You are here: Home / Library & Archives / Dumbarton Oaks Archives / Oral History Project / Oswaldo Chinchilla and Karl Taube

Oswaldo Chinchilla and Karl Taube

Oral History Interview with Oswaldo Chinchilla and Karl Taube, undertaken by Jeanne-Nicole Saint-Laurent, Beth Gettinger, and Anne Steptoe at the Dumbarton Oaks Guest House (Fellows’ Building) on June 29, 2009. At Dumbarton Oaks, Oswaldo Chinchilla was a Junior Fellow in Pre-Columbian Studies in 1995–1996 and Karl Taube was a Junior Fellow in 1986–1987 and a Summer Fellow in Pre-Columbian Studies in 1993–1994.

JS: Today is Monday, June 29, 2009. My name is Jeanne-Nicole Saint-Laurent.

EG: I’m Beth Gettinger.

AS: I’m Anne Steptoe.                                                                                              

JS: And we have the pleasure of interviewing two Pre-Columbian specialists in the Guest House today. Could you please introduce yourselves?

KT: I’m Karl Taube from the University of California at Riverside.

OC: I’m Oswaldo Chinchilla from the Museo Popol Vuh in Guatemala.

EG: So, first of all, how did you both come to work and be Fellows at Dumbarton Oaks, and could you tell us a little bit about your initial impressions when you first came here?

JS: And when it was.

KT: Well, I was fascinated by Dumbarton Oaks since I was an undergraduate both at Stanford and Berkeley. Some of the great publications have been in the series on the fall conferences. So, when I first came to Yale in 1980 as soon as I could I came to the fall symposium, and it was just amazing to be in that room with all these great scholars. So, every chance when on the east coast, I would always go to the fall meetings. And then finally I was accepted as a Fellow in 1986, so I was here for a year, and so I got to know it well.

OC: Well, I, of course, knew all the great publications, the seminars, and the studies in pre-Columbian art and archaeology, which are always very useful. But then when I was writing my dissertation I had the fortune of getting a Junior Fellowship, and I spent a year here between ’95 and ’96.

AS: What did you both think of the reputation of D.O, in the field of pre-Columbian studies when you were Junior Fellows?

KT: Absolutely outstanding. The best publications, they’re always perfect, immaculate. The best scholarship. This really is the place for pre-Columbian research so it was a great honor to actually be involved as a – be a Junior Fellow and present here. The first time I was pretty nervous presenting here, but I really enjoy it now.

JS: Who was your director of studies when you came?

KT: Michael – oh, here?

JS: Yeah.

KT: Actually, that year it should’ve been – let me see. It was actually somebody sitting in. It was Janet Berlo for that year. And the second time I was here as a Summer Fellow it was – the second time I think it was Jeff Quilter – no, it wasn’t. It was Dick Diehl. So, both times it was not the director. It would have been Elizabeth Boone the first time, but she was off that year.

EG: You said that you were here in both the ’80s and the ’90s, and you were here in the ’90s, is that correct?

KT & OC: Yeah.

EG: Did you notice any changes between then and now, or between the ’80s and ’90s?

KT: When I was here as a Junior Fellow and a Fellow it was pretty constant, I mean, seeing the same people: Joe Mills, and Glenn Ruby, and Joan who used to be the personal secretary of Mrs. Bliss. It was kind of timeless. And now coming back and seeing the new building it’s kind of a shock, I’m getting used to it. But I almost kind of miss being down in that dark, little, smelly basement. It was kind of fun down there. And all the books were available, and it was neat. I really enjoyed those years. It’s beautiful now though. I’m really happy the Fellows are up on the fourth floor with that amazing view and those beautiful offices. That’s quite a change.

OC: Yeah, the same. I remember being down in the basement. It was perhaps not the best of all places, but it was very congenial where you were there, very close with all the Fellows and the Director of Studies and the curator and everyone. And the books were very handy. You just had to walk up from your desk and grab them. So, it was perhaps more of a little house. And now it’s great. I mean, it’s improved a lot. But I can see how it’s getting bigger and more impersonal.

KT: I have a confession: I’m also a browser. I like to really sit and look at the books. I learn so much by being around other ones. So, in the old place you could really just sit down and just spend quality time in one area. And now it’s kind of – you might think this thing might move any second and crush you or the lights go off.

JS: What are some of your happiest memories from your years as Fellows in terms of either friendships you’ve forged or special stories or anecdotes that you might be able to recall?

KT: Well, one of the things we used to enjoy doing when I was a Junior Fellow was to go down to the Potomac and get row boats and just toodle around on a summer afternoon. And that was just great, you know, go out to islands. I want to do it this time we’re out here, but no time. But that was a nice time too.

JS: Did the Fellows from the different disciplines – did you all mix up socially, or did you mostly just stick with each other?

KT: Not that much frankly. The first time, we spent a lot of time with people in Landscape. Byzantinists – actually I developed a friendship with one person. But most of the Pre-Columbian people, we were pretty tight. There were three Mayanists, Bruce Love and Andrea Stone, at the same time, so we spent most meals together. Then, of course, after the meals we’d sit here and enjoy coffee for a half an hour with all the other Fellows. And that was a nice way to interact.

OC: When I came here I came with my wife, and we were recently married so I have great memories of that whole year. It was a great experience for us. We did interact a lot with the Byzantine Fellows and Landscape Fellows. They say that in that particular year, I guess the average age was not too high for everyone, and so we got together very well. And we got to see lots of all the places around the city. So, really great.

KT: I think that’s when I first met you, too. We went out to dinner at that Vietnamese place on M Street.

OC: That’s right. Here, there are a lot of pre-Columbian scholars teaching in schools and colleges around the city and they show up, so you get to meet a lot of people, people like Karl that come from even farther away. So, it’s a great place for a grad student doing his dissertation to do –

EG: Do you think that there’s now more or less interaction among, say, Pre-Columbianists and Byzantinists and Landscape studies? Has that changed at all?

KT: I think it’s still petty modest. I noticed there’s a table of Pre-Columbianists, they tend to sit together outside at the same table. There’s some mixing, but I think people are really focused on the research, and it’s natural they’d leave to go to lunch together. I think it’s fine the way it is.

JS: Since both of you are archaeologists, can you speak a little bit about Dumbarton Oaks’ involvement in funding different projects in pre-Columbian studies or mention, broadly define some important contributions that D.O. has made to your field in that sense?

KT: Actually, major projects with D.O. are typically – they, at least for Maya studies, they don’t really fund real projects per se. What they’re really wonderful in is supporting people to do the scholarship. That to me is really the major contribution, and of course getting the material out in publications. So, I think it’s the funding for research and the publications that really is the amazing contribution that Dumbarton Oaks has offered us, is offering us.

OC: I think it’s a place where people can get together and really get in depth on a subject, and I think that’s the value of the publications also because you can really see what’s the state of the art in such-and-such topic.

AS: What are your impressions of the D.O. collection?

KT: Oh, it’s outstanding. I was actually first invited to write both the Olmec and Maya together as a single catalog and it was just overwhelming, so I just first published a book on the Olmec and now, thank goodness, we have all these experts doing the Maya together. It really requires serious dedication to really do justice to the collection. I mean it’s so rich in terms of iconography, in terms of writing. These are some of the outstanding pieces in the world for pre-Columbian.

JS: Do you happen to know anything that you want to share about how some of those objects were acquired for the collection or any interesting pieces or Mr. Bliss’ own interest in pre-Columbian?

KT: One thing I was told by Carol Callaway, when I was here first working on the catalog, that Mr. Bliss had a favorite piece of jade that he would keep in his pocket and fondle and carry around with him, and she showed it to me and it’s not that great. It’s a beautiful color but it looks kind of like a walrus. It’s just this weird little funky fake carving. But he had an outstanding eye. I mean, some of those Olmec pieces are just incredible. There’s one of a little jade figure, broken off – it’s just the bust, a head about this big. And it’s just so exquisite, it’s just amazing. So, he really had a great eye.

OC: Well, being here at this workshop for the catalog we have been able to really examine every object and discuss it with our colleagues. It has been a great way to do it because you seldom have the opportunity to do it and every object has great significance. They were really collected with a very good eye for what’s important and beautiful.

KT: And I’m very much an objects kind of guy, so it’s really important to actually have contact with the piece, being able to hold in and turn in at different angles, look at the technology used to carve and shade. So, a hands-on approach is really a great way of doing it. It’s been a wonderful time handling the collection again and looking at it in detail.

EG: Has there always been this much interaction with scholars and Fellows working with the collections?

KT: No, I don’t think so. I mean, I was invited – first Emily Umberger was going to do the Central Mexico and Veracruz and I was going to do all the rest of it. So, we were together and that was great looking at all of the pieces. But this is the first time I think we’ve really had a group working together, and it’s been great. It’s been a really good experience. We all got along great and learned a lot of new things. It’s really good.

OC: When we were Fellows here, we just saw the objects on display at the Museum. There was never an opportunity to look at the actual objects and handle them. I guess if we had asked for that, maybe they would have allowed it.

KT: And what’s important to bear in mind is the exhibit is beautiful, but it’s not enough space for all of the pieces. So, there’re many pieces that are in storage that have been brought out. And that’s important because our eye changes, our understanding changes. So, some pieces that were put away as fakes quite confidently – there’s two very important early carvings in jade that are of great importance. So, it’s always good to reappraise and look back at the material, not only what’s on display but also what is not.

AS: Do you ever remember discussions of cultural patrimony and other issues with regards to the collection?

KT: Not really. Dumbarton Oaks has been very open about that. If they believe something comes from Palenque, like this Palenque-style panel, they’re very up front about it. I don’t think there’s any dark secrets or anything. Dumbarton Oaks has always been very supportive and generous of Latin American scholars coming here to do research with the pieces and to work at D.O.

EG: What do you remember about certain academic events that were held here like conferences and discussions and presentations and those types of things?

KT: Well, there’s always colorful characters. Some are more colorful than others.

JS: Could you just talk about the colorful characters?

KT: Well, there’s Barbara Price. She has her own style. At one of the conferences during the session she said my comment would be as welcome as a turd in a punch bowl. And that’s in front of everybody. That was in front of like a hundred and fifty people. There was this collective moan.

JS: Was this when you were a junior fellow?

KT: This was when I was just here for one of the conferences. And there’s often a lot of lively debate. I remember John Rowe one time shaking with rage talking to another colleague about his being mis-cited. And it can be pretty intense at times.

OC: I haven’t really attended many of the conferences. The only one that I came to was last year when I was invited as a speaker. But as I said there’s a lot of room for discussion, for meeting people. So, it’s great.

AS: We’ve talked to people who said that at the symposia especially there used to be a lot of Washington people who would come in for those.

KT: Really?

AS: Yeah. Now I get the sense that that has changed and it’s strictly a scholarly event.

KT: Like Washington celebrities or politicians?

AS: Georgetown society mostly.

KT: Interesting. I never noticed.

OC: There’s this group called the Pre-Columbian Society in Washington. They’re quite active and very, very nice people. I first met a number of them during a tour of Maya ruins in Guatemala where, for some reason, I was the guide. So, it was very nice when I came here and met them again. From last year’s conference I can see that they are still coming to conferences and activities. That’s a great group.

KT: It’s actually a great place to give presentations, to give papers in that room. The artwork and the tapestry, and it’s just a wonderful – the sound is great. It’s just a real treat.

JS: Can you tell us a little bit about the project with which you’re currently involved here and how that began, whose initiative that was and so on, and how long, what’s the timeline?

KT: Oh my, that’s going back to the Paleolithic. Elizabeth Boone first wrote me a letter – I was thrilled, I think it was probably about ’94, something like that – whether I’d be interested to write up the Maya Olmec material and, of course, yeah. It was really exciting. Heck yeah. So, I came out here to handle the collection with Emily Umberger and my half again was just the Olmec and Maya and that still took a long time. And I just started working in detail with the Maya material and I realized there was enough there to really make a book, and so I went out with Jeff Quilter who was then the director after Elizabeth and just spelled it out that I could keep working and combine the Maya with it but this was already a pretty significant contribution. And Jeff was a little – he agreed, but he was also concerned that if we went that way then the Maya book might never be written. And he had a point. I mean, we’re all very busy. I teach full time, I have other jobs and other academic things I have to be doing and so that was hard. And I also insisted that for the Maya material we really need one of the top epigraphers, which is Steve Houston. You need somebody who is really good at glyphs. I’m okay but I’m more iconography and objects. And so the plan was for me and Steve to write the book together and we began on it. But then again all the other academic commitments we have – and Steve basically did it as a favor. He wanted to help me and help D.O. but unfortunately it just kind of fell through the cracks over the years. I won’t say how many. And so now it’s great that Joanne is back on track with it and wants this done. But the rule is, when we came here, that she wanted us to do significant work on it. And so Steve Houston basically finished all his entries, which is great. I’m working on mine, I’ve written about twenty-five, thirty pages since I’ve been here. We’re all working on it. And so the plan is hopefully all the entries and essays will be done by the end of August and I think we’re going to do it.

OC: I just got involved with the project last year when Joanne invited me to join and also to write the introductory chapter on the Maya, Maya civilization in general, which is kind of hard because there are so many introductions to the Maya that I was thinking, “What can I say that won’t be a very boring thing that no one will read?” So, what I did was I tried to tie it with objects from the Dumbarton Oaks collection and I chose this specific panel that shows a Maya lord and started trying to relate different aspects of Maya culture and civilization to this particular person as much as we can tell of who he was and everything. So, I still need to complete that chapter but it’s almost done. And then I also have to write the entries for a number of objects. But as we have said, they are so interesting that each of them gets you involved and you start finding more and more about the implications of whatever is there, and so it has been a very good project for me.

EG: So, is this the first publication of its type that Dumbarton Oaks has done or are there several projects like this in the past?

KT: No, there’s already the Andean sections that have been done, there’s two volumes. And that was also co-authored – there’s a number of people writing entries. That’s more like the one we’re doing now. And the one I did for the Olmec, I was the sole author of that one. And there was one also on Central Mexico and Veracruz.

EG: And those are all just about all the collections at Dumbarton Oaks?

KT: Yeah, unfortunately there should be one on Central America, the Costa Rican material, but I don’t know if that will actually come to light.

JS: What were your impressions of the different Directors under whom you were Fellows, and who were they?

KT: When I was here, I mean, the person who was here for that one year was Janet Berlo and she was great, very gracious, very accommodating.

JS: And who was the Director of Dumbarton Oaks, was she the Pre-Columbian director or was she the Director of – ?

KT: Oh, I’m sorry, general directors. I never had much interaction with the general directors. I honestly don’t remember, when I was there, who he was.

OC: When I was here the general director was Angeliki, but I didn’t have much contact with her either. I went to dinner, this very nice and formal dinner, at her house because that’s what they do: invite a group of Fellows every now and then so that everyone will go. It was nice, but it was a lot –

KT: Yeah, she was actually from my Summer Fellowship. She was the person in charge. She lived over in the building where we now have lunch, correct?

OC: Uh-huh.

EG: So, which other administrators did you have a lot of contact with if not the general director?

KT: Well Elizabeth Boone over the years, of course. And then Jeff Quilter was great to work with too. He was a really very, very pleasant guy, very helpful. For working on the catalog he was really very good as an editor, as Elizabeth is. You need a really good editor to watch your writing and keep you in line.

OC: I was here with Jeff Quilter, and it was his first year as a director of Pre-Columbian Studies, and so he was getting to know the place also. And so he was always very congenial and very helpful. And now with Joanne, she’s the same and she works hard for us to be able to do our research.

AS: Did you have any other mentors while you were here? Both of you were students, what was that student experience like? Especially since there weren’t – there used to be faculty here at D.O. and that seems to have faded away over the years.

KT: Yeah, when we were here we didn’t really have that. I mean, we were just basically left alone to do our own research. And of course we had our mentors, like I studied under Mike Coe at Yale who I was always in contact with, but there weren’t really any faculty here that we interacted with in that kind of way, I don’t think.

OC: Yeah, there were the Fellows, of course, that were professors and graduates, but they were not really mentoring, or it was more like a friendship and collaboration as much as possible.

KT: I think one of the political concerns with the Director of Pre-Columbian is there’s a basic division here between Andeanists and Mesoamericanists, and people would get worried like, “Oh my, she’s an Andeanist, so it’s all going to be Andes,” or, “This person’s a Mayanist, so it’s all going to be Maya.” And it really doesn’t work that way. It ebbs and flows. And so now there’s a lot of interest in Andean research but I think that’s great. It’s a very understudied field, there’s all kinds of new discoveries. I think it’s nice to have both, and I don’t think they have to be perfectly balanced at all times.

JS: How do you view Dumbarton Oaks’ role in Maya studies in the greater field? What has Dumbarton Oaks – how’s it a player in that, helping – ?

KT: Well, it’s been incredibly important for Maya studies both in terms of supporting scholarship in terms of the fellowships for being here to do research, and also the publications. I mean, the people invited are really the top people in the field. And they’re beautifully presented, excellent illustrations. Both the studies in pre-Columbian art and archaeology and the symposium volumes, they’re really the best out there.

OC: I agree.

EG: Have you noticed change in the types of subjects that are tackled in terms of the symposia and publications or is it pretty consistent?

KT: I think pretty consistent. I mean it’s still kind of thematic, so it used to be – there’d be a –  “Cult of the Feline” could be one. Jeff Quilter organized one recently on the pre-Columbian world with Mary Miller just looking at basic themes shared throughout the nuclear America, so the Andes and Mesoamerica. So, it’s still kind of very strongly oriented toward particular themes that people focus in on.

OC: The field has evolved since Dumbarton Oaks began of course so the subjects have changed. But in general I think that one thing that Dumbarton Oaks does is keep focusing on the archaeological objects, because there are other tendencies in archaeology, in Maya archaeology. There are people that are mostly interested in things like demography, agriculture, that sort of thing, which is very important. But then there should be also a place where people can focus on objects, on representations, perhaps also in making broader syntheses of specific projects, and D.O. fills that role.

KT: Oswaldo’s making a very good point that a lot of Maya studies have been very focused on settlement pattern, agriculture, and kind of very materialistic aspects, whereas Dumbarton Oaks has always been interested also in the cognitive aspects – so looking at the history of ancient peoples, looking at their art, their beliefs – and that obviously is a very, very important part of these civilizations as well. And Dumbarton Oaks has been strongly behind that.

EG: Could you speak a little bit about the daily life of Fellows in terms of academic life, but also leading a social life and social aspects?

KT: Well, when I was here, when I was still in grad school, it was pretty regular. I’d get up early in the morning – No, honestly I didn’t. I’d get up at a normal time, spent most days down in the basement, and then after dinner go back until ten at night. And that was a really good time to work because you were just left alone down there, so you could really, really work in detail and not be bothered by anybody. And so that was a really – it was great, it was just fun. Now I find I’m not going back in the evenings. We usually have a nice dinner and then just maybe hang out.

OC: It has – since you’re a student trying to finish your dissertation, you’re trying to be very intensive and devote as much time as possible, it can be dangerous also to be here because you can easily get distracted because in the library. You start finding other things. I’ve seen some people that end up writing something else and not their dissertation like they’re supposed to. But for me I was able to write down half of my whole dissertation and that’s perhaps the only reason why I graduated.

KT: Yeah, that’s actually what happened to me. I was doing my dissertation on Maya New Year festivals, but then here I started to find all this great visual information concerning Maya gods, and so that chapter turned into almost a book in itself and it was actually published here as Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology Number 32: Major Gods of Ancient Yucatan, but that’s just because I just got so pulled into the library.

EG: So, often times you’d come intending to study and you wouldn’t end up actually finishing –

KT: Exactly. And that’s a good thing. I mean, it’s nice. There’s always more out there.

JS: How have your experiences here helped you in the classroom, or informed you in terms of for you two teaching?

KT: I think it’s the level of academic interaction with colleagues, where you’re speaking publicly to colleagues in a group of like ten people or more. And the presentations, of course, the fall ones, that’s when you really start thinking about your oratory, like how you can present and make a compelling argument. It certainly builds confidence. I mean, you better have it when you go up there.

OC: Well, I now work at a museum in Guatemala. So, I wasn’t really involved that much in the museum activities here at Dumbarton Oaks when I was a Fellow, but it’s kind of a very familiar environment for me because I always have to think about the public, about the exhibitions, about transmitting information to the general public also. It’s very relevant.

AS: Do you think Dumbarton Oaks does a good job using its collection for exhibitions?

KT: They’ve been very generous over the years with that. The one horrible thing was there was some Aztec gold that was sent to Europe, and when they sent the crate back they wrote on the crate “gold,” and it disappeared. It’s probably in our molars now or something. But that’s –

JS: My goodness.

KT: Yeah, that was really bad. I mean, they were really dumb about it. They wrote “gold” on the crate. It was left someplace in New York or New Jersey with the mafia and who knows what.

OC: With objects from Dumbarton Oaks?

KT: Yeah, a necklace.

OC: My goodness.

AS: When was that?

KT: That was a show on the Aztec. I think it was the late ’80s or early ’90s

AS: Was it the Venice show?

KT: I think it was in Austria. Yeah. Yeah, that’s too bad.

OC: It was funny because working as a museum curator in Guatemala, I went to that Venice show, that Maya Venice show. And then there was Loa Traxler who was the curator of Pre-Columbian art here and she was coming with her objects. So, I got to meet her there and see some of the objects again.

KT: No, it’s scary. Every time you move objects and move cases there’s always the risk, and it’ll happen eventually, you know. So, when you loan things it’s a lot of trust and a lot of generosity to do it. It was actually the case that Loa was there in the room and the case crashed and smashed these exquisite little bone beads. They fixed them beautifully. And there was an incredibly fragile, thin ceramic bowl that actually has two bowls, like it’s hollow in the bottom – it’s like they put another bowl on top – but really, really thin with tiny little pellets so it sounds like a rattle when you move it, and the case fell on that. But, thank God, just nicked one of the edges. It was so close. I just – ooh. Just thinking about that. Ooh.

JS: Going back a little bit farther in history, how did you individually just become interested in general in the field in which you entered?

KT: Well when I was three years old I wanted to be an archaeologist. My dad taught at the University of Chicago, he taught there and they used to take me to the Oriental Art Institute. And I’d go, “That’s Sumerian!” I’d kind of point the little things out. Then my mom took me to the de Young in San Francisco in 1965 when they had the big King Tut show, and I went in there and I started crying like crazy and freaking out, and really upset, making a scene. When she took me outside on the steps she said, ‘Karlsy, what’s wrong?’ I said, ‘They’ve already found it all!’ And so then I – my aunt went down to Yucatan about the same time and came back with photos of Maya ruins and that was it for me. Just this beautifully complex, wonderful culture so unrelated to Europe and I just fell in love with it.

OC: Well, I also got interested in archaeology, history, that sort of thing since I was very young. I am from Guatemala, so it was kind of natural to focus on the Maya and since I began my undergraduate studies I was already going to Maya archaeology.

EG: What do you remember about the social aspects of being here? We’ve heard a little bit about some pool parties, maybe, that the Fellows threw. Do you remember anything like that?

KT: It’s frankly pretty dull.

OC: I remember a lot of dinner parties but not many pool parties. When you’re here as a regular Fellow during the fall and spring, I think that the pool was closed actually all the time that I was here. So, we didn’t see much of it.

JS: You said you’re from Guatemala originally. Is that typical in the pre-Columbian group of Fellows that there will be this international – that there will be several international –

OC: I think not every year, perhaps, but I know a number of people that have come from Mexico, Guatemala, for instance, in South America. I think it is very open. Of course, you have to qualify, but Dumbarton Oaks has a policy of projecting to Latin America, which is natural of course with the collection. And when they were building the library they also did these conferences in Peru first, maybe one in Mexico, and one in Guatemala. So, instead of doing them somewhere else around here, they went there. So, that was a good way of –

JS: Did you attend any of those conferences?

OC: In Guatemala, in Antigua Guatemala.

KT: When I was here, I presented at the conference two years ago. It was on the Late Postclassic Yucatan in Central Mexico and it was at the Library of Congress, and so I was thinking it’d be this great place to present, they must have incredible screens. It was really strange. They had two screens, literally like four feet across, but two, so you see the same image twice but it’s still tiny. And I was showing this really complex, detailed iconography. It was like the moment in This is Spinal Tap when the Stonehenge comes down. Like, scale is really important, you know. I was like, “Oh, how’s this going to work out?” I got through it. I guess people could follow the argument. But it’ll be better once its published I think.

AS: Is there a lot of interaction between D.O. and the Library of Congress or the National Gallery of Art?

KT: I honestly don’t know. As Fellows really not so much when we’re here. I think at the higher level, probably the Director of Pre-Columbian. There with Joanne, yeah.

AS: But individuals wouldn’t come to symposia from those organizations?

KT: I would think they certainly would come to symposia, oh yeah. I mean if you’re in Pre-Columbian this really is the place to be, so if you’re at the Library of Congress you certainly would come as well.

JS: How long would you say that that has been the case where, as you put it, this is the place for pre-Columbian studies? Can you pinpoint an era when things really, in your field at D.O., really blossomed here?

KT: Well it first started I guess when Elizabeth Benson was here, and Mike Coe had a lot of input in the beginning, the early 1960s. So, you had some of the early studies of pre-Columbian art and archaeology. But really important were the fall symposium volumes and the reputation really just increased and increased over time.

OC: One of the first conferences that they did was the Dumbarton Oaks conference on the Olmec and that was a milestone in Olmec studies. It’s still a very important book and people keep going back to it.

KT: I think the earlier ones, too, they were much more intimate. I don’t think there was a large audience and that changed, I think in part Gordon Willey’s influence and part trying to open up more to more people. So, in the early ones, they’re actually in the symposium volumes, they actually have discussions of people in the room like a roundtable talking about particular papers and they’re actually published as part of the volumes. Very interesting.

AS: Can you elaborate a little bit on Mike Coe’s role? Especially, you mentioned he was a mentor –

KT: Absolutely. He was one of the first people involved here and he worked closely with the collection in terms of developing the collection, acquiring new pieces, and he actually donated a few pieces of Andean textiles in the style of Karwa, Chavin style in the southwest of Peru, that was part of his own personal collection that he donated here at Dumbarton Oaks. And he was very good friends of Elizabeth Benson, so a lot of the first volumes and work Mike Coe had a major influence on it.

EG: What do you see as Dumbarton Oaks’ role in the field of pre-Columbian studies in the future? Do you see it changing at all or staying the same?

KT: In terms of Dumbarton Oaks changing, I sure hope not. I think it’s doing great with what it’s doing now and it’s remarkably consistent over the quality of work and the support, again, in terms of publication research. It’s great.

OC: I hope they keep their policy of projecting to Latin American countries and scholars because there’s a big need of that, of interacting, and it’s not always easy because it’s not that easy to travel around. Also the library is a great resource for Latin American scholars because very often the local libraries are not very good. So, I hope they keep doing that and do more of that in the future.

KT: The only suggestion, one thing that might become more important is in terms of – with the Maya people in Mesoamerica and the Andes, there’s a lot of cultural continuity, so ethnographic works too should be a major part of the collection. As of yet it’s mostly archaeological. But to understand ancient Maya religion you have to know about the contemporary Maya as well. And so I guess that would be a direction that I think it would be nice to see more of that, more focus on ethnography as well.

EG: Are there any ethnographic pieces in the collections or is it entirely archaeological?

KT: No, entirely Pre-Columbian.

AS: And you both know it from your recent work, how has the collection changed? We’ve heard from other people that over the past thirty or forty years D.O. has been much more careful about acquisitions. Do you think that there are still valuable pieces collected, or has the collection evolved, or is it really just this goldmine that was here at the right time and the right place?

KT: Exactly. Nowadays collecting is very problematic, of course, because basically it’s all looted. And D.O. does, no longer, collect nor does it acquire donations either or take donations. So, basically it’s been frozen since probably about the mid-’70s I think. I don’t think there’s anything very recent after that. So, it’s a beautiful collection but it really won’t change from now on.

JS: Do you have any other closing things you’d like to share with us before we wrap up? We’re very grateful that you gave us your time this afternoon to talk. Any closing thoughts for posterity?

KT: Wow, that’s a big one. Not that old.

AS: Do you have a favorite memory – ?

KT: Well, somebody I really miss is Glenn Ruby. He was a great guy in publications. It was really a pleasure spending lunch talking with Glenn. I’d try to do that every day I could.

OC: Well, talking about people that I remember – George Brock. He was the superintendant at La Quercia. He was always there in the building and he was so ready to help every one of us. We made a very good friendship with him. He was a very good man. That’s perhaps one of the persons that I really remember most from D.O. and I think that’s important because the institutions are made of people, and I think Dumbarton Oaks should keep that in mind. When you come here as a Fellow you will spend a good part of your life, and perhaps an important part, here, and the people you interact with are very important, and George was really good. Everyone, basically.

JS: Thank you very much.

Document Actions