William Henry Holmes bigraphy, stories - Archaeologists

William Henry Holmes : biography

December 1, 1846 - April 20, 1933

William Henry Holmes (December 1, 1846 – April 20, 1933) was an American explorer, anthropologist, archaeologist, artist, scientific illustrator, cartographer, geologist and museum curator and director.


Born near the headwaters of Short Creek in Harrison County, Ohio, Holmes graduated from McNeely Normal College in 1870 and briefly went into teaching. In 1871, he went to Washington, D.C., to study art under Theodore Kaufmann. His talent soon came to the attention of the scientists at the Smithsonian Institution, notably Fielding Bradford Meek. In 1872, Holmes became an artist/topographer with the government survey of Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden. He first trip out West was to the newly established Yellowstone National Park. During the 1870s, Holmes gained a national reputation as a scientific illustrator, cartographer, and pioneering archaeologist and geologist--his work on the laccolith influenced Grove Karl Gilbert's own work on the same. In the field, Holmes worked closely with the photographer William H. Jackson and back in Washington he helped produce Hayden's great achievement, the Geological and Geographical Atlas of Colorado, And Portions of Adjacent Territory (1877, 1881). After the Hayden Survey was absorbed into the U.S. Geological Survey in 1879, Holmes went to Munich, Germany, to further his art studies under Frank Duveneck and to take lessons in "museum making" from Adolphe B. Meyer of Dresden's Anthropology Museum. On Holmes's return to the U.S., he was hired by the Geological Survey and assigned to Clarence Dutton as a geologist and illustrator. Holmes illustrated the atlas for Dutton's Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District (1882); his triptych panorama of the Grand Canyon from Point Sublime is a masterpiece of American scientific illustration. He was also a noted mountain climber, and a peak in Yellowstone National Park, Mount Holmes, was named in his honor. In 1875, Holmes began studying the remains of the Ancestral Pueblo culture in the San Juan River region of Utah. His models of ancient Indian ruins were a sensation at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia. Holmes became particularly interested in prehistoric pottery and shell art, producing the published works of "Art in Shell of the American Indians (1883)" and "Pottery of the Ancient Pueblos (1886)". He expanded these studies to include textiles, and he became well known as an expert in both ancient and existing arts produced by Native Americans of the Southwest.

Holmes left the Geological Survey in 1889 to become an archaeologist with the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of American Ethnology. He left Washington temporarily, from 1894 to 1897, to serve as curator of anthropology at the Field Columbian Museum. He returned to the Smithsonian in 1897 to serve as head curator of anthropology at the U.S. National Museum. From 1902 to 1909 he served as Chief (i.e. director) of the Bureau of American Ethnology, succeeding John Wesley Powell. During this period he studied the Etowah Indian Mounds of the Mississippian culture in Georgia, and in 1903, he published his Synthesis of Pottery. In 1910, he became chairman of the Division of Anthropology of the U.S. National Museum. In 1920, Holmes became the director of National Gallery of Art (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum), where he assembled exhibits of Indian arts from the Northwest Coast. He published many works on archæological and anthropological subjects. He edited geological publications, including Hayden's Atlas of Colorado and the eleventh and twelfth reports of the Geological Survey. His books include: "Handbook of Aboriginal American Antiquities" (1919).


File:Grand Canyon at the foot of the Toroweap - looking east, William Henry Holmes.png|Grand Canyon at the foot of the Toroweap - looking east, sheet VI, in Clarence E. Dutton, The Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District (Holmes, 1882) File:Duttonnp000086AAA2.jpg|Panorama from Point Sublime, illustration of the Grand Canyon by Holmes, published in Clarence E. Dutton, The Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District (1882), sheet XV. File:Holmes_1877_Kanab_Desert_dut0035b.jpg|Sunset on the Kanab Desert. From the brink of the Permian Cliff - a Permian butte in the foreground, the Vermillion Cliffs in the distance, and the Jurassic white sandstone in the extreme background. Grand Canyon District, Mohave County, Arizona. (Holmes, 1877)

Secondary Sources

Fernlund, Kevin Jon. William Henry Holmes and the Rediscovery of the American West. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8263-2127-5.

Published works

Published works by Holmes include:

  • "]: Sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution 1884-1885, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1888, 187 pages
  • : Thirteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution 1891-1892, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1896 pages 3–46.
  • Natural History of Flaked Stone Implements. In Memoirs of the International Congress of Anthropology, edited by C. S. Wake, pp. 120–139. Schulte, Chicago, Il. (1894)
  • Archaeological Studies among the Ancient Cities of Mexico (1895)
  • Stone Implements of the Potomac-Chesapeake Tidewater Province. In Bureau of American Ethnology Annual Report, pp. 13–152. vol. 15. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (1897)
  • Random Records of a Lifetime, 1846-1931: Cullings, largely personal, from the scrap heap of three score years and ten, devoted to science, literature and art. 1932. Description: 21 v. in 22. illus. (mounted, part col.) clippings, letters. 27 cm. Held in the American Art Portrait Gallery Rare Book Collection.
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