January 23, 2009

The Ethnology Detectives

Posted by: Karin Hoffman, P.I

Let me set the scene.

It’s a cold, foggy night. A confident yet distraught woman dressed in a black knee-length wool coat, broad-brimmed hat and delicate heels walks slowly up a set of wooden stairs to the second floor. Smoking a cigarette she approaches a closed door. She knocks, then enters the office of Karin Hoffman, P.I.

I always thought it would be fascinating to be a private investigator – digging up secrets from the past, anticipating a person’s next moves, or working to discover the story behind a statue of a falcon reputed to contain priceless jewels. I guess that’s why I was drawn to museums. Every day collections managers and curators are challenged to uncover the history of an object, often times relying on little prior knowledge of the artifact.

Our ethnology division recently faced such a challenge. A set of antique rifles was donated to the Burke and right away the collections team knew the rifles were keeping a secret. Take a look at what they discovered: