Thayer Zaeder: Reflections on the Peabody Collection and Clay

“Archaeology has got me thinking about mankind, the history of mankind and how we have evolved as object makers,” said Thayer Zaeder ’83, Instructor in Art, in his presentation on different perspectives of archaeology in the Elson Art Center last Thursday.

Zaeder works mainly in ceramics and three-dimensional art. Six of Zaeder’s personal pieces were on display during his presentation.

“I was approached by Marla Taylor, the faculty advisor to the Archaeology Club […] to see if I was willing to talk about some of the work I have done with the Peabody [Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology]. She is aware of some of the course development stuff I have been doing with Malinda [Blustain, Director of the Peabody]. [Taylor] knew that I had some interesting stuff to share,” said Zaeder.

Zaeder started working with clay in 1980 when he was a student at Andover. From his experience, he believes that there is nothing better than finding the material one works best with. Zaeder said he really likes the physical connection with clay, his main material.

Zaeder also discussed the impact archaeology has had on his life and on his teaching.

“Archaeology influences my work and teaching in a lot of ways. I’m using the Peabody’s collection a lot in my teaching…It’s really kind of made me start to think much more about what people call evolutionary history. So taking a much broader approach to how I think about clay as a material that mankind uses in many different ways. So it’s had a very profound effect that it’s not full clarified in my mind yet how that will play itself out in terms of my teaching, but it has definitely pushed my teaching into different directions. I am no longer teaching just a studio course that is really based on technique and aesthetics only,” said Zaeder.

For several years now, Zaeder has been admiring and learning about the collections in the Peabody.

The first relic he fell in love with at the Peabody was a bird stone, because of the stone’s unique symmetry and texture.

“For me to be able to interact with these ancient objects that tell so many different stories about life and previous societies and previous habits is really invaluable,” said Zaeder.

The Peabody has a wide variety of archaeological artifacts, ranging from South American Pottery to bone tools.

Over time, Zaeder started bringing his art classes to see some art in the Peabody collection.

“To have a truly meaningful educational experience, it [the class] had to start with the material,” said Zaeder.

Of his presentation, Zaeder said, “I think it went pretty well. Because the talk covered a bunch of different subjects that overlapped, I don’t think it was as cohesive as it might have been. Judging by the reaction of the people that were there afterwards, I think they enjoyed it.”

Zaeder hopes to teach a new course next fall on the topics brought up at the presentation, and he hopes that his students leave with a better understanding of clay as a material that has a long history related to our development as species.