Louis Pierre Ledoux (1912–2001): Adventurer, Anthropologist, Humanist Louis Pierre Ledoux (1912–2001)Adventurer, Anthropologist, Humanist Tiki Beatrice Sonderhoff Nelson Louis Pierre Ledoux circa 1936 Louis Pierre Ledoux was born in 1912 in New York. In 1935 he graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Anthropology and immediately started searching for opportunities to travel the world. One day in late October 1935, after having wandered the halls of the American Museum of Natural History, Ledoux writes in the Introduction of his unfinished manuscript, “a message reached me that Dr. Margaret Mead (Associate Curator at the American Museum of Natural History at the time) wanted to see me. Almost the first thing she said after introductions was ‘You go there, and you go alone,’ as she pointed to a map of (Papua) New Guinea.” He would be going to Kaup, in the Murik Lakes region of the Eastern Sepik district of Papua New Guinea, and the purpose of his study was to learn about the trade in the area, especially the trade of dances or singsongs. His fieldwork would encompass only a short five-month period from February to June 1936. Financed privately by Ledoux himself, and without formal attachment to the Museum, Ledoux successfully presented his collection (279 objects) to the Museum upon his return to New York. He was named Patron of the American Museum of Natural History. Other museums he also presented to include the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard and later the Brooklyn Museum. Ledoux also presented to A. P. Elkin at the University of Sydney a small but select collection—some of which were featured at the 2015 “Myth & Magic, Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea” exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, in Canberra. During the ten hectic days between his initial meeting with Mead and the departure of his ship to Sydney, Australia, Ledoux continued to receive instruction and advice from Margaret Mead, including, for example, a 1927 equipment list by anthropologist and husband Reo Fortune and Mead’s additional notes (used by Mead and Reo Fortune for their 1932–33 expedition to the Sepik), reading lists, and notes on who to meet and what to do to ensure his travel to Australia and Papua New Guinea would be successful. In due course, it would be Ledoux who would write pages and pages of advice to young anthropologist and Columbia University graduate, Bernard Mishkin (1940 Rank and Warfare Among the Plains Indians), on how to prepare for fieldwork in New Guinea. Ledoux did not have much time in Sydney before his ship departed for Madang, Papua New Guinea. But he did manage to meet several personalities at the University of Sydney, thanks to Margaret Mead’s connections, such as professor and preeminent anthropologist A.P. Elkin who supplied him with equipment and instructions on what to buy and do both in Australia and in Papua New Guinea. Government anthropologist E.W. Chinnery also advised Ledoux, and he received letters of introduction dated 13th December 1935 from F. Strahan, Secretary to the Prime Minister, to the Administrator of New Guinea, Brigadier-General V.R. McNicoll to ensure that Ledoux, as an anthropologist, be granted entry and access to the Murik Lakes region. The letter reads “This will serve to introduce to you Mr. Louis Pierre Ledoux, of New York, who is … visiting New Guinea for the purpose of undertaking anthropological research (sic) near Wewak in the Sepik District.” It continues, “Mr. Ledoux is a son of an influential American with many Australian connections, and a friend of Mr. R. O. Casey, the Commonwealth Treasurer.” In a Foreword to his manuscript, Ledoux describes his voyage from Australia to Port Moresby, New Guinea. Due to a shipping strike in Australia at the time, Ledoux was forced to take whatever ship was available. In this case, it was a crowded and uncomfortable vessel he was not sad to disembark three weeks later, his fellow passengers being “gold miners, missionaries, government officials, and new mothers returning with their bawling brats to their husbands in the so-called towns.” Ledoux and sixty-nine (!!) crates of equipment finally disembarked at the village of Sumup on February 13, 1936. From there it was a mere seven mile walk to his final destination of Kaup, yet he writes in a Preface to his manuscript, “It took some three and one-half hours through intermittent rain over interminable roller-coaster-like, slippery little mountains and along soft beaches to get to Kaup.” Ledoux did not do much academic preparation for his expedition; he had no training on how to do fieldwork; he did not read the reference materials suggested to him. In a summary note written in December 1938 about his manuscript, and after admitting her displeasure of his lack of preparation, Margaret Mead however bluntly states “... a lot of the stuff is lovely stuff, you have shown far more conscientious accuracy than most ‘trained’ anthropologists and the meticulous honesty with which you have said all through the MS (manuscript) what you know and what you don’t … make your material of unquestionable value.” At the end of her summary note, her final sentence reads “And it ouught (sic) to make a very interesting and valuable book.” He was naturally respectful and conscious of those around him. He speaks particularly fondly and respectfully of Father Joseph Schmidt, who had been living with the Murik for over a decade and had fantastic relations with them. In the Acknowledgements, he writes “I am indebted to Pater Joseph Schmidt … for most generous hospitality that it was impossible for me to fully repay, information, and several important items for my collection to the two Museums.” (American Museum of Natural History and the Peabody Museum). Similarly, he was very fond of Father Kirschbaum, whose empathy and understanding of the Indigenous peoples made him very popular amongst the villages he lived and worked in. In fact, it was his relationship with the missionaries in the field that finally rendered Ledoux unpublishable—but sadly, this was due to miscommunication. On his return to the United States. Ledoux’s route included a stop in Brisbane, Australia. There he came into conversation with a local reporter, with whom he spoke—specifically off-the-record—about his view of some of the missionaries’ work in New Guinea, fearing (and seeing) that some of it was detrimentally affecting the sociocultural fabric of New Guinea society. Consequently, no university, research body, or anyone else would associate with Ledoux for having insulted the missions. Ledoux laments “Father Schmidt was most kind to me, and a very pleasant friend, and it grieves me that he no longer holds me in esteem through my unfortunately somewhat crudely quoted difference of oppinion (sic) of Mission method, which was not born out of personal animosity or preconceived ideas, but merely from my attachment for, and study of the natives.” Kaup village, 1936, photograph by Louis Pierre Ledoux (TNG-19.2) Ledoux went into the field with the general objective of studying trade. However, he found himself recording, observing, photographing, and trying to understand daily lifestyle, relationships, legends, and oral histories. Trade itself, though the mainstay of the Murik, did not feature prominently in his written accounts. He focused more on the trade of dances or singsongs during trade expeditions—these dances or singsongs being a vital part of the physical trade negotiations and a source of village pride. It is not clear what steered his collecting style—given his lack of preparation, he probably did not have set objectives of what to collect. He does mention going on “collecting trips” but what exactly motivated him (except to escape the monotony of everyday life in the village) is not clear. In Ledoux’s writings, he is more focused on the meaning of rituals, relationships, and everyday occurrences than he is of the aesthetic qualities of the material culture—though he was fully aware of the significance of their functionality, whether spiritual or practical. He did put most effort into collecting important artefacts that Father Schmidt asked him to care for, lest they be burnt by the missions. These include kakar spears and masks, as well as Kandimbong figures. In Chapter 5 of the manuscript, Ledoux writes “On one of my collecting trips to Murik, I found the missionary about to burn the remnants of a whole attic full of the feathered kakar spears … These had been turned over to the mission quite willingly by the natives along with many other things after an impassioned ‘sales talk’ about their evilness … by a travelling missionary from a different district … As the mission was burning them up, they were good enough to let me take some twenty fragments so I could bring them to Kaup and piece together a few good ones out of the debris for Museums.” It was Father Schmidt who discreetly handed him a number of the spears and other items for safekeeping. Ledoux’s stay in New Guinea was cut short by a few months due to weather and ship availability. Upon his return to New York, he found out about the fiasco with the Brisbane reporter and that no one wanted to publish his work. Ledoux was especially distraught that Father Schmidt and Father Kirschbaum should think that he spoke and thought ill of them. Louis Pierre Ledoux cellar circa 1940s, courtesy of Dr Michael Martin from a forthcoming book on Ledoux the photographer. He soon joined the family metals business, Ledoux Metals Company (founded in 1880) in New York City—with an office furnished especially for him. World War II followed, and all thoughts of publishing his ethnographic materials seemed to him frivolous. Various academics would contact him over the years for his insight and field photographs, including Margaret Mead’s close friend and fellow anthropologist Rhoda Metraux and more recently the anthropologists Kathleen Barlow and David Lipset, who themselves did fieldwork in the Murik Lakes region in the 1980s and 2000s. Louis Pierre Ledoux cellar circa 1940s, courtesy of Dr Michael Martin from a forthcoming book on Ledoux the photographer. Ledoux married Joan Ledoux (born Johanna Maria Fuchs-Fernegg of Vienna) in 1942. They had two children who predeceased them. Ledoux and his wife were avid travelers (though they never did visit Papua New Guinea together), entertainers, skiers—she was an Austrian National Team Skier and actress. He died in 2001, whereupon Joan took over the family metals business. She died in 2015. Louis Pierre Ledoux cellar circa 1940s, courtesy of Dr Michael Martin from a forthcoming book on Ledoux the photographer. Ledoux’s personal collection of items collected in New Guinea was found upon dissolution of his estate after his wife’s passing. Stored in old crates in an attached garage and basement, wrapped in newspaper dated 1936, many of the items seem to have remained undisturbed all those years since. The dust and air of Papua New Guinea 85 years ago seemed to permeate the crates. Although Ledoux never finished his manuscript, and only a few of the objects he provided to the American Museum of Natural History are actually on display at the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples, this cache of collected items that Ledoux deemed worthy of keeping, and his wondrous account of the time he spent in the Murik Lakes region, is truly a remarkable finding.