Lifelong Interest in Archaeology Led Blustain To Peabody Museum

Surrounded by books, indigenous masks and photographs of forgotten Native American chiefs, Malinda Blustain, Director of the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, peers intently at a Panamanian textile while preparing for class. Blustain’s office in the Peabody Museum has shelves are lined with books on anthropology, medicine, history and biology. The walls are decorated with textiles and masks from around the world, each with a particular significance to Blustain. “I have three masks on the wall because I’m very interested in the idea of transformation. That’s a theme that runs across cultures through time,” Blustain said. “One is an etching of Chief Joseph who is a real hero for me because he was a man who was not only a brilliant strategist but he also cared incredibly deeply for his people and was an eloquent spokesman and just a really nice role model.” Since 1992, Blustain has served as Director of the Peabody Museum. Blustain analyzes textiles, basketry and ceramics at archaeological sites around the world and currently co-teaches Human Origins as a Social Science elective. Phillips Academy’s red brick buildings and sprawling Great Lawn were not always so familiar to Blustain. A self-described “public school kid,” the school initially reminded Blustain of a college, only with much younger students. “I was impressed when I first came and I think my appreciation for this job and for Phillips Academy has only grown over the years. I’m much more sophisticated about the wonderful opportunities that are afforded to students and faculty here than I was at that time,” said Blustain. Blustain’s favorite part of Phillips Academy is the universe that surrounds the museum, the staff and the students. Her most cherished moment at Phillips Academy was when the Trustees decided that the museum needed to integrate itself into the academic program of the school. “That opened up, for me, a world of interactions with faculty and students which I had not enjoyed before and that has enriched my life considerably and it’s certainly aided the museum in it’s struggle for existence,” said Blustain. Blustain now teaches a course on Human Origins with Dr. Jeremiah Hagler, Instructor in Biology, Lindsey Randall and Donny Slater, Peabody Museum Educators. “I’ve always been very interested in the question of human origins and the fossils that go along with that. And it’s really a biological story until we get up to the upper Pleistocene and we can start piecing together parts of the culture, but it’s pretty tenuous back then,” said Blustain. “What’s wonderful about the course is that they keep finding new things every year, like the unraveling of the Neanderthal Genome and…[the] way you can look at mitochondrial DNA. It really gives you a lot of insight into events and things that happened in the past that we could never detect really before.” Blustain attributed her interest in archeology to her father, who was a geologist with an interest in archaeology. “My father worked with Luther Kresman, who was sort of the grand-old-man of archaeology at that time, and my father went out and performed some of the first archeological surveys in the area of eastern Oregon for Cressman,” she said. “And my father kept up his interest in archaeology throughout his life, and he and Luther Cressman stayed friends his whole life. It was wonderful really,” Blustain continued. As a child, Blustain lived in New Mexico while her father was working with the Atomic Energy Commission. Her father would survey the New Mexico deserts for uranium and would sometimes stumble upon abandoned Native American sites. Blustain recalls traveling with her father and older brother and pretending to excavate certain sites. “I can remember exactly the very first arrowhead I found, it was just amazing. My brother was older and had found many, but I remember seeing my first one in the ground,” she said. Despite her early interest, Blustain never saw herself becoming an archaeologist. She said her generation had a different mentality and that when she went to college, she had no specific major in mind. “I knew I was interested in natural sciences and I was interested in art and I definitely thought about psychology, as many people do,” she said. After taking an anthropology course with a “wonderful” teacher, Blustain was “completely smitten from then on.” Since then, Blustain has worked on projects in the southeastern United States, Central America and North Africa. Though she was initially analyzing ceramics, Blustain’s doctorate work gave her the opportunity to be a basketry analyst at a site in Egypt. Following her experience in Egypt, Blustain worked for the Harvard Peabody Museum and analyzed their Native American basketry with a grant from the National Science Foundation. vWhen she was finished, she began work at the Jackson Homestead in Newton, MA. “It was the first historic house museum I’d ever worked [in] and I was very interested in the anthropology of the Western Civilization. They had a great collection of costumes there that I became engaged in learning about it and then after seven years I came to Andover,” she said.