Former director of UC Berkeley’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology Mari Lyn Salvador died Oct. 23 at the age of 77 from Alzheimer’s disease.
According to campus anthropology professor Nelson Graburn, Salvador — his former graduate student instructor and a cultural anthropologist — revolutionized the Hearst Museum as she sought to involve and fairly represent Native Americans.
“That idea that the people who made things should interpret them, should actually tell their own story directly to visitors and the public, is a radical concept,” said Lee Draper, a former student and friend of Salvador. “She helped to pioneer that.”
Graburn said Salvador started an advisory council to pioneer a better relationship between Native Americans and museums. Salvador developed a method called co-curating, in which ritual objects are given to Native Americans whenever they need them, according to Graburn.
From 1975 to 2005, Salvador served as the head curator at the University of New Mexico’s Maxwell Museum of Anthropology. She then moved on to become the director of the San Diego Museum of Man. Finally, in 2010, Salvador became director of the Hearst Museum and retired at the age of 75, according to Graburn.
Melina Salvador described her mother as fierce and humble, adding that Mari Lyn Salvador raised Melina and her brother Sergio as a single mom.
“Mom was the first person in her family to get a college degree … an amazing artist herself, a potter, sculptor, a photographer,” Melina Salvador said. “She inspired many people who aren’t on that highly academic path.”
Mari Lyn Salvador came to UC Berkeley as a graduate student in cultural anthropology in 1971, eventually pursuing her doctorate. Melina Salvador said Mari Lyn Salvador was best known for her work on textiles called “molas” — beautiful vibrant textiles from the Kuna, who live off the coast of Panama.
Mari Lyn Salvador developed a way to research the aesthetic systems of the Kuna, a method that other researchers use now, and published a book titled “The Art of Being Kuna” in 1997, according to Graburn.
Draper said that as director, Mari Lyn Salvador felt that it was important that the museum “be a community resource and a world resource,” so she digitized the museum’s collections. This allowed more researchers from outside of UC Berkeley to view the collections, which Graburn said was one of the largest in the world with about 3.8 million items.
“The Hearst Museum of Anthropology is transformed because of her. When we were graduate students, it was a little corner in Kroeber Hall,” Draper said. “She worked very hard to make the Hearst Museum to be part of the community, and not just a scholarly place where a few professors worked.”