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Seizing the Moment: Collaboration and Cooperation in the Founding and Growth of the Museum of Northern Arizona, 1928–2008 DAVID R. WILCOX On September 6, 1928, the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) first opened its doors to the public at the new Woman’s Club building in the heart of Flagstaff, Arizona. The first lecture was given by Byron Cummings, the director of the Arizona State Museum (ASM) at the University of Arizona, about his recent excavations at the site of Turkey Hill Pueblo. Knowing why Cummings was asked, and why Turkey Hill Pueblo was the subject of his talk, can help us to understand the significance of the unique historical “moment” when the museum was founded, and why that should still be of interest to us today. At the 2008 Pecos Conference, celebrating eighty years of the museum and one hundred years of the Coconino National Forest (CNF) and of the Fort Valley Experiment Station, the organizing committee presented a plenary session with the theme of cooperation and collaboration among local Flagstaff institutions, including also Northern Arizona University (NAU) and the National Park Service (which is still celebrating the hundred-plus years of the first Federal Antiquities Act, of 1906). Accordingly , Robert Breunig, the current director of MNA, suggested to me the same theme for a “Cummings Memorial Lecture.” As it happens, I have studied Cummings’ career (Wilcox 1988, 1993, 2005b; Wilcox and Fowler 2002; see also Bostwick 2006), as well as the history of MNA,1 and so was prepared to talk about the historical processes that defined the moment which the first board of the museum so presciently seized, and the importance of cooperation and collaboration both then and subsequently in the growth of the museum. That moment was not simply a matter of serendipity produced by purest chance, but was what DAVID R. WILCOX is senior research anthropologist at the Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff. Journal of the Southwest 52, 4 (Winter 2010) : 435–537 436 ✜ JOURNAL OF THE SOUTHWEST the French historian Fernand Braudel (1980) called a “conjunction,” when a set of different historical processes came into alignment. This essay is an outgrowth of that talk. My purpose is not to present a full history of MNA, but to touch on certain points that provide insight into whence we have come and to what the successes of the museum over the last eighty years can principally be attributed, as a guide to our future. I show that by exercising human agency, by forging “strategic alliances” among a certain set of people and institutions, the museum immediately gained momentum to pursue the mission it had defined for itself. While dwelling on the founding moment, I briefly touch on subsequent historical moments that were seized in a similar way to maintain that mission and to make the Museum of Northern Arizona an enduring institution whose future still holds much promise. In conclusion , I point to three current research projects that are based on similar principles. Accompanying this essay are a series of selected biographic sketches that fill out the historical record about some of the key people discussed in this essay. THE COLTONS MOVE TO FLAGSTAFF Harold Sellers Colton (1881–1970) was born and grew up in Philadelphia . In 1926 he moved with his wife, Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton (1889–1971), to Flagstaff, Arizona, which they had first visited on their honeymoon in 1912. A professional zoologist (figure 1) and artist (figure 2), respectively, they had already spent several summers in Arizona and had many local friends. Barely classifiable as a city, with slightly more than five thousand people, Flagstaff was already the host of several scientific institutions and the Arizona State Teacher’s College (Cline 1983, 1994; Hinsley 1994). Led initially by Grady Gammage (1892–1959; figure 3), the president of the college, the Flagstaff intellectual community in 1927 formed the Northern Arizona Society of Science and Art (NASSA), whose central purpose was to found a museum. The Coltons quickly assumed leadership roles in NASSA—he as director and president of the board, and she as the first curator of art and ethnology. Against the wishes and advice of President...


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