James VanStone '48
Arctic Cultures Expert
When James VanStone entered Oberlin, he had already been smitten with a love of archaeology. When Loren Eiseley, the only Oberlin professor who taught that subject, left to teach elsewhere, young VanStone declared art history as his major, although he remained committed to his passion for subarctic cultures. His graduate work was in archeology at the University of Pennsylvania, and when he graduated in 1954 he had spent a handful of years on the faculty at the University of Alaska, where he had his own sled dog team.
Mr. VanStone wrote more than 140 publications and monographs, opening the frigid Arctic and the ways of its people to the world. He was among the first Arctic researchers to combine the studies of archeology and living cultures, realizing that volumes could be learned from the way people are now, as well as from their remains and artifacts. He had a unique ability to fit in comfortably with divergent native groups, which made his work so different from others in the field. He once complained with amusement that he could hardly get his work done because of the constant interruptions by the native groups, who wanted to tell him stories.
From 1959 to 1966 Mr. VanStone taught at the University of Toronto, then joined the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago as an associate curator of North American archeology and ethnology. He was later named full curator, holding that title until he retired in 1993, and taught at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.
His writings focused on the distinctiveness of Athapaskan clothing, the coastal explorations of Alaska made by Russians, the material culture of Alaskan Eskimos, and every aspect of Arctic culture. At the Field Museum he was the scientific editor of Fieldiana, the museum's scientific publication, and he had published more than a half-dozen articles in retirement. He was working on another manuscript when he died at age 75, February 28, at Evanston Hospital. He is survived by his twin sister, two nephews, and two nieces.