The Cretan Enigma

BY CURTIS RUNNELS – PRISCILLA MURRAY

In February 2022, Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University, and his wife Priscilla Murray, an anthropologist and Classical archaeologist, contributed to From the Archivist’s Notebook a story (The Cretan Idyll of Harriet Boyd and Charles Henry Hawes) about their purchase of a sketchbook from the early 20th century with watercolors depicting places and people on Crete. At the time, they identified Charles Henry Hawes as the owner of the sketchbook. Soon after their essay was published, they received a communication that cast doubt on the identity of the owner. After doing more research, they felt that they should publish an addendum to their previous essay, in order to let people know that they were probably wrong in their identification, and also open the floor for further discussion concerning the ownership of this precious item.

At a dinner in London in the nineteenth century, the social scientist Herbert Spencer is reported to have said that he had once composed a tragedy, to which the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley quickly replied “I know what it was about: an elegant theory killed by a nasty, ugly little fact.”  Our blog “The Cretan Idyll of Harriet Boyd and Charles Henry Hawes” is such a tragedy.  From circumstantial evidence we had concluded that a sketchbook in our collection was once owned by Charles Henry Hawes.  But now archaeologist Vasso Fotou, who has a copy of Henry’s diary for the spring of 1905, has informed us that the dates in our sketchbook for that time period and the ones in Henry’s diary do not match.  That fact proves that the sketchbook was not owned by Henry.

On the dates of the paintings and other sketches of the Aegean islands between Siteia and Athens in the sketchbook, Henry was on Crete.  He had been on Crete for a few days when a group of attendees of the First International Congress of Archaeology in Athens, including Harriet Boyd, Sir Arthur Evans, and twelve others arrived in Candia aboard the chartered yacht Astrapi on April 13.   Henry visited Harriet at Gournia on April 20, however, and not on April 16 as we had thought, and he remained in Crete after the Astrapi returned to Athens.

The dates in the sketchbook for 1905 suggest a short trip to Crete, and we now believe that it belonged to one of the twelve passengers on the Astrapi.  The yacht continued on to the Bay of Mirabello and Siteia, allowing some of the passengers to visit the excavations at Gournia and Palaikastro before the yacht returned to Athens via the islands.  Who was in that party of travelers and who could have been the owner?  And which of these people is also responsible for the paintings, pencil drawings, and other pictures in New England in 1915 and 1916?  It should be noted that the artworks in the sketchbook for both periods are of highly variable quality, and two pencil drawings (one of a sculpture of Heracles in the Mykonos Museum dated to April 20, and one undated portrait of the head of a man who might be Henry) are pasted into the sketchbook and are possibly from a different book.  Did more than one person paint or draw in the book? 

Insert undated pencil sketch, possibly of Charles Henry Hawes

While the sketchbook was not Henry’s, we nevertheless know that the conference visitors were acquainted with Harriet and probably also with Henry whom they would have met on the side trip to Palaikastro where he was excavating.  The acquaintance of the sketchbook owner with the Hawes may have been renewed in New England in 1915/1916 and it is possible that some of the portraits in the book are of Henry, Harriet, and their children after all.

We have considered two “suspects,” perhaps Edith Hall or Gisela Richter, both of whom were in Harriet’s circle and both of whom were on Crete in 1905 and who subsequently lived in the U.S. on the east coast in 1915/1916.  Unfortunately, in the absence of any evidence tying either one of them to the sketchbook we can only speculate that one of these women, both close friends with Harriet, could be the sketchbook owner.


One Comment on “The Cretan Enigma”

  1. Glenn Bugh says:

    Honest mistake, even more honest to draw attention to it. As an historian, I believe that this is how we should all approach our research. Moving targets and subject to interpretation. Drives us crazy, but well worth it. It really is now a mystery and a splendid opportunity for further discussion. Great stuff. Well done, Curtis and Priscilla.


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