Courtesy of Centerbrook Architects and Planners

As part of its multi-year transformation, the Peabody Museum of Natural History will complete the relocation of its Anthropology Collection and History of Science and Technology Collection to a newly renovated space in the Collections Study Center on West Campus this fall. These materials are currently being transported to the West Campus facility from various buildings and will be made available for viewing by students, faculty and researchers in the fall.

In March of last year, the Peabody closed to the due to COVID-19 while undergoing museum-wide renovations after receiving a $160 million donation from Edward P. Bass ’67. It is currently on track to reopen in 2024, following a brief delay due to the pandemic. According to Tim White, director of collections and research at the Peabody, renovations to the West Campus Collections Study Center are “phase zero” of this much larger renovation. Due to the Peabody’s closure, museum staff are moving some of the museum’s collections into temporary holding spaces, while others are being relocated into new homes.

The Peabody’s Anthropology Collection and History of Science and Technology Collection will be housed in a 19,000-square-foot space on West Campus — previously an office suite — within modern storage equipment that will conserve the materials safely. For some of these materials, the relocation is permanent, while others will likely return to the Peabody or be used for educational purposes at some point in the future.

“We hope by making the collections more accessible, this will greatly enhance students’ experience at Yale and give them an opportunity to pursue research projects using the Peabody collections,” said White.

Prior to this renovation, the Peabody’s Anthropology Collection was housed across 19 different rooms in three separate buildings — at West Campus, the Kline Geology Laboratory and the Peabody itself. White said these were “overcrowded spaces” where the collections were less accessible to the public. This renovation and relocation of the collections’ materials are meant to make the collections more readily available to the Yale community.

Maureen White, senior museum assistant at the Peabody, similarly said that this new space at West Campus — along with improvements to the museum’s database over the years — will make these more accessible for curators, their students, University researchers and non-University-affiliated researchers alike.

“As the museum assistant for the [Anthropology] Division, this new space in the Collections Study Center makes it much easier and more efficient for me to do my job,” Maureen White said. “With the adjacent workroom and office space, we are never far from the collection.”

Christopher Renton, associate director of marketing and communications for the Peabody, said that since the collections’ move to West Campus began in 2018, the Peabody’s Anthropology Division has been focused on the move, but the division hopes to reopen to researchers in the fall. He added that Collection Managers and Museum Assistants in other divisions have remained very busy throughout the pandemic and the renovation, processing loan requests and helping the museum’s Student Programs team navigate and facilitate faculty and student needs during the remote teaching period.

Tim White added that the newly renovated collections facility is also intended as a space to house materials that had to be removed from the Peabody proper because of ongoing renovations to the building.

Jessie Cohen — repatriation compliance coordinator and associate registrar for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, at the Peabody — said that the storage equipment used to house the collections’ materials has been upgraded to accurately organize the various items. As a result, people need not rifle through a drawer or a shelf to find particular items — instead, everything is labeled and wholly visible to interested researchers.

Cohen added that the museum’s Native American materials specifically — which include ceramic vessels, stone tools, boats and bark paintings — have been rearranged according to identified tribes or known cultural regions of origin and then stored by type or function. Cohen said there are also spaces set aside to store culturally sensitive items according to their tribes’ wishes and traditional practices.

“The collections facility at West Campus has allowed for a new, more culturally and functionally specific organization of the materials,” Cohen said.

Cohen hopes students and researchers will find the collections’ organization to be “far more browsable” after these changes, as well as “obviously comprehensive” in terms of listing items from different tribes and cultural regions. She noted that the updated West Campus collections storage space will also make on- and off-site NAGPRA consultations easier for tribal members.

Construction at the Peabody. (Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Renton)

Renovations to the West Campus facility began in March 2018.

Correction, May 2: A previous version of the article stated that the Peabody Museum of Natural History closed due to renovations on June 30, 2020, when in fact it closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March of that year. In addition, it stated that the renovation was delayed a full year — it was delayed for only a couple months, which still pushed its reopening date from 2023 to 2024. Additionally, the photo caption previously implied that the photo is of the West Campus facility, when it is in fact the Peabody proper.

Annie Radillo covers museums and visual art. She is a sophomore in Benjamin Franklin College majoring in English.