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Lovers of art, artifacts mesh old with the new

At home with Steven LeBlanc and Kathy Register

BEDFORD -- The US Postal Service recently issued 37-cent commemorative postage stamps and 23-cent stamped postal cards featuring art of the American Indian, including a stunning ram's head bowl from the Mimbres, a prehistoric farming people. The original bowl is in the permanent collection of the University of New Mexico's Maxwell Museum, but a reproduction sits prominently in the den of Dr. Steven LeBlanc. The director of collections at Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Lelanc uncovered the bowl as a young archeologist leading an expedition in New Mexico.

LeBlanc, 61, and his wife of 16 years, Kathy Register, 52, share a love for art and archeology, in part because it brought them together in 1986, when Register was arts editor of the Pasadena (Calif.) Star News. He was curator of the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, and she interviewed him about the museum's Mimbres exhibit. Recently they collaborated on LeBlanc's 15th book, Constant Battles (St. Martin's Press), which examines warfare in prehistory.

LeBlanc and Register, now a writer in the marketing and publications office at Middlesex Community College and an active founding board member of the Bedford Center for the Arts, live with their twin 11-year-old sons in a 1960s contemporary ranch with post-and-beam construction and an open floor plan.

Outside, the home is a bit different than the others in this suburban neighborhood, because it is a sprawling one-level California-style contemporary. Inside, however, is the real surprise: the couple's zeal for art and archeology threads throughout the home and takes precedence over most things, including its furnishings, which are simple, eclectic pieces selected for comfort and charm.

The couple spends most evenings in their den (the boys have a lower-level playroom), surrounded by their beloved ethnographic art and artifacts. Draped on one wall are Hopi textiles made of native cotton and embroidery. Nearby, a small 100-year-old Kachina doll, carved from the root of a cottonwood tree, hangs near two adzes, woodworking tools from Melanesia. LeBlanc became fascinated by the adz in the 1960s when, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Samoa, he watched a neighbor make canoes. He purchased the tools to learn which were used "for woodworking, and which [were] for weapons," he explains.

Also on display are Australian Aborigine spear-throwers and a 50-year-old bow and arrow from Africa. Completing their wall display are baskets made by the Hopi, Apache, and Navajo tribes, and a large vegetable-dyed rug LeBlanc bought on a digging expedition in Turkey.

Other pieces of their collection, including the ram's head bowl reproduction, dot shelves packed with books on archeology and art. Register also owns Indian jewelry, including a Zuni fetish necklace.

Hanging amid the artifacts is Register's miniatures collection, stored in printers'-type boxes she obtained at her first newspaper job. Among the tiny teapots, Beatles' pins, and doll heads sits a glass Boston terrier she purchased when the family relocated from California to Boston for LeBlanc's job five years ago. "When we moved here, people said our house was `really unusual,' then said, `oh yeah, you're from California," says Register.

"They think we brought it with us!" LeBlanc adds, laughing.

Next to the den is a beautifully appointed living room that also contains some ethnographic art, including a wooly mammoth tooth, but they don't use the room much; the kitchen is their other hangout. There, Register points to a perk of marrying LeBlanc, wedding gifts from his close friends, including five etchings from James Terrell, a well-known California artist, and a sculpture from Tony Berlant, an LA artist known for his metal collages. "I covered the L.A. arts scene -- I knew about Tony Berlant and James Terrell -- and I had no idea Steven had a connection to them, and then we got these wedding presents and I said, `You know who?!"

The Peabody Museum's exhibit of Mimbres pottery, called "Painted by a Distant Hand" and curated by LeBlanc, is on view through September 2005. Details: 617-496-1927. Mindy Pollack-Fusi may be reached at

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