Dozens of University of Michigan alumni, faculty, and graduate students gathered on Saturday, May 12, to say goodbye to the Ruthven Museums Building, where the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology has had its home for 90 years. Later this year, the Museum will move into temporary space at the School of Education while a new permanent home is prepared in the Chemistry building.
Director Michael Galaty opened the evening’s program by inviting several alumni to share anecdotes of their time at Ruthven. Those who spoke covered more than five decades of the Museum's history.
Some remembered climbing Ruthven’s marble stairs, others talked about lectures in Room 2009, and a few spoke of entering the “magical doors” that lead to the Museum’s research wing. Many shared their memories of Jimmy Griffin, Lewis Binford, and other legendary scholars who once taught at Ruthven. There was general agreement that some of the most important learning took place not in any lecture or lab space, but after hours and in the Coffee Range.
Chuck Cleland (1966) reminisced about James B. Griffin, one of the Museum's most important figures. Griffin's encyclopedic knowledge of prehistoric ceramics of the eastern U.S. was well known. Earlier in the evening, Cleland had said that Griffin could look at a sherd and identify it to within 50 years of its date and 50 miles of its origin.
Some memories were bittersweet. Doug Price (1975) got a roar of laughter when he reminded the crowd that Bob Whallon's statistics class should have been named "Pain & Torture." Melinda Zeder (1985), said she came to U-M to study archaeology because she had a teenage crush on renowned anthropologist Leslie White, only to find that by the time she arrived, he had left. Wes Cowan (1985) asked Jimmy Griffin to critique a paper he wrote, only to be told that if he wanted to stay at U-M, he had better “learn how to spell archaeology!” David Brose (1968) recalled Griffin telling him to study the remains of 30,000 snails and give a talk about them at the next archaeology conference—even though Brose knew nothing about snails.
Many also shared their hopes for the future, and their conviction that the heart of the Museum is not a building—as beloved as Ruthven is—but a group of people. “Take the spirit of Ruthven with you,” advised Alan Covey (2003).
Bill Parkinson (2009) spoke about the environment of excellence and innovation that curators created at Ruthven. “Keep creating those kinds of spaces,” he said.
Earlier in the day, collection managers Lauren Fuka and Jim Moss led tours of the Research Museums Center and spoke about the Museum’s collections and lab and research space. Following the RMC tour, Carla Sinopoli and Terry Wilfong gave a tour of the Excavating Archaeology exhibit at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.
At the evening gathering, Margaret Schoeninger (1980) spoke of the Museum’s reputation for excellence in research and teaching, the outstanding research facilities at RMC, and the central location of the Museum’s new home on the Diag of the U-M central campus.
“You have all the pieces,” she said simply.
Please see the Museum's page on curators and their students for more information on alumni.