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Mary Miller

Edited Oral History Interview with Mary Ellen Miller, undertaken by Anna Bonnell-Freiden and Clem Wood at Yale University on August 25, 2008. At Dumbarton Oaks, Mary Miller was a Junior Fellow (1979–1980) and a Senior Fellow of Pre-Columbian Studies (1995–2001). She has chaired the Senior Fellows of Pre-Columbian Studies (since 1998).

ABF: Okay, so let’s begin by talking about how you first came to apply for a junior fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks.

MM: Yes, I’ll be really brief with this. This was my second year of graduate school. Because applications were not due until around January 15 at the time, there was time for me, just even in my second year of graduate school, to have developed a dissertation proposal. And George Kubler always seemed to, actually, be completely clueless as to what year graduate student I was. From the first moment I saw him, he was asking me, “How is the dissertation proposal coming?” [laughing]. And I would gasp, but by my second year, I had a dissertation proposal, in fact because he’d been asking about this since the second I arrived; and in January of that year, he said, “Well, you could still apply for Dumbarton Oaks if you have the idea of the dissertation.” So, I wrote a proposal, and was able to submit it early in January and then have a fellowship in what was the equivalent of my third year. So, that’s really it. Mike Coe and Floyd Lounsbury were both very enthusiastic about this. They were my committee. They all had a special relationship with Dumbarton Oaks. They all thought it was a great idea.

ABF: So, who did you meet during this junior fellowship? Who were the people who were important to you?

MM: Well, then as now – and I would actually say that this is a real structural problem for Dumbarton Oaks – the Byzantinists totally dominate. There were, I think, nine Byzantine Fellows. There was one other Pre-Columbian Fellow. There had only ever been [no] more than two Pre-Columbian Fellows at a time. And there was one Garden Fellow, and, because Betty Benson left – I think it was October thirty-first was her last day in the year of my fellowship – and she truly removed herself entirely from the organization, as she was instructed to do, so she was not supposed to have any contact with the fellows. And Anne Paul, who died about four years ago, who was a specialist in Andean textiles, she and I were both writing dissertations and we were both in what we called “The Underworld” – the downstairs part of the Philip Johnson Building – and we had each other. So, most of the time we spent, was – we shared an office. Now, we also initiated the idea of having a Pre-Columbian community in the larger Washington area. Later Elizabeth Boone would codify this under her tertulia. But we invited George, Gene and David Stuart, John Carlson at Maryland, the Stuarts from National Geographic – David was a kid; I made him his fifteenth-year birthday cake with my hieroglyphic inscription. I’m blanking on his name – Bruce Dahlin, from Catholic University. So, we started having a gathering, to talk about Pre-Columbian things, particularly because we felt so stranded. And we actually thought it was pretty wonderful; I mean, it was really “the cat’s away, the mice can play.” Not that Betty was the cat. There was the assistant – I don’t know what Anne-Louise Schaffer’s title was. And Anne-Louise Schaffer, who had a master’s degree, I think, at the time – Anne wanted only order in the office. She held – at that point, there was no secretary – well, that’s not true. Was there a secretary? Anne did everything. There was no – I guess there was a secretary, but she was the librarian and the assistant curator and everything. There was a three-person office: there was a secretary, Betty, and Anne. So, she was librarian and assistant curator. And I’ll just tell you one very funny story about Anne-Louise Schaffer. Because there was a guy who came in one day to show her an object, and Anne just had very specific boxes around how things should be run – Anne-Louise Schaffer, not Anne Paul. And this guy showed her an object, and she clearly didn’t know what it was. And I was eavesdropping, and she said, “Well! It’s not a Pre-Columbian object. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life!” I looked around the corner, and I said, “Costa Rica.” I wasn’t making any friends, but I thought it was terrible. She said, “It’s a fake.” I thought it was a terrible thing for her to say that, when it probably wasn’t. I mean, I didn’t get a great look at it, but, you know, at least a clue. So, that was – the year was fun, generally, but the search was ongoing. Mike Coe pressed me very hard to apply for the position. Did he tell you that?

CW: No.

ABF: No, tell us about it.

MM: And Gordon Willey asked me and said, “Mike Coe says you should apply for this job. He thinks you’re just wonderful for it.” And I said that it didn’t seem like a very warm climate to work in right now, something like that. And George Kubler had already approached me about whether I would start working here, at Yale, the following year. It seemed like a really difficult place to step in. And we had the three finalists for the position who came in. Do you know about them?

CW: No.

MM: Okay. There was Alan Kolata, who was teaching then at – I think he was actually at University of Illinois-Chicago before he went to the University of Chicago, and subsequently he went to NYU. He’s an Andeanist. I have no idea who they offered the job to, if not only to Beth, as she was known then (and then she became Elizabeth). And I forget now who the third person was. But Anne Paul and I managed to figure out who was – they were trying to be very cagey but we would figure out who these people were who were in the building. Another member of the Washington area community who I think had wanted to be – he only wanted the job if it could be on his terms – the job was demoted to Director of Studies instead of Director of Pre-Columbian Center (so we all knew that the position would be of very different rank) – and someone who wanted it on the level of Betty was Arthur Miller, who was then at Penn but lived – eventually he would be at the University of Maryland, from where he retired about four years ago. I don’t think he was at that point still a Senior Fellow, but he had been one, and he’d been a Junior Fellow, and he had had many kinds of positions with them. Anyhow, he retired to Spain.

CW: So, what was the relationship between the Fellows in the Studies Program and the collection at this time? Because it sounds like it was a time of great transition for the –

MM: The collection was a fossil, upstairs, exhibited. We had nothing to do with it. Anne actually did some work on the Inca tunic. She got it out of the case and wanted to look at it, a textile person; and she saw it and the Wari hat, that’s right. I can’t remember how many Wari hats Dumbarton Oaks has. But she did spend some time, and I can’t remember where she did that, but she might have done it in a different part of the building. These were very small spaces; and we were adjacent to – Byzantine coins were down there with us. They actually had a microscope that she might have borrowed to do some examination. I got a note. I went up to use the Union Catalogue of Serials – which was, twenty years ago, how you looked up and found out what library collected a particular journal. So, I went up to use the Byzantine library, because they were separate libraries, and I got a note in my box the next day, please not to wear such squeaky shoes ever again. The Pre-Columbianists always felt as though we must have manure on our – somehow attached to us, that we were second-class citizens. We no longer had anyone to defend us, and anything we did was wrong. So, did I go back? The other problem I had that year was because, again, there was no one to defend us. One of the most important books that I needed just to be able to have it sitting on my desk – was a Mexican publication of 1949 on Bonampak. You could only get it for two weeks from the Library of Congress. Dumbarton Oaks could have purchased it for probably $25 in those days – now it would be $200 (still not a wildly expensive book). And they just said, you know, “We’re not acquiring books for Pre-Columbian;” because, I think, one of the things that was in their mind at the time, in Harvard’s mind must have been – and surely Mike Coe must have spoken to you about this – was to move Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard. So, that anything we did was, “How can we get rid of them faster?” And certainly don’t acquire another book. So, the book – I would get it for two weeks from the Library of Congress and then it would go back on the van. And I couldn’t have it again until the next week; and then I could have it for two weeks. I was always having my schedule for getting this book. No one else in the larger Washington area was reading that book this year.

CW: And was Garden and Landscape also down in this underground area near Pre-Columbian?

MM: No, no, they were in the landscape library, and it was a lovely place. And Richard, I can’t think of his last name, was the garden and landscape guy that year; and he was fun. Actually, someone who was enormously helpful to me and to Anne Paul that year was, in the spring term, Herb Kessler, who was a senior fellow and he was on-leave or something – he was spending a lot of time at D.O. And Herb was enormously helpful to us. First of all, he was actually interested in our material and our methodologies; and he was an art historian, and made all the difference. Because most of the Byzantinists who were there – first of all, they weren’t really Byzantinists, they were Late Romanists, but they weren’t necessarily interested in objects at all, they were just general Byzantinists. And since we were both art historians, Herb was enormously – but I would only say that, in that year, he was fabulous. And he was really the most important intellectual mentor I had at that institution that year.

CW: So, that’s an example of a helpful working relationship across the different D.O. disciplines.

MM: Mmhmm. It was really helpful that he was not beholden to Dumbarton Oaks for much of anything. He was a professor at Johns Hopkins, and just – and smart, and truly interested in the way that I would say that one would hope a more genuine intellectual would be. And that’s one of the difficulties about Junior Fellows: Dumbarton Oaks typically has Junior Fellows who are just interested in what they are working on, and it also has many Senior Fellows who are not intellectually capacious or intellectually curious. You know, if you have a Senior Fellow who’s come to work on one Russian Byzantine text and who comes from, you know, Slovakia, that person is unlikely to be able to participate in – but might be able to; I don’t want to prejudge this – but, in any case, Herb Kessler really broke the mold, and he was also a good piece of social glue. He knew how to talk to people. So, I give him high marks on the role he played that year, which was completely unofficial.

ABF: How was it socially, when you first got there?

MM: Well, there was the Director of Protocol. I can’t think of her name now either, but there was someone whose job – I’m sorry that Anne Paul can’t be brought up from the grave to sit here and reminiscence about those days. We made tee-shirts, in the day before people tended to make tee-shirts, and, let’s see, they said “Dumb” – oh, it’ll come to me. We made matching tee-shirts, but they were different on the back. One said “Dumbarton,” and one was “Dumber,” or something. We did it to annoy the Director of Protocol, so we could wear our tee-shirts – who sent notes around, which wasn’t such a bad thing – I think about what I tell students now, to teach them, if they come to an event here, to take off their baseball caps. But she assumed that everyone would need a refresher on what to wear at the Dumbarton Oaks house concerts. And she was someone – she’d been Mrs. Bliss’ personal secretary, and she’d been kept on. She was one of the last of the old retainers that was held on. I loved the gardeners that year. The gardeners were really – particularly Don Smith. Don Smith was really so terrific, and he knew everything about it. He knew both what Mrs. Bliss liked, and he knew what John Thacher – he knew what kind of an orchid to put on Betty Benson’s desk, and he also loved being out there digging up the plants, and he loved having the Fellows come. He was really, he was just wonderful, and he lived there on the premises then, in one of the cottages which, subsequently, I think – the one that got torn down to build the new building. Just freshly arrived that fall was Judy Siggins, the Associate Director; and Judy was clearly there to be – so Giles Constable could be the good cop and she could be the bad. And she was a terrifically bad cop [laughing], because he could be grand and British, and she could be kind of New York and tough, and she played the role of bad cop very well. Everyone hated her. If that’s what Giles wanted, was for Judy to suck up all the hatred and enmity of everything going on, she got it so right. [laughing] So yeah, Judy was the bad cop.

ABF: And because of this more marginalized feel at that point at Dumbarton Oaks, was there a sense of camaraderie between the Garden and Landscape Fellows – I guess Fellow – and Pre-Columbian?

MM: Well, I don’t know. The three of us were the swimmers, who went out and swam in the pool. He was from the University of Kentucky – teaching at the University of Kentucky – so, he was not currently in an elite institution. Anne Paul, as a native New Mexican and a Texas-educated person, Anne wore her Western boots around, looking not too Dumbarton-Oaks-y. Oh, I know! The tee-shirts said Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumbarton [laughing]. Since Anne is tall and blond and I am obviously not, we thought we were good as twins. All right, we better get onto these questions: do you want to hear about the departure of Coe and Benson? The world’s worst weekend; really it’s a weekend that’s one of those times – I’m sure it’s like learning that your parents are getting a divorce – just really so awful. But Mike and Betty were – Mike Coe came down on Thursday night, I’m pretty sure, and he and Betty had spent a lot of the day closeted on Friday, before the meeting with the Senior Fellows; and Mike took me aside and he said that he felt that Dumbarton Oaks would be closing and I’d be allowed to stay on as a Fellow this year because it was promised to me, but that the whole institution would be – he said they’re after Betty, and he said, “I’m going to go, because they can’t fire Betty and have me stay.” And the pall was cast over the conference, which – was it not the conference on human sacrifice? I believe that was the subject of it that year. It was just so appropriate. Betty stayed on until the end of the month. She never said a word about it, other than to say that she’d be leaving. Betty was always the most polite, well-behaved person. She never expressed any anger. She was calm. She was not someone who – she did not vent. She would never say any of this stuff that I’m saying, because she’s much too polite a person, and reserved, and, really, in that sense, very, very elegant. And she left, and there was a tussle, I think there was a tussle with Judy Siggins about whether she got to take her typewriter or not, whether she had bought the typewriter; it was kind of, you know, Judy as bad cop – Judy was standing there policing, making sure, going through Betty’s boxes to make sure that nothing that should be Dumbarton Oaks’ was going. But this was before there were removal specialists who come in and do this now for an institution. This was the second time that Harvard tried to close Dumbarton Oaks, as you certainly know from Mike. You know about 1973, the earlier attempt? That was when Steve Williams made the big play. I hope Mike didn’t conflate them in his mind.

CW: I’m sure we do know, but –

MM: The earlier one; and that was actually just as serious. But that was when Steve Williams was on the Senior Fellows, which he was not at this point, in ’79. And the reason I know about that is because I read about it all in George Kubler’s papers, it mentioned, in our time here, yeah. I wrote – I will send it to you after the fact – I wrote a short paper about it which I’ve never published but I have given, on when George Kubler and Gordon Willey came together to save Dumbarton Oaks in 1973. And it was – that was the first sound blow. Joseph Alsop was in the Washington Post about Dumbarton Oaks at the time, because he was very, very mad at Harvard about it, particularly because the wills specify – the wills and the trust created a [provision] that the money could not be removed; but of course, most of the money was removed anyway. You know, the endowment that was originally given: five million gold dollars in 1940 for Dumbarton Oaks would be over, I think, $1.5 billion of the Harvard endowment today, and surely it is. And how do I have that number? I know about the five million dollars because I happened to glance – they were in these files that are in manuscript and archives, but you could get them as a matter of probate court in Washington. It would be worthwhile – I believe they have been removed from the physical premises at Dumbarton Oaks – at least they’re not readily accessible. But Kubler had them in his records, so as I say they are now in his manuscript and archive – and they are available from probate court. So, I asked someone here who works for the Yale endowment, what would – this was a few years ago – when Harvard’s endowment was $20 billion, what would $5 million in 1940 now be worth in the Harvard endowment? And the answer then was $1 billion, it would be one-twentieth. And that was – so the Blisses really gave a huge amount of money in one fell swoop, not counting any of the subsequent gifts.

CW: How did you become interested in the history of the Blisses?

MM: I’ve been interested in the history of Dumbarton Oaks. I think it’s an institution that – and there was a time when I really cared about it; and I particularly cared about it when Ned Keenan became director, and I thought he was just the worst director I’d ever seen. And then I stopped caring – I had other things to do; but I also thought that it was very interesting to write up something about the Kubler-Willey correspondence, because it’s a really engaging correspondence of this period, and because it took place in a day when it was all in writing. And they would edit each others’ drafts and they’d send them back and forth, about a statement about what is Dumbarton Oaks for. And they crafted the statement that was the Pre-Columbian mission statement for many, many years – whether it’s still the same one, I don’t know. And I got interested in this because I started reading the Kubler Papers, after George’s death – he died in ’96. You know, you asked about Gillett Griffin, who was obviously no longer a Senior Fellow when I was there but who was my undergraduate adviser. Gillett loved Dumbarton Oaks. Gillett’s a collector, and, you know, a collector without apologies; and he loved finding the interesting thing and thinking about what it meant, who had it, who owned it, why it survived – all of the questions that are kind of the thingy questions, not the cultural patrimony questions. He was out of the picture – and so he had enormous affection for Dumbarton Oaks and for Betty, but he was really completely out of the picture by the time I was a Fellow there. I don’t really think of his role; it’s not one where I know that much about it. I would say that one of the people you might want to interview is David Joralemon. Has that name come up?

CW: No.

MM: He was the first Pre-Columbian Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks. That’s right, it wasn’t Arthur – Arthur came as a Senior Fellow.

ABF: David who?

MM: Joralemon. J-O-R-A-L-E-M-O-N. And he was the first Junior Fellow, and then, I think he renewed – they kept him on for another year. Are you interviewing Betty?

CW: She was interviewed in May.

MM: And wasn’t she polite?

CW: Yes.

ABF: Extremely. She was lovely.

MM: That’s so Betty. She was lovely, truly lovely. If she feels any resentment, you can’t – it’s not transparent. It’s lovely. David was the first fellow in Pre-Columbian. He was there for two years. Arthur Miller was – you ask about the archeology projects – he was the first person, I think, to have a Dumbarton Oaks project fellowship at Teotihuacan, for his mural book. So, I think – I don’t know, I would think Betty would know the answer to that; but it certainly wasn’t for salvage – which, I have to say, reading those salvage proposals every year is just a little depressing. It would be nice if they could do something a little more positive. The Pre-Columbian studies program at the time – shall I just keep going through these questions?

CW: Sure.

MM: – really emphasized art history; but neither Anne Paul nor I did art history as a – we were both very engaged in the archeological practice. And I think Dumbarton Oaks has always been best when it’s at that intersection – of art history and anthropology. I mean, you could find art historians who had nothing to say to anthropologists, and that would be too bad. I mean, Steve Houston is a great example of an anthropologist who works with – he would like to think that he can absorb and do everything that art history does. I mean, I love Steve, but he would almost say, “Well, what do we need art historians for? We’ve got anthropologists.” But again, he works on the border. And I didn’t sense any real difficulty about that until I came back as a Senior Fellow, where we had anthropologists on the board who were not interested in art and had never had any previous association with Dumbarton Oaks – not that I think it’s important to have been a Fellow, but they’d never even been to a conference, because why would they go to a place with all that art. So, that seemed like a bad signal – or, it was a signal.
CW: Do you think that the conferences have evolved in the way that they have changed over the years – are they distinct from a conference that might be at the American Archeologist Society?

MM: Oh, the American Anthropological Association? They might not be distinct enough. A colleague and I proposed a conference a few years ago, and it was turned down for not being anthropological enough – it was too historical. Okay, you know. “Don’t you want to make it more anthropological?” “Well, not really.” It seemed like – I thought the worst conference topics, the worst one was the “Catastrophes, Disasters.” It didn’t seem to have any relevance at all to works of art, and it seemed to me that the – I like Jeff Quilter a lot, and I thought we worked together well when I was the chair of the Senior Fellows. But the composition of the board really changed, and it just got so – it became like working in quicksand, when Ned was there. You just couldn’t move and you couldn’t move because you couldn’t get a word in edgewise. So, I don’t know if you’ve ever spoken to Ned Keenan – I hope you have the opportunity –

CW: We haven’t spoken to him.

MM: But he doesn’t let you get a word in edgewise. He has no natural breaks in his speech. I just gave you a space – if you wanted to say something you could. You don’t get this from Ned. When he was Dean of the Harvard faculty, he must have been incredibly potent because he let no one get a word in edgewise. I just found it so shocking after Angeliki was a great director, I thought. I really liked her a lot. I thought I was the chair of this group of Senior Fellows, and I walked in and, as I went to sit at the head of the table, he said, “I’m sitting there,” and he spoke for two hours without a breath. Things were just very, very different.

CW: Did the Senior Fellows talk about the demographics of the Junior Fellows that were coming to Dumbarton Oaks?

MM: We talked about the demographics in one particular way, and I actually collected some data on it and I wrote a long letter about it, which Jeff Quilter asked me not to send; and I never did send it, and I have promised to dig it up and give it to Joanne. It was back when I was a PC person, and I’m sure I don’t have it electronically, but I kept the letter somewhere. Number of applicants, and number of repeats – repeat applicants, repeat fellows in Pre-Columbian and Byzantine. So, if you read the wills, you’d find out that Robert Woods Bliss’ will was almost entirely directed toward creating the Pre-Columbian program. This was 1963 – Mildred died in ’67. And, so he wanted to – he never used the word equity or parity, and he described a growing Pre-Columbian program, which, reading that will – and again, it was a huge chunk of change, I don’t know how much – it seemed to promote the idea of creating equal programs. But they’ve never been equal. I don’t know if the unification of the library and museum – I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I just haven’t seen enough. I’ve certainly found the library to be much more hostile than any of our University libraries. So, that it’s harder – it’s easier for you to walk in – you could walk in today and get permission to use the Sterling Memorial Library here, but you couldn’t do that at Dumbarton Oaks. And so, why is that the case? You know, why can you not show up with a University ID and a letter that says, “I’m here to do this”? And even if you’ve made prior arrangements at Dumbarton Oaks, you still have a twenty-four-hour waiting period. Why is this the case? Why have they put all these burdens to research, particularly for someone who’s got to come and rent a hotel room if you’re coming from out of town? By the way, the only unkind word I ever did hear Betty Benson say was when Ned Keenan bought Liz Taylor’s house – you know, that is whose house that is – and when he did seem to be aggrandizing himself in terms of the real estate. But I think she only said it rather wryly: “Have you noticed,” as Betty sometimes said, “Have you noticed that Dumbarton Oaks has acquired Senator Warner’s house.” Where were we? Oh, the equity of the program; I think the Bliss will of ’63 was intended to try to enhance the Pre-Columbian program. The Byzantine Fellows was already a well-established program. So, I did a little demographic research on numbers of applicants, numbers of applicants who had previously been there. I will just tell you that my colleagues who are in Byzantine assume that if they have a leave of absence, they can go to Dumbarton Oaks, whereas a Pre-Columbianist assumes that you get to go there once in your life. So, the programs, I think, should be equalized in terms of opportunity, if they’re the right candidates. And that’s the other thing – that Pre-Columbian candidates are assumed to be on the cusp of art history and anthropology, whereas the Byzantine candidates come to work on a text, or something that doesn’t necessarily have the same inter-disciplinary – and I don’t even want to call it restriction – but edge, ideally. And the final will of Millie in ’67 was to be sure that the gardens weren’t abandoned. She too had become very skeptical of Harvard and was very, very worried that the gardeners would all be fired, and that they would start mowing a huge lawn rather than maintaining the gardens. So, all the final bits of the estate were all left to the garden. I recommend to anyone to read the wills, and, if Dumbarton Oaks doesn’t have a copy on file at the institution, then something’s wrong. Somebody needs to go down to probate court.

ABF: Can you tell us a bit more about how you think the institution has changed with regard to the Bliss legacy?

MM: Well, of course I never knew the Blisses. I don’t know, it’s hard – what is the Bliss legacy? You think about a half-brother and sister who marry each other to keep the fortune together, all made in the Fletcher’s Castoria fortune. I don’t know how much of that legacy – as well as the fact, what the story that – I don’t think this was Mike Coe, I can’t think of who told me this story about why Robert Woods Bliss, a guy with a great eye and enormous sensitivity to world political currents, nevertheless the kind of defeatism he felt in 1940 in the face of the Nazi world. It is why he gave Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard at the time. He felt Harvard certainly would weather the storm, but wasn’t really sure about how things would fall out. There’s something a little bit defeatist, perhaps, in that. Perhaps their single greatest love and treasure were the gardens, and I haven’t really given a lot of thought to the gardens – I haven’t been to Dumbarton Oaks very much in recent years. Are the gardens – by the way, you know, Mike may say he hasn’t been there in 30 years, but, you know, he gave a paper about twelve years ago there in the collecting conference. So, he actually has been [laughing]. I heard him give that paper, so I know he was there. But I haven’t given a lot of thought – are the gardens really being maintained, both to the level that they’ve been provided for and that fulfills the Bliss legacy? It is surely one of the most interesting and the most – of the physical plan – the most important thing.

CW: Did the Senior Fellows ever talk about – were there claims on any items in the collection – or any cultural patrimony issues?

MM: Oh yeah, the cultural patrimony issues. No. We might have wanted to, but after Ned came, we actually never had another conversation as Senior Fellows. Angeliki used to come, and then leave us alone, and after Ned came, we had only the tightest, scripted conversations about a) conference topics, and b) the selection of new fellows. But otherwise, we couldn’t speak – I kid you not. We had no conversations. Ask Jeff – have you talked to Jeff?

CW: We did, yeah.

MM: I bet you got an earful from him.

CW: Yeah.

MM: [laughing] He’s still angry. He’s still really angry at Dumbarton Oaks. I got along well with him. I know he made a lot of people annoyed, but I always got on well with Jeff. But as for cultural patrimony, I would just say an interesting thing. One of the problems is – so they own these two very important Maya panels, and, whether or not it is true – and I believe it may be true, but even if it’s true, I still think it has to be overcome – they have not been willing to lend these two panels, these two huge Maya limestone panels, to exhibitions. And, as a result, one of the ironies is that they are, among the five or so most important carved Mayan monuments in the United States, they’re almost unknown except to scholars, because they have not participated in what I would call the intellectual commerce of being in exhibitions. So, we did – I pleaded with Jeff, and we got, for the big Maya show I did at the National Gallery in 2004, we did get the Palenque one to come across town, but it couldn’t go to San Francisco.

ABF: Why?

MM: It’s too fragile. So, it’s only left Dumbarton Oaks one time. And, as a result, it’s just not very well known. And it seems to me – okay, they bought them when it was legal to buy them in the ’60s, even though they both have – Mexico could make claims on both those Maya panels, and I don’t think Mexico will. But I do think that they have – I think one of the questions that’s not asked – one could say, well, the cultural patrimony arguments have already been carefully – they’ve been scripted, they’re angry, they’re all taking place, they’re all on that side of the room. There’s a whole host of other questions that one might ask: What is your responsibility for dissemination and using these objects for public education? And because the Dumbarton Oaks museum space has been so restricted, and you can’t have any groups there, you can’t really have school groups, all those other things, then one of the things you have to figure out is – you can do it in part with a website, but you can also, you can do it through participating in exhibitions. They do lend things. They had a very bad experience with the Venice Maya show. Do you know about the jades that were stolen while the stuff was sitting at Kennedy airport? That was a bad thing. So, you know, loan has risk, and there’s no doubt about it. But it does seem to me that there’s responsibility to try to loan. It’s one of the things I feel very strongly – and they do loan the smaller things, but I think even signature pieces, in a museum that, if these were central pieces in the National Gallery of Art, you would say, “Well, the world goes to see them.” But the world doesn’t go to see Dumbarton Oaks, and the museum itself is made so that they can’t. So, it does seem to me that that would be one of the areas of questions to talk about, is, okay, so Mexico is not banging on our door, and it would be stupid of Dumbarton Oaks to go knock on Mexico’s door and say, “Hey, you want these back?” I mean, that would be – if they’re really all that fragile, that would be a good way to have some damage inflicted on them, not because they won’t take good care of them once they’re there, but that’s a lot of shipping. But if there are modest ways to enhance – to lend to an exhibition in New York, when they’re asked to do so. And it was darn hard to get them across town in D.C., and to get one. We wanted both, and we only got one. I just think there are other pieces of the – if you own a collection, what are your responsibilities? How else can you use it to promote and enhance education and learning? And I don’t think Mexico will be at Dumbarton Oaks’ door, banging to ask for these things back at all. Their museums are full. But I think what Mexico is interested in is better public education in the United States using these things. But I don’t want to speak for Mexico [unintelligible]. How would you characterize Dumbarton Oaks’ role in Maya studies? Did Mike talk to you about the mini-conferences, when Betty organized the mini-conferences?

CW: Yes.

MM: Everyone says that was one of the most exciting things that ever happened in Dumbarton Oaks – everyone was there. And I think it’s really great when you have the flexibility and imagination – it’s so hard to have flexibility any more – but Betty had both. She had good advice from Mike, she had flexibility in a director, John Thacher, who said, “Okay, let’s run with it” and willing participants that made some very exciting things happen. Maya studies are – one of the problems with being a Mayanist is that everyone feels that the Maya are getting too much damn attention. So, there’s sometimes, particularly if you read some of the things that my colleagues Cecilia Klein and Esther Pasztory have written, there’s a certain kind of resentment about the attention that Maya studies get. You know, I would say, “Don’t blame the Mayanists. And don’t blame the Maya, necessarily.” Although, it’s true there are a lot of media hounds, in archaeology in general, they’re in all fields of archeology. And Maya archaeologists keep discovering, because there are so many damn Mayan cities [unintelligible]. So, I think the response in recent years has been to pull away from the Maya to a certain degree, as much as possible, because it’s as though there’s already too much Maya out there, so we don’t need to [pine].

CW: Was the collection –

MM: Did you hear about the trash basket thing this past year?

CW: No.

MM: Actually, you should ask Joanne about this because it was kind of a small scandal that went around a number of people formerly connected with Dumbarton Oaks, but the feeling that the new library was a kind of police state.

CW: Oh, Steve did actually mention this. Steve Houston mentioned this.

MM: The photographing of the trash? Yeah.

CW: Yeah.

MM: It’s insulting. And because a Pre-Columbianist was – had a gum wrapper – was it a gum wrapper or a candy bar wrapper? There was something in the trash in one of the private little cubicles in the library. And it’s forbidden to have food or drink in the library. Well, you know, the photographing of the trash, the police record and the photographing of every object in the trash to track down who was the miscreant. They could stop that. They could stop that. What didn’t I cover?

CW: You covered most of the questions. Is there anything you’d like to say in terms of the final question, about –

MM: I think D.O. is one of the reasons why – and this is why it matters so much and why there are these interesting turf issues. I would say that it was Dumbarton Oaks’ support of Pre-Columbian art history that helped make it a vibrant part of the larger discipline of art history. I really think that it might have happened anyhow, but if you think about where Pre-Columbian art history was in 1960, there was one person. It was George Kubler, and he had one student, Don Roberston, who started teaching in 1961 or ’2 at Tulane; and not everyone who went on to colonize the field was related to George Kubler or related to Dumbarton Oaks. It would be the irony that it would be an art historian, on the one hand, Betty, and an anthropologist, Mike, who would make – and I’m not so sure that Mike would have been so keen to support art history if he had known that that’s what he was doing, or that he would have chosen to do so had anthropology not been in a particularly hostile-to-works-of-art-and-material-culture period. One of the reasons I’m not an anthropologist is that – I thought I would be one, and I spent a year on a Fulbright in Mexico after I graduated from college, and one of the first anthropologists, Americans, that I ran into in Mexico – not Mexicans – talking about this issue between anthropology and art history, and which discipline I should be in, blah, blah, blah, and he said, “Well, if I found a whole pot, I would smash it to improve my sherd count.” And he wasn’t joking. So, they wouldn’t say that now, he wouldn’t say that now. But it really was felt that the works – that these are – anthropology in the ’60s and ’70s was dominated by what I like to call Republicans who didn’t know they were Marxists [laughing], with their incredible hostility to the elite and elite privilege. And so anthropology said that archaeology was a science, it wasn’t a humanistic inquiry. And you could train and learn it, and it would be like – it was all about technique. And it didn’t matter, you didn’t really need to know culture. You could work in Iran, and Iraq, and Mexico, and Peru – it was all kind of the same. You’d study ancient pollen counts, you’d know what people ate and you’d do strontium analysis of bones, and, you know, the hell with the elite and their annoying, fancy production. And this actually opened up an incredible door to art history because, as this was, it suddenly made room; the anthropologists had walked away from their prime materials, in many cases. And writing systems, you know – how annoying was that, to have to learn all that special information about writing systems and ancient languages? Modern anthropology would be conducted in English – or maybe French – but it wouldn’t be – it wouldn’t require all this specialized knowledge. So, as anthropology took over archaeology, archaeology gave up meaning, form, writing, religion, belief systems, ideology; and it’s where art history stepped in. And that’s where Dumbarton Oaks, really, when you look at those first conferences, what are they trying to get at? They didn’t see the big picture. They saw the small picture of what was abandoned; but I would say this is the larger picture, of where Dumbarton Oaks made its move. And I would say that it’s been central to the growth and health of Pre-Columbian art history. One of the most annoying things, I think, to Mayanists was that Linda Schele took over everything. Linda took all of anthropology and writing and ethno-history and ethno-botany. Linda was going to bring it all into this kind of one world. And anthropology has changed a lot since then.

CW: Sorry, I have to change the tape. I didn’t realize it’s been an hour. We want to get all this. I’ll start rolling again.

MM: So, now anthropology’s changed, and certainly art, and the elite, and ideology, and religion is central to what I would say the most interesting and best pre-Columbian archaeologists do. Art history is now assumed to be an important and valuable part of the discipline of art history itself. That is, we’re not marginal in art history anymore. And so it’s not considered eccentric for a department to have a pre-Columbianist, although most still don’t. But more typically Latin America in general is just becoming a more important part of art history departments, although yet, in general, it still doesn’t exist. But there’s an assumption that that’s a direction that things are going. And it does really perhaps raise the question if Dumbarton Oaks doesn’t really quite have the mission that it fulfilled when Mike and Betty were first outlining where it would go. I don’t mean to dismiss the fellows of those days, but I don’t know who they were and when Senior Fellows came into existence. And I think that really all the important intellectual driving force of the institution in the ’60s and early ’70s as the fellowship program took shape, that really one can attribute it to Mike and Betty and probably not to anyone else. Maybe to John Thacher in some small degree. So, maybe it hasn’t found out what its new mission is. I think archaeology, anthropology, questions of cultural patrimony – these have seemed to be the looming questions. But maybe they’re not the right ones to ask. And maybe Dumbarton Oaks really does need to spend a little time thinking about its mission. But how can it do that if it’s dominated by anthropologists? I don’t know.

ABF: Is there anything else?

MM: Only if you have questions. I could talk all day about Dumbarton Oaks. I know story after story.

ABF: Oh, I wish we had more time.

MM: And I know where bodies are buried.

ABF: Is there anything in our last two minutes?

CW: I’m trying to think of – what type of story?

MM: Oh, do you want to know the Giles Constable, Mike Coe story? Did he tell it to you?

ABF: Which?

MM: About breakfast at Palenque?

CW: No, tell us the story.

MM: So, this must have been about 1983 or ’84, Giles was still director at Dumbarton Oaks, and I was about to go off with Mike and Sophie Coe, and Gillett Griffin, and a couple of other people on a river rafting down the Usumacinta River, which is the border between Mexico and Guatemala. And we were reconnoitering in Palenque. And I went down – it’s kind of open air, palapa-kind of place to have breakfast – and who should I see there but Giles Constable and Effie. So, I sat down with them, as I saw them there, and said, “Oh, my gosh!” And they were just sitting with a group of other – they discovered that there were some Harvard alumni who were there. And meanwhile, I sat, and I took the last seat. And I saw Mike Coe, and Sophie Coe, and Gillett come down for breakfast and sit at another table and just look at me, because Mike viewed Giles as the great Satan. So, Giles is saying, “Well, we’re here to see the Maya, and it’s so splendid, and we’re from Harvard, and it’s a great center of Maya studies!” And these very nice, Midwestern Harvard alumni say, “Yes, we’re so excited to see everything here, and so we’ve brought along the very best books of the very best expert in the Maya. Do you know him?” And Giles says, “Yes, of course. You must be talking about the great Gordon Willey.” And they took out all of Mike Coe’s books. [laughing] And you could just see Constable’s face go myerrrgh. It was pretty funny. And Mike could overhear this at the adjacent table, so he was kind of rolling around on the floor. Or he might have been, had it not been dirt. I’ll end with that, because I’m sure Mike felt like at that moment he was having the last laugh. Although, I don’t know, maybe Giles was having the last laugh. He’s still alive isn’t he?

CW: We saw him the other day.

ABF: Yes, Thursday, at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton.

MM: Yes, as I say, he was the good cop. So, one never knows about the good cop, right? One always wonders about the good cop. And whatever happened to Judy Siggins? She got a divorce from her husband, who was a librarian at Yale. That’s how I know that. He was our deputy head librarian for about five or six years. So I don’t know what happened to them.

ABF: I don’t know either.