The Quimby Family

The Quimby Family

On February 17, 2003, Professor George I. Quimby, one of American archaeology’s most distinguished practitioners, died at age 89. A descendant of pre-Revolutionary American pioneers, he was born in Grand Rapids on May 4, 1913. He was survived by his wife of 62 years, Helen Ziehm Quimby, and four children, all signatories to this document.

His father was proprietor of Raymers Bookstore in Grand Rapids and young Quimby enjoyed many hours buried in books. His interest in archaeology and anthropology began in his childhood. In an autobiographical sketch he penned for _American Antiquity _magazine in 1993, Professor Quimby recalled that, “My parents were interested in the history of the Grand Rapids area, including Indian groups. … As a young boy in Western Michigan I remember looking for stone arrowheads in the hollows among the sand dunes.”

Also an avid sailor in his youth, he recalled that, “among my most pleasant memories are those of cruising in the Upper Great Lakes for three summers from 1930 to 1932.” He said, “I visited many islands and other isolated communities that were more typical of the nineteenth century than of the twentieth. I saw Indian villages, fishing villages, and small farming communities, scenes more familiar to my ancestors than to my descendants.”

After receiving a B.A. and M.A. in anthropology at the University of Michigan, he supervised a New Deal-era Work Projects Administration project at Louisiana State University, studying artifacts from a Natchez Indian site in Mississippi when French explorers occupied the region. It was there he met and married Helen Ziehm, an art student at LSU. After the project ended in 1941, the couple moved back to Michigan and George Quimby became director of the Muskegon County Museum.

Soon after, the family moved to Chicago when Quimby joined the Field Museum and became curator of North American Anthropology and Ethnology. After 23 years there, he moved his family to Seattle in 1965, where he was Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington and, beginning in 1968, Director of the Thomas Burke Memorial Washington State Museum.

When he left Chicago to come to the University of Washington, his work had spanned the Late Pleistocene through the historic period, from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. Among publications from his Chicago years were several books, including “Indian Life in the Upper Great lakes 11,000 B.C. to A.D. 1800” and “Indian Culture and European Trade Goods: The Archaeology of the Historic Period in the Western Great Lakes Region.”

On becoming a resident of the Pacific Northwest, he grew increasingly interested in Northwest Coast archaeology and the history. This led to collaboration with colleague Bill Holm on restoration of a 1914 Kwakiutl Indian documentary film by Edward Curtis, released in 1973 as “In the Land of the War Canoes,” and a 1980 book titled, “Edward S. Curtis in the Land of the War Canoes: A Pioneer Cinematographer in the Pacific Northwest.” Quimby retired from the University of Washington in 1983 as Professor Emeritus.

His list of numerous anthropological articles and various other publications spans 1937 to 1994. His honors include the Harrington Medal in 1986 from the Society for American Archaeology and an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Grand Valley State University in 1992.

During his lifelong career, he touched the lives of many people, not only colleagues, but several generations of anthropology students and museum enthusiasts. The condolences his wife and family have received reflect a man not only known for his research, museum administration, teaching and publications, but also remembered for his friendship, the colorful bow ties he wore, the dapper mustache he sported to his dying day, and his witty sense of humor, sometimes bawdy, often wry.


Click here to view a short biographical film about George Quimby.