Mari Lyn Salvador, 1943-2017

Former director of Berkeley anthropology museum remembered

November 16, 2017
Mari Lyn Salvador

A distinguished scholar of Panamanian textiles who served as director of the University of California, Berkeley’s anthropology museum has died.

Mari Lyn Salvador was born on 16 July 1943. She studied weaving and pottery at San Francisco State University before joining the Peace Corps, which took her to Panama, where she established an artists’ cooperative among the indigenous Kuna (or Guna) people near the Colombian border. She then returned to education and gained a BA in cultural anthropology at Berkeley (1971), followed by a master’s (1973) and a PhD (1976). Her thesis examined how art is produced communally by women as part of Kuna daily life. For the rest of her life, she continued to carry out research in Panama’s San Blas Islands and Portugal’s Azores islands, always trying to tease out the connections between art and the societies from which it emerged.

With her qualifications, Professor Salvador took a job as assistant professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico (1978-84) and was then appointed chief curator of its Maxwell Museum of Anthropology (1978-2004). She combined this with the role of associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1988 to 1992 and became a full professor in 1999.

Moving on, Professor Salvador took over the running of two major museums as chief executive officer of the San Diego Museum of Man (2004-09) and then director of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at Berkeley (2010-15) until she retired. At Berkeley, she was responsible for the creation of a Native American Advisory Council, which ensured that those they represented had a much deeper involvement in the collection and could borrow ritual objects when they needed them. She also oversaw the design of a new campus gallery and a major digitisation project.

A particular expert on the brightly coloured Panamanian textiles known as “molas”, Professor Salvador guest-curated an exhibition called The Art of Being Kuna in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago in the late 1990s. As well as The Art of Being Kuna: Layers of Meaning among the Kuna of Panama (1997), she wrote or edited several books on northern New Mexico traditions involving saints and also on Portuguese religious celebrations in the Azores and in California.

Professor Salvador died of Alzheimer’s disease on 23 October and is survived by a son, a daughter and four grandchildren. Her family said that she would be remembered for “her love of flowers, good food and celebrating just about anything”.

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