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Posts from the ‘Obituaries’ Category

My Dad’s Shoes

The following is re-posted from my personal Facebook page (June 9, 2020). It was pecked out quickly with my thumbs on my mobile phone. Many friends and colleagues appreciated it and two asked if they could use it in their work with students in relation to the idea of biographical objects (see, for example, Hoskins 1998: Kay 2016). To make such use easier, I reproduce the short essay and photographs here. I appreciate everyone who expressed such kind interest in this post.

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My Dad’s Shoes

The day after my father’s passing, my mother and brother and I began sorting his clothes and belongings. Among his shoes was a pair that was quite atypical for him (and me). They were these simple, espadrille-like slip ons. The WallMart house brand. On a lark I tried them on and they fit comfortably. They felt great. I asked my mom if I could have them. She said yes. I have basically worn them everyday since then, a fact facilitated by the quarantine lifestyle. I have pretty much walked in my fathers footsteps for 105 days. Because of how we live now, that has meant wearing them for walks around my neighborhood. I’ve been averaging about four miles per day, which means I’ve walked about 400 miles in them. For the first time in my life I have worn a hole all the way through a pair of shoes. I have even worn a hole through the two insoles. To keep going I have taken to putting a piece of cardboard between the insoles and soles. This will get them through one walk each patching, but the sole is getting so thin that I won’t be able to keep this up much longer. I don’t want to give them up but that moment is arriving. It has been good to think of my dad with these shoes over the past three challenging months. These shoes are now what my colleagues call biographical objects, despite the fact that my dad seems not to have actually bonded with them particularly. (The were barely worn and my mom could not recall the circumstances of his getting them.) I will miss walking with them, and him.

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References Cites (in the Headnote)

Hoskins, Janet. 1998. Biographical Objects: How Things Tell the Stories of Peoples’ Lives. New York: Routledge.

Kay, Jon. 2016.  Folk Art and Aging: Life-Story Objects and their Makers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

People Make Collections: Anthropologist Michael Davis (1942-2012)

Museum collections are made by people who gather together the things that other people make. Earlier this week I was looking at a group of objects in the William C. Sturtevant Collection that were gathered together and documented by then-University of Oklahoma doctoral student Michael Davis. This is an exceptional collection of German silver jewelry made in the 1960s by an impressive number of Native American artists working on the Southern Plains.

After his OU studies, Michael Davis went on to become a Professor of Anthropology at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. I wanted to congratulate him on the quality of the collection that he made and the exceptional way in which he documented it. Thinking about getting in touch, I discovered sadly that he passed away a few months ago. An obituary appears in the Kirksville Daily Express and is available online.

One reason that we make museum collections is to preserve something of the past for the sake of the future. I hope that Professor Davis, as well as the artists whom he documented, would be pleased to know that their work is being appreciated by those who have come along after them.

A German silver roach spreader by Pawnee smith Julius Ceasar (1910-1982) collected for the National Museum of Natural History by Michael Davis (1942-2012) and found as part of the William C. Sturtevant Collection, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History.

Florida Folklorist Stetson Kennedy (1916-2011)

I wish to note the passing of fellow Floridian and folklorist Stetson Kennedy. I did not know him, but I admire his work and his remarkable career. As the detailed obituary published Tuesday in the New York Times will suggest, he is very much a person worth knowing about. To have hung out with Woody Guthrie and Zora Neale Hurston, married seven times, and crippled the Ku Klux Klan via a Superman radio show and lived to 94–that’s a life. Rest in Peace.

Anthropologist Robert Reeves Solenberger (1916-2006)

In a paper that I published in 2002, I drew upon unpublished ethnographic notes compiled in 1940-1941 by then University of Pennsylvania graduate student Robert R. Solenberger. Solenberger was a student of Frank G. Speck and others on the faculty at Penn. The notes that I drew upon in my paper are part of the Speck Papers at the American Philosophical Society. I have today been working on a new paper that draws upon the same unpublished manuscript by Solenberger. In 2000, when I was working on the paper mentioned above, I was able to track down Professor Solenberger in retirement in Tuscon, AZ and to speak with him on the phone about his graduate studies and the materials that I was then drawing upon.

Taking up work on a new project based on his notes, I went online tonight to see what more I could learn about Solenberger’s career. I learned that he passed away (in his 90s) a few years ago. I found various bits of information on his life, work, and history, but did not find a professional obituary. Based on the information that I pieced together tonight, I offer the following brief sketch.

Robert R. Solenberger (1916-2006) earned a M.A. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1940 with a thesis on “An Interpretation of Material on the Anthropology of East Africa Based upon Mediaeval Arabic Writers.” and was on the faculty of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bloomsburg State College (now Bloomsburg University). He published a prominent series of articles focused on the Marianas Islands, where he worked in the 1950s. (These appeared in Human Organization, Anthropological Linguistics, and Oceania, among other outlets.) During his graduate training, he participated in archaeological research at Clovis, New Mexico in 1937 (under the direction of John L. Cotter). He was a Quaker and a conscientious objector during World War II.

My sources include published works discoverable via Google Scholar and the Internet Archive, as well as the following Google discoveries:

http://www.biblerecords.com/solenberger.html
http://www.fum.org/QL/issues/0709/passages.htm
http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/0302/0302notes.html
http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/0707/obits.html

He appears on the AAA Honor Roll of Donors in the last years of his life, but I could find no professional obituary in a AAA publication or elsewhere. A Society of Friends memorial sketch is available.

It was an honor to speak with this anthropology elder early in 2000. I record here my thanks for his kindness and his interest in my work. I also express appreciation for his work, including the six pages of Southeastern Indian ethnography that he compiled in 1940 while on a road trip with  through Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.

Rest in Peace.

(Additions and corrections to this sketch are very welcome.)

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