March 20, 2007

Hall of the Pacific Northwest Coast Indians




One of my all time favorite exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History, or really anywhere, is The Hall of the Pacific Northwest Coast Indians....I really need to check in with this exhibit, I haven't been there in over a year....I am always fearful that they are going to "modernize" and thus ruin this amazing and antiquated piece of the museum...this is the famous collection, assembled by Franz Boas....below is a bit of information about Boas, who was a super interesting fellow.

"In 1896 Boas was appointed Assistant Curator of Ethnology and Somatology of the American Museum of Natural History. In 1897 he organized the Jesup North Pacific Expedition, a five-year long field-study of the natives of the Pacific Northwest, whose ancestors had migrated across the Bering Strait from Siberia. He attempted to organize exhibits along contextual, rather than evolutionary, lines. He also developed a research program in line with his curatorial goals: describing his instructions to his students in terms of widening contexts of interpretation within a society, he explained that '...they get the specimens; they get explanations of the specimens; they get connected texts that partly refer to the specimens and partly to abstract things concerning the people; and they get grammatical information." These widening contexts of interpretation were abstracted into one context, the context in which the specimens, or assemblages of specimens, would be displayed: '...we want a collection arranged according to tribes, in order to teach the particular style of each group." His approach, however, brought him into conflict with the President of the Museum, Morris Jesup, and its Director, Hermon Bumpus. He resigned in 1905, never to work for a museum again."

The first photo is one of my fave artifacts at the American Museum of Natural History, a Nootka wooden rattle, consisting of small wooden fishes suspended in a grid of wooden dowels. It was collected by the Jesup North Pacific Expedition in 1897.

The second photo was taken in 1895....it is Franz Boas posing as part of a Kwakiutl Hamatsa (a Pacific Northwest tribe) figure group exhibition that was being created at the Smithsonian Institution.

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