time and I said, “Penny, if these people start throwing things at each other, I’m going to put you in the middle.” But I counted on the civilized environment of Dumbarton Oaks, and everybody behaved beautifully.

EB: Were the conferences always in the Music Room?

BB: The conferences were always in the Music Room. I think I mentioned – I guess there was one – because one year when the Byzantine books were being moved around because they were building new shelving for them. And they were in the Music Room, and what I remember is not so much the conferences, although I think we actually held those also in the Orangerie, in the Garden. And I had checked out there that there was indeed sufficient electricity coming in and there was heat and we would be all right there in October. And what I remember about this is that Junius Bird gave the public lecture just before the meeting the night before or the afternoon before, and it had to be night because it had to be dark for him to be in the Orangerie and show slides, and the bats came out in the ceiling of the Orangerie, and it was quite wonderful to have these bats flying around, and Junius loved it, and it was good.

EB: So did the first conference also have a public lecture at the beginning because it was the Saturday conference and then the Friday public lecture. I was wondering when that started.

BB: I think that started – I’m not absolutely sure it was the first conference, but we certainly did that quite regularly, at least after that.

EB: Now you had conferences in October, always in October, and was it for a particular reason, or –?

BB: It simply seemed to be a good time. For one thing, the Byzantine symposium was in May, and the Garden one was in the spring, and it seemed nicer to balance it out in the fall, and also the fall seemed to be a good time to get people in this field together. That seemed to work well. We started out having them the last weekend in October, and after we’d had a few of these, I realized that the gardeners by that time had already put all the plants in the Orangerie for the winter, and they had to get them out again so that we could have luncheon there, so I moved it up to the weekend before, and then they could just put the plants in once.

EB: Now one conference – the joint conference with the Textile Museum, the Junius Bird textile conference – was in May, and that was an extra.

BB: That was an extra, that was, yeah. Yes, that was not in the regular series.

EB: Was that held here?

BB: I think that was held in both places. I think part of it was here and part there.

EB: Did you have other smaller gatherings, round tables, or –? Actually, the conferences themselves were fairly small.

BB: The conferences themselves were fairly small. I didn’t have any regular or irregular roundtable things. The one thing that I did do was after the first Palenque roundtable that Merle Greene Robertson organized in late ’73 – that was a very exciting meeting, because Floyd Lounsbury was a Fellow here, and he and I went down there together. He had not really – he had just begun to look at the inscriptions on monuments. He’d been working with the codices, and down there he got together with Linda Schele, who was quite new in the field but had been working on these things, and Peter Mathews, a student of Dave Kelley’s at Calgary – he was then an undergraduate at Calgary – and the three of them worked on this and got the first Palenque king list, which was –

EB: Here at Dumbarton Oaks?

BB: No, this was in Palenque, at Merle Greene Robertson’s house. And that was a small meeting too. And so I was keyed up by that, and toward the end of the year, I had some extra money in the fund, in the fiscal year, and I decided that I would try to get together all the people who had worked on the Palenque inscriptions, and those people came, plus Dave Kelley, and Tatiana Proskouriakoff, who had done some very important work with inscriptions at other sites. She was really one of the first people to start working on this kind of thing. She was the first person. And that meeting did not go well at all. I hadn’t structured it, and Tania sort of looked at this young whippersnapper, Linda Schele, across the table from her, and – that didn’t go, and not much got said, and the next day I said to Floyd, “We’ve got to structure this” – Floyd Lounsbury was here. And so it was a little better Sunday morning. And then many people went home, and the others who hadn’t booked early planes or were staying the night were sort of talking two by two or looking at books or something, and all of a sudden they were all down on the floor by a copy of Maudsley, and they got a new glyph, and each one of them knew or saw something that the others didn’t. And I thought, “This is why I did this.”

EB: So who were those people down on the floor?

BB: This was Dave Kelley and Floyd Lounsbury and Linda Schele and Peter Mathews. And I got them together several other times, and then they started getting themselves together. But those were the only mini-meetings I had.

EB: There were a series of meetings, weren’t there?

BB: Yeah, I don’t remember exactly how many times I got them, but whenever a moment seemed right, I would do this again. And Dave Kelley was in Europe on a sabbatical, and he flew back for the weekend for this meeting, and he walked in the door a few minutes later, and Linda said, “We’ve just decided that this glyph is such and such,” and Dave said, “I want to know why each of you thinks that.” They were won – this is why they worked together so wonderfully. They were absolutely open, and it was great. And I think it did help the field along.

EB: Because that really was the moment when the breakthroughs in Maya epigraphy began, wasn’t it?

BB: Yes, it was just about then, yeah.

EB: And so Dumbarton Oaks – you were the catalyst for it.

BB: Well, they would have gotten somewhere anyway, because it was beginning, but I think these meetings did help, and we did get some new material and a little more impetus.

EB: So Floyd was a Fellow here. Was Linda ever a Fellow?

BB: Yes, yes.

EB: And Peter Mathews?

BB: Peter was never a Fellow, no, no.

EB: Maybe we should talk about the fellowship program. How did – since we talked about Floyd Lounsbury being a Fellow – how did this program begin? Or did it begin as a program?

BB: Well, I think we looked around, and I thought, “The Byzantines have Fellows and the Garden people have Fellows, and maybe we should have” – I didn’t say Fellows, I think, at first, because I couldn’t figure out where we could put one Fellow, in the space outside my office that later got enclosed, but that was open before we put a desk there.

EB: Oh, so it was that wide space, what I call the wide space in the hall.

BB: Yeah. It was a room-sized hall. And so when the Advisory Committee met that fall, we told them that we thought we would like to have a Fellow, and this – we didn’t have anybody in mind; we hadn’t done anything about this, and Gordon Ekholm got up and said, “Well, I don’t mean to push this, but my son-in-law has just finished his doctorate, and he’s working on Teotihuacan murals.” And this was Arthur Miller, and he was our first Fellow. And that’s how he got there.

EB: Is it? That’s very interesting. I didn’t know that.

BB: Yeah, so –

EB: But of course the topic was perfect for Dumbarton Oaks.

BB: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

EB: And –

BB: Sometimes we – the next year – I’m not sure how those people came, and I think they had heard about it – and it was Kano, from Japan. I think he got here or found out about it because Seiichi Izumi had been here; he had been working at Kotosh, and he was here for the Chavin conference, so he knew about Dumbarton Oaks. And I think that Kano, Chiaki Kano, knew it from that way. And the other person was Jeff Wilkerson, and I’m not sure whether he inquired, or whether there was some special reason for him.

EB: Where was he trained? Was he Harvard?

BB: Wilkerson? He was Tulane.

EB: Oh, pardon me. For some reason I thought he was Harvard.

BB: I’m pretty sure he was Tulane. I can check that. And then the next year we invited Floyd Lounsbury. So sometimes –

EB: Oh I see. He came as a Visiting Scholar.

BB: He came as a Visiting Scholar.

EB: And Joyce Marcus was here as a Junior Fellow.

BB: Yes, she was just finishing her doctorate. And she came – I’m sure she found out about it through Gordon Willey. She was a student of Gordon’s.

EB: Did you have a sense of the fellow – did you see the fellowships as being targeted to a particular, let’s say, interest demographic, or specific areas of interest or disciplines?

BB: I wanted them to have something to do with the art, which could be almost anything, and otherwise I think we simply wanted good and interesting people who would produce some good work. And we hoped that some things they could do we would publish, and we did do that, occasionally, at least. They were often working on something bigger than we were doing. But we didn’t have the specific thing in mind.

EB: How were the Fellows chosen, I mean, once the program was up and running?

BB: Well, for a while, it was – I think there were people who found out about it and applied. I don’t think we did much in the way of any kind of public announcement, and sometimes it was an invitational thing. The year that – there was, Linda Schele – it doesn’t show there, but she may not have had a fellowship – but she was here at one time when Floyd was here, but then she was back. She was here as a proper Fellow when Robert Rands was here because she was working on the Palenque. Well, she had been working with the excavation people at Palenque, and she did that book that we published on the contents of the storerooms at Palenque, and she may have been working on that when Rands was here, because he was working with the Palenque ceramics.

EB: So they were both here.

BB: They were both here at the same time. And that was an invitation thing.

EB: Now before that Rosemary Sharp at the time was a Bliss Fellow. I don’t – does that mean anything?

BB: Well, I noticed in the list that Joanne gave me that several people had Bliss Fellow, and I had never heard that before. We had essentially Junior Fellows and Senior Fellows and Visiting Scholars, and it’s fine to call them a Bliss Fellow, and maybe that’s – I don’t know when – that must have come in at a certain time, but that was new to me.

EB: So the Fellows were housed in what we used to call the Pre-Columbian basement? I mean, their offices were there.

BB: Yeah. I think once, at least once, we used a spare study in the Garden Library wing, when they had extra room. And then when Bob Van Nice, who had been in charge of the Santa Sofia project and had that big room in which they had been doing big drawings of Santa Sofia—he finished that project. We got that space eventually, which housed Fellows. I guess there was space for three Fellows in there in addition to the Library stacks. And we also got the room in the northeast corner on the other side of the Pre-Columbian Library, which the coin people had used before, so we put Fellows in there. So gradually we found room for them, but at the beginning, it was limited.

EB: You really had almost no space.

BB: That’s true, yeah.

EB: You mentioned – and this is regressing a little bit; we’re talking about space – you mentioned when you first arrived at Dumbarton Oaks some of the Byzantinists coming in to see you.

BB: Oh, I was amused, because I had just come into this office, our desk was on order – I think my desk was something like a door on sawhorses at that point – and I had just come into this strange world, and I looked up, and here were these three rather exotic-looking faces in the doorway. One was Romilly Jenkins, who was a Byzantine professor here and later was Director of Studies after Ernst Kitzinger, and one was a tall Danish man – I don’t remember his name – and the other was a wonderful Welshman, who became a very good friend, who – his name was John St. Bodfan Gruffydd, and he had a – I think it was a Jaguar – sports car, which he used to leave open, so that people could look at it, because it was a treasure. He wore a Sherlock Holmes hat when he was driving in this thing, and he was a marvelous character, a delightful person – but there he was welcoming me. They were looking very curious about what was going on in that room.

EB: Where were the Fellows housed?

BB: The Fellows – there was an apartment house up the hill near the Russian Embassy that was where Dumbarton Oaks rented apartments for Fellows for many years. Yes, and even occasionally people would stay in this building, in the Fellows Building.

EB: So when Arthur Miller came, was he – were there apartments up there then, or –?

BB: I think he was up there then, yeah. Yeah.

EB: Did the Pre-Columbian Fellows give research reports or informal talks?

BB: No, there wasn’t that. That hadn’t started yet. I think it was Giles Constable who started that.

EB: And what was there – can you say something about the relationship to the fellowship program in Pre-Columbian vis-à-vis the other fellowship programs?
BB: By and large, they usually stay pretty much to themselves, in my experience. There’ve been a couple of examples. Richard Townsend, who was working on that Aztec garden site, got along very well with the Garden Fellows and liked to talk to them about this project, and that was a nice rapport. The most interesting person, I think, was Sabine MacCormack, who came here as a Byzantine Fellow – and I don’t remember exactly what it was, whether it was Mission to the Slavs, but it was about the conversion to Christianity and how that was happening—and she came here and realized that a very similar thing was going on in the New World. And she started looking very carefully at the Andean sources on this. And she’s written two books on conversion and Christianity, the relation between Christianity and the indigenous religions. She’s published those since then on the New World. That was the only real crossover.

EB: It is interesting how Dumbarton Oaks becomes a – well, it provides an opportunity for people and issues to go in very interesting ways.

BB: Yes, yes.

EB: So, did all of the Fellows have lunch together or did they just go their own way or how did that work?

BB: Well –

EB: Because I know now lunch is such a big part of what Dumbarton Oaks is, and I don’t know whether it always was –

BB: It probably –

EB: – or whether they did sherries or teas where the Fellows got together or not.

BB: I think that the lunch may be more of a real social occasion now than it was. That space is small in that dining room here, and you tended to go with your own people, but you also filled in at other tables. Somebody was saying the other day that there was more mixture when people ate here, because the space was small and the tables filled in. As long as Mrs. Bliss was alive, there was tea served. Did I mention this the other day?

EB: No. Well, you did, but let’s talk about it.

BB: Yeah. In the Main House, in the center of the hall, in the, where the curved glass is opposite the old front door, there was a table, and in the afternoons at four o’clock, I think, there was a tea urn.

EB: Every afternoon?

BB: I think it was every afternoon during the week. And Mrs. Bliss would often come to that and have tea with the Fellows and people. And it was a good chatting time for people; that was a good social time. The swimming pool was a good social place. I think I knew more people from the Byzantine center from swimming with them than other ways.

EB: There used to be sherry served before lunch –

BB: There was sherry served –

EB: – or was that in the afternoons?

BB: Now I suddenly remember that there was sherry, but I’ve forgotten exactly when it was. Was it regular or was it special? I think it was sort of special occasion, wasn’t it?

EB: I think it may have been a Thursday sherry hour.

BB: That’s right, there was one day of the week, that’s right. That was it, yes. Yeah.

EB: So did Mrs. Bliss interact very much with the Fellows?

BB: Not a whole lot, but she liked to meet them and talk to them a little bit and be nice with them.

EB: The Fellows program naturally leans into the Library. How did the Library begin?

BB: The Library began with Mr. Bliss. He had a library, a small one, but he had some good things in it. And it was in a building behind the house where the Blisses lived in their last years, a house at Q and 28th, and behind the house there was a garden, a small garden, with a wonderful – I think it was a beech tree in the middle of it – and the other side of it was probably, what, an old carriage house, that was Mr. Bliss’s office. And the library was there. And he had – what did he have? – maybe 500 books, something like that. And it was a good start on a library.

EB: So did the library come here?

BB: The library came here.

EB: When the collection came here?

BB: Yes, yeah, yeah.

EB: So, the Fellows didn’t go to Mrs. Bliss’s house to consult books or anything?

BB: Well, this was only pre-Columbian in Mr. Bliss’s library, and it came here before we had Fellows.

EB: Oh, I see, of course.

BB: So, yeah.

EB: And then how did you – clearly you built the Library – what were your goals? What kind of library were you trying to create?

BB: Well, I was trying to create a library that would be useful to people working in the more-worked-with and higher cultures in Latin America, and I was trying to fill in gaps in Mr. Bliss’s library, which just for this kind of thing that would be good to have. And also, of course, things were beginning to come to be published, and to get the new material that was coming. So that was, those two things.

EB: Would you say you had the sort of financial support to acquire the way you wanted to?

BB: For books, yes, I think so, yeah, yeah. No, because I could – I don’t remember now what the figure was, but I dreamed up a figure that I thought would be a good figure, and that was –

EB: Those were the good old days.

BB: Those were the good old days.

EB: Did you ever – were there ever plans to acquire manuscripts or unique materials, or was it always a –?

BB: Not really, no, no. We acquired useful books and objects.

EB: Now you talked about the publications and how the study series began as a publication of Mike Coe’s lecture, but were the other studies, in the monograph series – Studies in Pre-Columbian Art & Archaeology – how did that develop?

BB: Well, we had started the series, so we had to keep going with it, and we – there were some things. Well, the early papers I guess – George Kubler produced one – they were sometimes on things in the Collection or by people on the Advisory Committee. And then we just gradually, of course, widened, widened fairly quickly, with the people wanting to have us publish things.

EB: Now there’s – in the studies series – there’re several – there’re many – fundamental publications.

BB: Yeah, yeah.

EB: And the conferences – the publications of the symposia volumes – or actually, you didn’t call them “symposia,” but the conference volumes?

BB: Yeah. No, when we were trying to name our series, Byzantium had a symposium. I think the Garden people had, I believe, a colloquium, so I decided that we should have something else, so we had conferences. And then of course having them, we should – we wanted to publish them.

EB: Let’s talk a little bit about your – the advisors, the Advisory Committee. How did that first begin, and how were the members selected?

BB: I don’t actually know, because they were in place when I arrived.

EB: Oh, they were. OK.

BB: But I think that Jack Thacher, the Director, probably talked mostly with Sam Lothrop, and probably with Gordon Willey, and the people at Harvard, to get their advice on how this should be done. The other centers had advisory committees.

EB: So, Gordon Willey was on the advisory body continually, was he not?

BB: Well, those first people – Lothrop died shortly after that, after he was appointed, after that was formed. The others simply stayed, and I had thought that they were just appointed without end, but I noticed in looking through some of those old D.O. books the other day, it says they were reappointed yearly, but they were – there was nobody else on that committee until Stephen Williams became – he went to the Peabody, and I think it was probably the moment he became Director of the Peabody that he became a member, or ex officio, of that committee.

EB: So, Joe Brew was on because he was Director of the Peabody?

BB: Yeah, and he was the Chairman, yeah.

EB: And Junius Bird was at Natural History?

BB: At Natural History, as was Gordon Ekholm.

EB: So, the only – well, Samuel Lothrop and George Kubler –

BB: Kubler was Yale.

EB: On the first committee?

BB: Yeah.

EB: Did they really give advice?

BB: Yeah. No, they really did. And I would – actually, our meetings were usually more or less a formality. And just – we would tell them what we had been doing and what we wanted to. But I called them for various reasons – I called Joe Brewer, Gordon Willey for something, for some tactical advice. And the two at the American Museum, Gordon Ekholm and Junius Bird, I would show them objects that I wanted to acquire, because they both looked at objects, and if I wanted to buy a Maya thing, I would call Gordon and say, “Have you seen this?” And often he would say, “Yes, I have, and I think it’s very good, and I think you should try to get it,” or he would say no, and I would take it up to New York and show it to him. Or the dealer would say, “Gordon has seen this.”

EB: This is Gordon Ekholm.

BB: Yeah, yes. So I used both of the Natural History people in this way, and they were all useful in various ways.

EB: Did they choose the Fellows? Was there a formal review process?

BB: We began – we slowly worked into that. I think we essentially chose the Fellows – we being Mike Coe and Jack Thacher and me – chose the people we wanted. But I think before we did anything or let them know, we would go to the Advisory Committee and say, “These are the people we would like to have. Is this OK with you?”

EB: So, Jack Thacher was a critical voice in the developing fellowship program.

BB: Well, he was a great backer-upper. He didn’t do anything about choosing the people, but if Mike and I thought this was good, he backed us. But then, I say, Gordon Ekholm suggested Arthur Miller. What was her name? There was one person who was a student of Gordon’s, and I really didn’t think that she was all that good, but Gordon wanted her, and so –

EB: Rosemary Sharp.

BB: Rosemary Sharp. So we did take her in, but that’s – but by and large, we decided with their – we asked for their approval.

EB: And so Mike Coe had been – was – his title was advisor, and then you had an Advisory Committee, but he was a hands-on advisor? They were more –

BB: Yeah. I will say also, which I guess is obvious, that when we were thinking about somebody who’d applied, we would talk to that person’s professor or to other people who knew the work of that person, so we got – and often it was somebody on the Advisory Committee.

EB: Was George Kubler helpful? I mean, I shouldn’t put it that way. But I was thinking of the Advisory Committee – he was one of the few art historians.

BB: He was the only art historian on the committee. George had spoken interestingly and was interested in what we did and was helpful in some ways. He was not the sort of practical or how-to-do-it kind of person, and he was not useful in this sort of way.

EB: I can see that – I mean, I can see exactly, when you say that, I understand exactly what you mean.

BB: Yeah, that’s right.

EB: There is an abstract quality –

BB: Yes, exactly, yes.

EB: Whereas Mike Coe has an abstract quality, but also a hands-on, practical –

BB: Yeah, yeah. Well, this was – as did the other members. Joe Brew was not really – he was in North American art, North American archaeology. And he was – but he was good for certain “should we do this kind of thing?” questions, and when it came to things that had to do with what one should do in a museum – on that Joe would be good for certain advice.

EB: In the early years – and this was just a perception of mine, and maybe it’s that – the program seemed closer to Yale than to Harvard, because of the advice of Mike Coe. But I’m wondering, was there ever a move by Harvard to try to move the Pre-Columbian program up there at all?

BB: Yeah. Well, let me address the two parts of this, because I never felt any particular closeness – Yale was a nice and pleasant place, but I didn’t see that it had anything to do with us – except for Mike particularly, George a little bit – but we were certainly much more aware of Harvard. There was a time when Steve Williams came to the Peabody and on this committee, and I have absolutely no provable knowledge of this – everything came secondhand – but apparently he did think that, you know, “Why was all this stuff down here? They could use that in the Peabody and wouldn’t have to have all this expensive maintaining.” I think he was just after the pre-Columbian things, not the whole thing, although that may possibly have been discussed – should things be moved to Cambridge. For one thing, I think speaking of why that couldn’t be done, it’d be against the wishes of the donor. And that would be rather hard to do legally, and there would be a lot of legal and practical problems about any kind of thing like that, but – but apparently Steve Williams would talk to people in Cambridge about this, and the word would get down here one way or another – you know, fifth hand by that time – and so we would hear what he was planning to bring up at an Advisory Committee meeting. And then Mike and I – Mike and I usually had lunch with Gordon Willey before those meetings, and I guess we would get all this sort of arranged as to what the answers should be and how this should be handled. And so it never went anywhere. It may not have been very real in the beginning. There must have – there was some germ there, but it – but that was the only threat that I ever heard of.

EB: Reflecting back, and I guess this is sort of my final question, and there may be other things you want to bring out, but reflecting back on the beginning, and then, say, now, what is your view of the relation between the Pre-Columbian program at Dumbarton Oaks and the larger field of Pre-Columbian studies? I realize that’s a big, opened-up question.

BB: That’s a big one.

EB: And very interesting.

BB: Well, I feel that it’s a part of that bigger thing. The field has grown so, and it’s – at the beginning this was – it was important, because there wasn’t a whole lot of similar kind of activity going on. A number of people had been digging in that – well, not a whole lot of people, but certain universities had been digging in these sites – but it was not – the whole field of study has become bigger, certainly in this country, and it’s become more important to the countries in which it’s taking place, for touristic, money reasons, if nothing else, and also, I think, for increased awareness of national identity and national pride. But I think that Dumbarton Oaks does have a kind of special attitude in the field, and I think it can make contributions in that way that aren’t easily found in other places, which are maybe doing more excavation, possibly more publishing, but I think that the Dumbarton Oaks quality and the way they’re doing things is special and is also a part of the bigger thing.

EB: Are there questions that weren’t asked?

BB: Ah.

EB: Questions that you weren’t asked.

BB: I can’t think of any at the moment, no.

EB: Thank you very much.

BB: Thank you.

EB: The program remains extraordinarily important and special.

BB: Well, I’m just – I’m delighted that it’s livelier all the time. You know, there are a great quantity of Fellows, and that it has a vigor and a life, and much of that is due to you and your continuing efforts in this, and thank you.

EB: Thank you very much. [Tape ends and then restarts.]

BB: OK?

EB: Are you ready for us?

BB: Um-hum.

EB: OK. Matthew Stirling was one of Mr. Bliss’s advisors, but he’s not listed as being on the Advisory Committee. Could you talk about his importance for Dumbarton Oaks?

BB: Matthew Stirling had been at the Smithsonian. He had done important excavations – some of the earliest excavations – the earliest excavations – in the Olmec region. He was elderly at the time that the Collection was installed here. He did come to the Olmec conference, and he gave a paper at the Olmec conference. And in fact, there was film, I think, that we showed, that the Smithsonian had done of him. After the Olmec conference and after, I think, also, the following year, while they were still in that house, before he died, they would have a party for the people who were involved in the conference.

EB: Did they live in town?

BB: They lived in town. They lived in Cleveland Park, which is not terribly far away from here. And so that was a very nice way that they were participating in this. But I think Matthew Stirling would have been more important had he been younger and healthier. But he had been important in his day because Mr. Bliss, of course, loved Olmec. I mean, his first piece having been Olmec. And he always liked Olmec things.

EB: – and the first conference –

BB: Incidentally, I found some correspondence having to do with the Olmec exhibition at the National Gallery a few years ago in which somebody in Mexico was saying that I, who was on that committee for that show, had bought a lot of Olmec objects. And I didn’t. It was Mr. Bliss who bought a lot of Olmec objects. I think I bought maybe two. But I was being chastised slightly for that. But Mr. Bliss’ love was Olmec, parentheses there.

EB: Now support for archaeological projects: certainly the Byzantine program had been supporting archaeology for years; I don’t know whether in Landscape Architecture they also had been supporting work. Was there a sense that Pre-Columbian should or should not move into this area?

BB: We had one venture into this area, and I think that some possible thing seemed too complicated to take on or inappropriate for us to take on. But we did back one project of Arthur Miller’s, wanting to record the mural paintings at Tulum. He and I had both been in there with tour groups and seeing people with – there’s one very narrow space behind or below the pyramid where there are paintings and where people were walking through and you could hardly help rubbing against these paintings as you passed through. Nobody was trying to do them any harm. So we both felt strongly that these should be recorded. And so we did set up a project, and Arthur got Felipe Dávalos, who was a very good artist and used to doing that kind of thing. And we recorded those paintings which at the moment are hanging in the installation – or some of them are.

EB: And if you go to Tulum now, there’s nothing to be seen.

BB: I haven’t been in there recently. Yeah, I can imagine that. And that’s why we did it.

EB: So, that’s one of those –

BB: That was a rescue operation or a –

EB: – one of those things was absolutely short on time. The program had an early focus on art history – or seems to have had – even though I know one of the first Fellows – Junior Fellows – Jeff Wilkerson is an archaeologist, and of course, Marcus is an archaeologist. But there was this sense that the program should focus on objects, as you say, or on images. But did you feel that there was a tension between a focus on art history or the art object versus anthropological archaeology or anthropology?

BB: There was a kind of basic enemy camp attitude between art historians and anthropologists. In some ways, I think a little more so now because they’ve learned to live together a little better. But at that time, these were two different worlds. But I used to feel that whatever we did, it should, hopefully, explain the art in some way. And there were all kinds of ways of doing this. It didn’t have to be art history. And I always liked to get somebody – at least one person – into those conferences who came from a sort of different world, who was an ethnographer – one ethnographer – or somebody who was a little offbeat and would look at things from a slightly different way. And I liked to get a blend of attitudes. So I liked to mix them up. But you are right that there is – was – this kind of, well, “That’s an art historian.” And there are people with that attitude. But I think that the really bright and lively, intelligent people can see how things belong together and how it all adds up.

EB: It seems that perhaps the camps aren’t enemy camps so much as they were at a bitter moment in the past.

BB: I think that’s true. I think that the archaeologists got in there first. They had not been in there for a very long time but they were in there first and they were dirt archaeologists and they went on a dig. And suddenly these art historians came along interpreting things and talking about iconography. And I think that for some of them that was enlightening and that was interesting. And for others of them, it was all, “They’re just art historians. They don’t know anything. They don’t know how dig.” But it depends on the person.

EB: Thank you very much.

BB: Thank you.

EB: Any other –?

BB: Did that answer your question?

EB: That’s great.

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