Library displays ancient artwork

By Elizabeth Waibel

A collection of pre-Columbian artifacts from Peru is now on display at the Emma Waters Summar Library on the Union University campus.

The library has about 100 pieces that date from roughly 300 B.C. to A.D. 1534, and represent most of the high cultures that lived in the Andes region before Europeans arrived, such as the Inca, Nazca and Chimu cultures.

The collection was donated by Drs. Marvin and Jean Fitts, Union alumni, who began collecting artifacts while they were missionaries in Peru.

Marvin Fitts said he took a class in archaeology and ancient Peruvian history at the National University of San Marcos after they arrived in Peru 1961. His professor there, archaeologist Federico Kauffmann-Doig, piqued his interest in collecting.

“He was such a wonderful teacher,” Marvin Fitts said. “He really inspired me to start studying more about the history of the archaeological findings of the indigenous peoples of Peru.”

He said the couple began buying “huacos,” or artifacts dug up from old graves, from door-to-door salesmen, markets and stores.

He said he was eventually able to identify most artifacts from the pre-Columbian high cultures in Peru. The collection includes pots, children’s toys, tribal sashes, a chieftain’s staff and other pieces whose functions are not known for certain. Altogether, the pieces are worth about $100,000.

“I tried to get, more or less, a cross section of those cultures I had studied,” he said.

Marvin Fitts said he and his wife collected the artifacts because they were interested in the cultures represented by the artifacts, not out of a desire to resell the pieces later for a profit.

“It was a personal thing,” he said. “From the beginning, we did not collect (the artifacts) for financial purposes; our collection was for personal gain — learning (and) academic purposes.”

Dr. Gary Williams, associate vice president for advancement and alumni services, said he worked with the Fittses to bring the artifacts to Union.

“They wanted to be certain their collection was somewhere it could be used to cultivate an interest and be of educational value to students, faculty and the public,” Williams said.

“Every facet of the culture is incorporated into the exhibit. We have not had a collection of this type, so it’s going to be an asset to the university from a cultural perspective, from an art perspective, from a historical perspective — all kinds of different areas on campus will be able to study the collection and learn from it.”

Displaying Fitts’ Collection is part of the library’s effort to make the archives and special collections more accessible.

“The folks in the library  have gone to great lengths to display the collection in a museum-quality environment,” Williams said.

Dr. Jenny Lowery, assistant professor of library services, said the library has had the collection for about five years, but has been unable to display it until now because it did not have the needed display cases.

Lowery said she chose pieces for display that were in good condition and from each of the different cultures represented.

“What we have out (in the library) is about a third of the collection,” she said. “We don’t have space to display it all at once, so our plan is to rotate it through different pieces.”

Additional information and photos of the artifacts are available at

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.