July 2021 Alum of the Month: Lucia (Lulu) R. Henderson '97, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
Hotchkiss | July 2021 Alum of the Month: Lucia (Lulu) R. Henderson '97, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.

Pre-Colombian art historian and archeologist Lucia (Lulu) R. Henderson '97, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. has climbed active volcanoes, ventured into caves to study Precolumbian wall paintings, and created exacting illustrations of stone sculpture, all with the goal of making ancient worlds more accessible. These skills came unexpectedly in handy during the pandemic, when she was called into action to help save the family farm - one dedicated to preserving an endangered breed of cattle.

Growing up, Henderson had been passionate about many things, but ever since a family trip to Belize during her time at Hotchkiss, she had maintained a special interest in the ancient past and archaeology. Entering Harvard as an undergrad, she found that her preparation in Lakeville allowed her to pass enough AP tests to free up space for electives. "Thumbing through the course listings, I saw 'The Maya.' (In my excitement, I didn't notice that it was an advanced level graduate course!) Slide identification during exams were a cinch - I was fortunate to have taken many of the same photos myself during my spring break meanderings through Maya ruins. My professor, David Stuart, a certified genius, became one of the most influential people in my academic life. So that first, somewhat accidental step ended up determining the next two decades of my career!"

"During my time in Cambridge, I was taken under the wings of other wonderful mentors as well, including Ian Graham (rumored source material for Indiana Jones). He trained me in archaeological illustration - the meticulous translation of carved, bas-relief surfaces into pen and ink drawing," she said. Having spent many happy hours in the Hotchkiss art studios, she was thrilled to discover that her talents translated to an essential scholarly skill and found that she enjoyed immensely the precise parameters of technical drawing. The challenge was to translate elements that would be hard to see in a photograph into something legible that scholars could examine, analyze, and decipher. "This work has served as an analytical tool ever since - tracing every line an ancient Maya artist inscribed into a stone not only builds an intimate connection between past and present but reveals important details even intensive art historical analysis sometimes overlooks."

After graduating Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Anthropology and Archaeology, Henderson pursued a Masters in Art History at the University of California, San Diego. She then moved to the University of Texas at Austin for her Ph.D., rejoining David Stuart (who had moved there from Harvard) and taking on a dissertation project she had discussed with Ian Graham years earlier: an illustrated compendium and historical analysis of hundreds of sculptures and fragments from Kaminaljuyu, a massive ancient city buried under (and mostly destroyed by) Guatemala City.

As she pursued her dissertation, she continued to examine the ancient landscape and the ways people interacted with it. "After climbing a few volcanoes and seeing a few minor eruptions, I became fascinated by the ideological pull of volcanoes and their impact on ancient belief. I participated in a failed sub-aquatic archaeological project as well as a successful venture into a cave to analyze paintings a colleague had found."

Henderson moved to New York for a Post-Doc at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She received a second Post-Doc at the Denver Art Museum before marrying a childhood friend and moving to Washington, DC where she worked at the Dumbarton Oaks Museum.

"As far as my publications and research projects go, the thing that perhaps links them all is my desire to understand worldviews that are different from my own, especially ones that have been obscured by the passage of time. I have felt that one of the most important contributions of academic research like mine is to foster an environment in which cultural difference triggers curiosity and questions rather than fear," said Henderson. "I feel a deep and abiding interest in understanding the past, in preserving it, and in creating a welcoming space for deep discussion."

Henderson was deep in the weeds of various academic publications and projects related to Precolumbian art history when COVID turned her life upside-down. In March, 2020, she and her two year-old son temporarily moved in with her parents at Chapel Hill Farm in Virginia, while her husband, a primary care physician, stayed behind to care for patients during the pandemic.

At Chapel Hill Farm, Henderson's father has dedicated his energies to saving an endangered heritage breed of cattle, the Randall Lineback. Prior to the pandemic, Henderson had worked to support her father's mission through website design, photography, outreach, and marketing efforts. Until COVID struck, however, she had not been involved in the day-to-day running of the farm.

Randall Linebacks are one of only two remaining American landrace cattle breeds. An all-purpose breed that was developed in the U.S. in the late 17th century, RandallLinebacks long predate conventional beef and dairy breeds (such as Angus and Holsteins), which were developed in Europe in the 1850s. Randall Linebacks were never genetically altered to gain weight quickly, to tolerate massive consumption of corn, or to thread unhealthy fat through their muscles. They are also slow growing and inefficient by large agricultural standards, so they have been bred nearly out of existence.  

Part of the effort to save the breed is to find them productive work. Prior to COVID, Randall Lineback beef had found a cult following among Mid-Atlantic chefs for its unique flavor, which sets it apart from conventional beef. "Chapel Hill Farm was 100% wholesale to restaurants. So when all restaurants shut down last spring, we lost 100% of our business," Henderson explained. "I had to table my academic research and pause the career I'd spent decades building. There was both an immense feeling of loss and a concomitant mule-headed drive to meet the challenge head on." She restructured the farm's business strategy and production system, moving from a wholesale-to-chefs business model to direct-to-consumer retail. Partnership and collaboration has been key to the endeavor. As she says, "Saving the Randall Linebacks depends on building a bridge from the farm to the consumers who know the story of these remarkable animals and are invested in helping us save the breed."

 "Managing the business side of our farm is a far-cry from the quiet and somewhat solitary world of academia. But my training as an archaeologist, especially my experiences with fieldwork, made me an adaptable person who is now able to balance motherhood, business management, and my academic research," she said. Whether hiking through the hot jungles of Guatemala or navigating the sub-zero freezers to do beef inventory, Henderson uses many of the lessons she learned in Lakeville. "Hotchkiss provided what seemed like the proverbial 'well-rounded' education, but in hindsight, I see it was all career training. I loved theater, art, English and writing, and (for all my complaining), math (Mr. Bolmer is grinning!). I had gifted English teachers who taught me to analyze, think creatively, and write persuasively - particularly Ms. Jones and Mr. Frankenbach. Varsity sports, especially soccer with Ms. Cooper, taught me about teamwork and the physical capacities of my body. I learned independence, flexibility, problem solving, and the rewards of 'stick-to-it-iveness.'"

Driven by a commitment to sharing the impact of a Hotchkiss education, the Henderson family generously established the Lucia '97 & Welles '96 Henderson Fund, which supports special projects within the Science and English Departments.

For more information about Chapel Hill Farm and Randall Lineback cattle: www.RandallLineback.com

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