HOLMES, William Henry

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HOLMES, William Henry (1846-1933), renaissance man, he wore many hats in his life: anthropologist, archaeologist, artist, draftsman, explorer, geologist, government official, and museum director. While studying under Theodor Kaufmann in 1871 in Washington, D.C., he met Fielding B. Meek of the Smithsonian Institution, who hired him to illustrate his paleontological reports. This was Holmes's first assignment requiring detailed drawings of fossils and other specimens.

In 1872–79 he worked with geologist F. V. Hayden as a geologist-artist on Hayden's western surveys. Highlights of these years include travels to Yellowstone, discovery of the Mount of the Holy Cross and the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings in Colorado, and friendships with William H. Jackson and Thomas Moran.

In 1880 Holmes worked with Major Clarence E. Dutton, preparing highly detailed topographical drawings of the Grand Canyon region for Dutton's Tertiary History of the Grand Cañon District (1882). Holmes later worked in the Field Museum of Natural History and taught anthropology at the University of Chicago. He then directed the Bureau of American Ethnography and National Gallery of Art (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum) in Washington, D.C.


1900: Reports on limited excavations at Empire Landing and the Isthmus have been written by W. H. Holmes of the National Museum. [Decker, Dean A. Early Archaeology on Catalina Island. Potential and Problems. Annual Report, UCLA Archaeological Survey, pp. 69-84, UCLA. 1969.]


1904: “Note.— William Henry Holmes, head curator, Department of Anthropology, of the Smithsonian Institution, in "Anthropological Studies in California," records a number of curios found by him in an ancient grave at the Isthmus [Santa Catalina Island]. "There were also parts of three or four steatite vessels, one small with squared end, probably a baking plate. Other articles were evidently mere burial offerings made for the purpose and doubtless symbolic. They include a steatite hook of a form common in the region, a miniature pest of steatite, a peculiar object, apparently a much conventionalized fish or finback whale, three ladles of steatite utensils, apparently dipper handles, an obsidian arrow point, and some decayed shell ornaments."

In deposits of kitchen middens, Mr. Holmes found "many abalone shells and some rude stone utensils, the latter including a flattish spatulate stone, one end of which was covered with asphaltum." ” [Williamson, Mrs. M. Burton. Catalogue of Indian Relics Found on Santa Catalina Island in Bulletin of Southern California Academy of Sciences Volume 3, January to December 1904, (p. 152)]