July 5, 2004: Headlines: COS - Panama: Museums: San Diego Union-Tribune: Panama RPCV Mari Lyn Salvado named new director of the San Diego Museum of Man

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Panama: Peace Corps Panama : The Peace Corps in Panama: July 5, 2004: Headlines: COS - Panama: Museums: San Diego Union-Tribune: Panama RPCV Mari Lyn Salvado named new director of the San Diego Museum of Man

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Panama RPCV Mari Lyn Salvado named new director of the San Diego Museum of Man

Panama RPCV Mari Lyn Salvado named new director of the San Diego Museum of Man

Panama RPCV Mari Lyn Salvado named new director of the San Diego Museum of Man

Female anthropologist takes over at institution
By Jeanette Steele

July 5, 2004

HOWARD LIPIN / Union-Tribune

Caption: Mari Lyn Salvador (left), the San Diego Museum of Man's new director, visited with sculptor Lance Yazzie of Arizona, who took top honors in the museum's 21st annual Indian Fair.

The San Diego Museum of Man's first new director in 23 years is a woman.

The irony has tickled longtime colleagues of Mari Lyn Salvador, a New Mexico anthropologist and professor who took the helm of the Balboa Park institution Tuesday.

Salvador was flooded with friendly e-mails joshing her about the museum name, especially because her work since the 1960s has focused on the art of indigenous women.

"Everybody who knows me says, 'You work with women. You write about women. What are you going to do about the name?' " she said with a laugh.

Salvador a breezy, easy-going Pasadena native who started off as an artist and later became an academic said she has no plans for radical change at the 89-year-old institution.

The Museum of Man grew out of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, when its landmark California Tower was built as the focal point of park architecture.

Its ancient bones, native pots and Egyptian sarcophagi provide a portrait of centuries of anthropological progress to 225,000 visitors a year.

Salvador brings an energetic new presence to the museum, which lost longtime director Douglas Sharon to the University of California Berkeley in 2002. She is also the museum's first female director.

In the 1960s, a chicken coop started Salvador on her way.

The Peace Corps wanted her to build chicken coops in Panama. As a former San Francisco State University student of pottery and weaving, Salvador rebelled.

"I decided if I was going to make chicken coops, I was going to use wood I could find in the rain forest . . . and make these sort of free-form sculptural chicken coops," she said. "The Peace Corps was not happy."

So they sent her to the Kuna, a native culture on Panama's Caribbean coast. She was told to start an artisans cooperative.

The experience changed her life.

The colorful blouses sewn by the Kuna women captured Salvador's heart and intellect. The major work of her career has been writing about the garments, called molas, and how they reflect the Kunas' use of art in every part of life.

Her latest exhibit of Kuna culture resides at the University of New Mexico's Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, where she had been chief curator since 1978. The show is tentatively scheduled to come to the San Diego museum next summer.

After serving in the Peace Corps from 1966 to 1968, Salvador earned a doctorate in cultural anthropology at UC Berkeley. Her research has taken her and her two children from thatched cottages on Panama's Caribbean coast to the cobblestone streets of Portugal's Azores.

Salvador's son, Sergio, spoke Portuguese as his first language during preschool years in the Azores while his mother was studying festas, native religious celebrations. She was on a Fulbright fellowship and taught at the University of the Azores.

"I think my sister and I benefited from being able to travel the world sort of as anthropologists, not as tourists," said Sergio Salvador, 32, a San Diego mortgage broker, who remembers walking among donkey carts and living in native homes as a child. "There were no tour buses and no guides."

More recently, Mari Lyn Salvador worked with contemporary Hispanic artists in northern New Mexico to study and exhibit santos, the folk art of religious images.

In San Diego, Salvador said she wants to continue her style of work with native cultures such as the Kumeyaay Indians. She said she believes in bringing community elders to the museum as scholars.

"This has been my life since the 1960s, working in a collaborative way with indigenous communities to work toward a better understanding of their culture," she said.

"To be able to come to a city that has this kind of diversity and the potential for doing collaborative work . . . it's just like a dream come true to me."

The Museum of Man is no newcomer to this concept. It has a permanent Kumeyaay exhibit and its annual Indian Fair which showcases tribal art and performers is a major annual fund-raiser, with contributions from prominent tribes.

Salvador's predecessor at the Museum of Man said one of the reasons he left for UC Berkeley was to help the university's academic-focused museum become more active in the community, like the San Diego institution.

Sharon said he left Balboa Park with museum attendance steady, finances sound and bonds forged with native groups.

But, "there was room to do more of those kinds of things," said Sharon, whose research looks at shamanism and herbal medicine in Latin America.

As for Salvador's focus on ethnicity and gender, he said, "those are two things we need to pay more attention to."

Salvador will need to carve out some time for fund raising. In this lean budget year, the museum's share of city cultural funds was cut in half, said associate director Shirley Phillips.

With a staff of 40 and a $1.8 million annual budget, raising money will be a "major thrust," Phillips said.

A handful of other Balboa Park institutions have cut jobs in the past year. Most recently, the San Diego Museum of Art shed five positions in March because of the effects of the recession.

Salvador said she will try to attract corporate dollars and national-level funding, such as the nearly $2 million grant the museum received in 2001 from the National Science Foundation.

Colleagues say Salvador is a low-key manager who accomplishes goals in a nonflashy, businesslike way.

"She's the kind of person who gets things done in a quiet way behind the scenes," said Alex Barker of the Milwaukee Public Museum, who sits on an American Anthropological Association board with Salvador.

As for the Museum of Man's name, the new director foresees no changes in the near future.

"I'm a historian at heart," she said. "It's an expression of the time the museum was established."

Then, with a mischievous smile that hints at the woman who didn't want to build chicken coops, Salvador added, "We're getting ready to celebrate the 100th anniversary here pretty soon, and I'll be working with the staff on where this institution wants to be on its 100th anniversary."

Jeanette Steele: (619) 718-5182; jen.steele@uniontrib.com

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Story Source: San Diego Union-Tribune

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