John Putnam at the Burke
John's first contact with the museum was in 1941 when he took Museum Techniques from Martha Flahaut, which included preparation of all kinds, including skinning mice. In 1981, when he offered to volunteer at the Burke, then Assistant Curator of Ethnology Patty Blankenship suggested he take photos of the ethnology collection. He started with Eskimo bowls "because they were close to the door." Soon, John tackled a project dear to his heart: systematic photos of the Native American basketry collection. He started with Tlingit baskets, where he had some expertise, then moved on to the other tribal groups. This first set of photos was taken in black and white, with proof sheets organized in 3-ring notebooks.
John played a major role in the creation of the Burke Museum's first videodisk, a visual record of 14,000 objects from the Pacific Northwest region, photographed in color slides with multiple views of each object, including 4,000 baskets from the Columbia River to Point Barrow, Alaska. John was one of a team of photographers who together generated over 75,000 slides in a two-year period. In 1998 -- in another marathon donation of time and expertise -- Putnam worked with assistants to photograph 1,166 prints from the recently acquired Blackman/Hall collection of Northwest Coast prints, all accomplished in two weeks in preparation for our silk screen print exhibit: Graphic Culture. He also photographed the entire Chinese Nuosu collection of over 400 objects in a few short weeks before Mountain Patterns was exhibited in 2000.
John's detailed photographs have been used extensively for comparative research by experts around the world and have appeared in numerous Burke publications. His own research with our Collection Manager, Rebecca Andrews, resulted in a paper on Makah trinket baskets that he read at last year's Native American Art Studies Association conference in Victoria, B.C. However, John's involvement with ethnology does not stop there. He has regularly donated funds to the Erna Gunther Endowment, and given cash gifts that have helped with needed equipment and hourly wages for students and staff. He is always on the lookout for collections that will augment the Burke's. Recently he donated a rare basket--collected by Judge Wickersham in 1899--made by the mother of Yuckton, the last member of the Qualhioqua people of Pe Ell Prairie in western Washington.