Dr Louise Hamby has been awarded a three-year Peabody Fellowship from Harvard University. It’s the first time Harvard has offered the Indigenous Australia curatorial fellowship.
“I guess in some ways I’m the guinea pig,” says Dr Hamby who commenced the Fellowship on April 1.
Dr Hamby, an Adjunct Fellow from the Research School of Humanities and the Arts, will work on the Indigenous Australian collections at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.
It’s a museum she is familiar with. In 2005 she began researching material culture items collected by American anthropologist William Lloyd Warner held at the Peabody Museum. It resulted in several return trips to the museum and her forming a friendship with some of Warner’s children, now aged in their eighties.
“I’ve been able to rekindle their interest in their father’s work of the 1920s. Two of Warner’s three children live in New York so I will probably visit them when I’m there,” says Dr Hamby.
The fellowship, which will mean she will spend several weeks a year in America, is designed to improve the documentation of the Peabody Museum’s Indigenous Australian collections. It provides Dr Hamby with an opportunity to pursue her individual research as well as add to the museum’s knowledge base.
She will provide Peabody with abstracts for each object studied, identifying and describing its historic, research, and heritage value and any known connections to other collections or documentation.
“It’s an honor to be awarded the fellowship because the Australian collection makes up only a small portion of the items they hold. They primarily have a north American Indigenous collection,” says Dr Hamby.
Her focus will be on the Museum’s Northern Territory works. Dr Hamby has been researching the dispersed collection of Warner’s works which reside both in Australian and American museums and universities for several years.
“More than half of the Peabody Collection from the Northern Territory is composed of the items collected by Warner,” she says.
Dr Hamby received her PhD in Anthropology from the ANU in 2001. She also holds a Masters of Fine Arts in fabric design from the University of Georgia.
She has a strong interest in historic and contemporary material culture from Arnhem Land. Dr Hamby was an indigenous consultant on Australia, the epic historic romance, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. She advised on everything from the decoration on Jackman’s hat to his horse’s headgear. More recently she was on the organising committee of Selling Yarns, an international conference in Canberra, which attracted Indigenous women from around the globe.
Dr Hamby’s involvement with eastern Arnhem Land women also led to the development of the Art on a string exhibition which she co-curated with Diana Young.
Her involvement in curation, research and writing from western Arnhem Land resulted in the exhibition and book called Twined Together: Kunmadj Njalehnjaleken. Dr Hamby’s latest touring exhibition is Gapuwiyak Miyalkurrwurr Gong Djambitjmala: Women with Clever Hands shown recently at Craft ACT.