After 29 years of service as director of University of Tennessee’s McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture, Webb Class of 1961 alumnus Jeff Chapman is passing the torch to Claudio Gómez, formerly director of Chile’s National Museum of Natural History.
In honor of Chapman’s impact on McClung’s growth and success, UT Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor David Manderscheid recently named Gómez as the museum’s first Jefferson Chapman executive director.
Created in 1963, the 38,000-square-foot, three-story McClung Museum at 1327 Circle Park Drive on the University of Tennessee campus has won more than 50 awards from the Tennessee State Association of Museums, received five accreditations by the American Alliance of Museums and hosted more than 1.4 million visitors. Chapman, who announced his retirement in December 2018, oversaw much of the museum’s growth, including the expansion of its collections in anthropology, geology, archaeology, human origins, history, decorative arts, ancient Egypt, and natural history. Today, the museum’s arts and culture collections include about 25,000 objects from around the world and its research collections in archaeology, paleo-ethnobotany and malacology hold millions of specimens.
In addition, Chapman, who was honored with UT’s 2018 Chancellor’s Extraordinary Service to the University award, also initiated K-12 and university academic programs at the museum, created a membership program and increased research activities.
“I am proud of what we have achieved over the past almost three decades,” Chapman said in a December 3, 2018 UT news release. “The museum is on solid footing and is positioned to move to the next level. I feel it is time to turn the reins over to someone who will bring new ideas, energy and technological expertise to reach our vision of being one of the top university museums in the country.”
According to a June 14, 2019 TN Ledger article by Nancy Henderson, titled Closing time at McClung for Chapman, Chapman’s penchant for archaeology goes back to his childhood when he and his father searched for arrowheads on the banks of the Tennessee River and were members of the Tennessee Archaeological Society, an amateur club headed by professors in UT’s anthropology department. As a junior at Webb, Chapman participated in his first dig as part of a group exploring a section of the Cumberland River that was later flooded by the Barkley Dam in Kentucky. His senior year, Chapman joined an archeology crew at Melton Hill Dam.
Chapman went on to attend Yale University and after graduating in 1965, he taught history at Webb School, as well as an introductory anthropology class; and would take his Middle School students into the Tellico Reservoir to carry out excavations. He was later promoted to chair of the social studies department at Webb where he served until 1971.
After completing both his master’s and doctoral degrees in anthropology from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as a Master of Arts in teaching from Brown University, Chapman was hired by UT to work as an archaeologist on the Tellico Reservoir Archaeological Project. He later became McClung’s curator of archaeology before taking over as museum director in 1990. He is also a research associate professor in UT’s Department of Anthropology.
On June 20, 2019, UT hosted a dinner and reception at Cherokee Country Club to celebrate Chapman’s legacy and to raise funds to benefit the Jefferson Chapman Endowed Directorship, established in 2015 to be used in the search and support for McClung’s new director and to advance the museum’s priorities, including research, exhibition and public programming.