Mari Lyn Salvador, a distinguished scholar of brightly colored Panamanian textiles called molas and the director of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley from 2010-15, passed away on Monday in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Benjamin Porter, an associate professor of Near Eastern Studies and her successor at the Hearst, lauded Salvador’s leadership while she was at the helm of the campus museum where cultures from around the world connect.
He noted Salvador’s many Hearst projects, which included initiation of a dramatic collections relocation program, design of a new campus gallery at the Hearst and establishment of a Native American Advisory Council to guide the museum in its relationships with Native American communities.
Salvador studied art at San Francisco State University and served with the Peace Corps in Panama. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in cultural anthropology at UC Berkeley in 1971 and 1973 respectively. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology at UC Berkeley in 1976, having focused on the use of art in daily life by the Kuna, among whom visual art is created only by women in communal practices.
From 1978 to 1984 she was an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico, and served as chief curator of the UNM Maxwell Museum of Anthropology from 1978 to 2004. From 1988 to 1992 she was associate dean of UNM’s College of Arts and Sciences, before becoming a full professor at the university in 1999. Salvador remained at the University of New Mexico until 2004, when she left to become chief executive officer for the San Diego Museum of Man, serving there until 2009.
Salvador spent much of her adult life conducting research in the San Blas Islands of Panama and Portugal’s Azores Islands, connecting art to the people and societies responsible for its creation. She earned widespread recognition for her work, as well as appreciation for her generous mentorship to many.
She was a visiting professor and Fulbright scholar studying native religious celebrations at the Universidade Aberta in Lisbon, Portugal, and a visiting scholar in the Czech Republic. Salvador guest curated the exhibition, The Art of Being Kuna, at UCLA’s Fowler Museum of Cultural History, as well as at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, and at Chicago’s Field Museum. In 1987, she was named a presidential scholar at the University of New Mexico.
Salvador wrote or edited several books about her work with the Kuna, on Northern New Mexico traditions involving saints and about Portuguese religious celebrations in the Azores and in California.
Family members said she passed away following a majestic Albuquerque sunset, surrounded by family. A private memorial will be held in Albuquerque.
Survivors include her daughter Melina; son Sergio; four grandchildren; sisters Louise and Michelle; and brothers David, Pat and Michael.
Porter said gifts received by the museum in Salvador’s name will be committed to its We Are All Anthropologists Fund for K-6 students and their teachers, as the museum staff continue to adhere to her principles of culture, community and justice, which he called “three key values that are critical at this moment in our history.”
She will be remembered, family members said, for “her love of flowers, good food and celebrating just about anything.” They ask friends and colleagues to honor her life by “eating some ice cream, spending some time working in a garden and looking for beauty even when it is hard to see.”