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Museum Mondays: Planning and serendipity; generosity and hard work

March 3, 2014

One hundred and twenty years ago, Beloit’s senior class numbered around 25, the faculty numbered about the same. Women would have to wait another year before they would be granted admission and Pearson’s Hall of Science was brand new; so was the Logan Museum of Anthropology. From trustee Frank Logan’s generous gift of 3,000 objects in 1894, the museum has grown to hold about 350,000 objects today. How that came to fruition is the focus of a new exhibit in the works at the Logan.

“It’s a fascinating story of planning and serendipity; generosity and hard work,” explains Logan Curator of Exhibits and Education Dan Bartlett. “Some of our most important collections came to us out of the blue. Others we dug out of the earth.”

Between 1925 and 1930 Logan curators (joined by students in 1930) lived in tents in Algeria, excavated ancient mounds of discarded snail shells, and amassed a collection of Epipaleolithic materials that is still of interest to researchers today. In 2007 avocational anthropologist Frances Bristol unexpectedly approached the museum with the offer to donate her collection of hundreds of carefully documented textiles, mostly from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. “The exhibit will highlight several of the men and women, efforts and accidents that have contributed to creating the Logan Museum of today,” says Bartlett.

Objects from the Logan/Rust founding collection and others added to the museum’s holdings in its first decades will be exhibited. Many of these are archaeological. The museum’s initial focus was to be on archaeology and it quickly developed a reputation for ancient specimens in its first decades. Important ethnological collections soon followed and objects from those acquisitions will also be featured. People associated with key developments of the collection through gifts or fieldwork will be introduced. Logan intended the museum to be a teaching museum for the campus; how his charge is carried out today will conclude the exhibit, which is expected to open in late March in the “Cube” gallery on the museum’s first floor.

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The Logan Museum of Anthropology in its first home on the second floor of the Pearsons Hall of Science in 1894.

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A student member of Beloit College’s 1930 archaeology field school in Algeria sorts artifacts. The Logan’s Algerian collections remain relevant to researchers to this day. (Read about the collection here.)

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A scan from Francis Bristol’s notebooks. Bristol recorded many details about the objects she collected. These notes are an important part of her 2007 gift of the collection to the Logan Museum.