The Eccentric Fish Enthusiast Who Brought Armor to the Met

Article by Hyperallergic

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Bashford Dean in 1900 wearing Japanese armor; the Japanese Edo period armor now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art)

“The museums of New York City sprung out of wealth and curiosity, but few of their turn-of-the-century boosters were quite so eccentric or prolific as Bashford Dean. The expert in both fish and armor — and armored fish — was the major proponent and collector behind the Arms and Armor Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To celebrate both the centennial of the department and its adventurous founder, the museum opened Bashford Dean and the Creation of the Arms and Armor Department in 2012. It was originally only planned to go until last fall but has been extended through this year, and it’s worth stopping by the small show tucked in a gallery just outside the main armament displays. Not that any one artifact is going to compete with any on permanent display, except the character that was Bashford Dean.

Dean started collecting armor as a child, but his first academic love was fishes. At Columbia University he studied both paleontology and zoology, especially intrigued by those ancient fishes with flesh that seemed born for battle. He soon became a professor at the university and started to travel, and while that would be achievement enough he branched out into a full obsession with Japan, especially its military history. Soon he had the most impressive Japanese armor collection outside of Asia, and this transitioned into an extensive delve into the whole history of military protection that entailed the building of a whole display hall at his home of Wave Hill. Eventually in 1912 he became the first curator of arms and armor at the Metropolitan Museum, in addition to already being a curator of fishes at the American Museum of Natural History. He’s still the only person to have held curatorial positions at both places simultaneously.”

Read the full article here.

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