Wednesday, 24 September 2014

New Accessions

Hat, 2013.56.1 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Traditional hat as worn by Lepcha people in Sikkim, India. The hat is woven and plaited from strips of cane and decorated with reflective plates of mica. Similar hats were worn by soldiers attending the royal family of Sikkim. This hat was brought to Britain not later than 1922 by the donor, Joan Schneider’s grandparents Walter and Eva Hodges. Walter Hodges was in the Indian Civil Service when he was assistant to the chief political officer of Sikkim John Claude White from 1890. He retired to Britain in 1922. Joan kindly donated the hat to the Pitt Rivers Museum. 

Faye Besley
Assistant Curator

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Haida Great Box Project

Jaalen and Gwaai with the new box on the left and
the original box on the right © Pitt Rivers Museum
This week skilled Haida artists Gwaai and Jaalen Edenshaw talked to staff about their work carving a replica of a box in the Museum collection.

The original box, made in the late 1800s, is from Haida Gwaii, a group of islands on the northwest coast of Canada. This first came to the attention of Gwaai and Jaalen during a Haida First Nation visit to examine collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum and the British Museum in 2009.

At the time the Haida delegates identified the box as a masterpiece in carving and pointed out objects like this are needed in Haida Gwaii to inspire artists and carvers.

Haida box PRM 1884.57.25 © Pitt Rivers Museum
Consequently, I am really pleased that Gwaai and Jaalen have finally been able to return to the Museum and feel privileged to witness this new box being made.

Even the Western red cedar wood being used to make the box has travelled specially all the way from Haida Gwaii.

Known as a bentwood box, I was really impressed to hear how this is carved from a single section of wood. Gwaai and Jaalen explained how they had to firstly make an undercut in the wood. The area along the undercut was then steamed for about 15 minutes. This made the wood pliable enough to bend to form a corner.

Jaalen working on the new box
© Pitt Rivers Museum
I was also interested to find out that the painted carved designs on the sides of the box show the face of the Chief of the Undersea World (Konankada) with Mouse Woman (Kuugin Jaad) standing underneath.

Pointing out the face of the Chief of the Undersea World with
Mouse Woman below on the replica box © Pitt Rivers Museum

If you are a carver and live nearby I encourage you to come to book a space this Thursday (18 September) at 2 pm when Gwaii and Jaalen are having a 'woodcarvers gathering'.

You can also keep up-to-date with the  'Great Box Project' by following blogs posted by Laura Peers, the Museum Curator of the Americas collections. Laura will also be giving a free Saturday spotlight talk about the project in the Museum on 15 November at 2.30 pm. I encourage you to come along if you can.

Zena McGreevy
Senior Assistant Curator

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Visiting Researchers

© Zoe Rimmer
My name is Zoe Rimmer and I am a proud member of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community with 11 years’ experience in museum curation and cultural heritage management. Over this time I have had the privilege of working with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community to help protect, preserve, and revitalize our cultural practices and heritage. I am particularly passionate about how museum collections can be utilized by Indigenous people to maintain, revive and elaborate on cultural practices through effective and meaningful engagement between institutions and Indigenous communities. 

Through a Churchill Fellowship I have recently had the unique opportunity to travel overseas to explore the ways that museums outside Australia are engaging with Indigenous (source) communities and to look at different methods used to present Indigenous cultures to international audiences.

Over 9 weeks through May, June and July 2014, I travelled to the US, Canada, UK and France and embraced the opportunity to experience new directions, methodologies and outcomes in museum cooperative partnerships with Indigenous communities. Somewhere between the 12 flights, 62 hours in the air, 1,900kms by train, 1,200kms by car, 1,000kms by camper van and at least 1 ferry ride – I managed to take 4500 photos and visit 35 museums, art galleries and cultural centers. Not all of these institutions were strictly related to my research but I found that even on my days “off” I was going to museums and art galleries. I think I have developed a serious addiction, and of course I bought home several extra kilos of catalogues and museum publications.

I was absolutely blown away by some of the largest cultural institutions in the world, had unforgettable experiences at some of the smallest and met countless inspirational people along the way. Since I’ve been home EVERYONE has asked me what the best part of my trip was and I think I give a different response every time, as there were just so many. Visiting the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, wandering the galleries, experiencing the uniquely curated cabinets and going behind the scenes to meet Pitt Rivers staff was certainly one of the highlights of my trip. 

Model canoe PRM 1893.50.14 © Pitt Rivers Museum
Searching for the Tasmanian Aboriginal canoe models and the precious marina shell necklace on display in the Pitt Rivers galleries and having the opportunity to view the rest of the Tasmanian Aboriginal collection of necklaces and baskets was an exciting and emotional experience as these objects are a real and tangible link to our ancestors. The Tasmanian model canoes are very rare objects and are significant to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community as they are three of only eight known surviving models from the 1840s (the other five are held by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery). The reed canoe models are particularly special as they are the two known to be made of this material. The bark canoe models at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery have been used by the Tasmanian Aboriginal community to help revive the practice of making full size bark canoes. 

Model boats, left PRM 1893.50.13, right PRM 1893.50.15 collected by John and Jane Franklin in the 1840s
© Pitt Rivers Museum

Basket PRM 1884.44.24 © Pitt Rivers Museum
For the Tasmanian Aboriginal community, ancestral stories, ceremony, ritual and spirit are embodied in shell stringing and basket weaving practices that extend back for many generations, far beyond living memory. In 2009 the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery toured an exhibition called tayenebe, which was the culmination of 6 years of traditional basketry revival within the community. Since 2010 I have been working on a similar revitalization project with shell necklaces stringers and over the next 12 months will be developing a touring exhibition titled kanalaritja: String of Shells for which we are hoping to secure some international loans. Shell stringing requires an intimate knowledge of ‘sea country’ and the time consuming and painstaking skill of collecting, cleaning and stringing shells is one of the oldest continuous cultural practices of Tasmanian Aborigines dating to at least 1800 years ago. The pearlescent but scarce marina shell and the delicate and unique nature of these necklace makes them very sought after items.

Meeting with the wonderful staff at Pitt Rivers was also a great opportunity to learn about some of the amazing collaborative projects they have undertaken
Shell necklaces PRM 1886.1.1577,
1923.87.332 and 1923.87.333
© Pitt Rivers Museum
with Indigenous source communities, as well as their numerous local community engagement projects. I was particularly inspired by the ‘
Blackfoot Shirts Project’ and the ‘Globalization, Photography, and Race: the Circulation and Return of Aboriginal Photographs in Europe’ project.  The numerous Community outreach and engagement programs including the ‘Twilight Takeovers’ and the upcoming ‘Need/Make/Use Day’ were also particularly interesting (I wish I was still in Oxford to attend this day!).

My Churchill Fellowship experience has reaffirmed my belief that museums can and do make a difference, and now that I am home I am excited to apply the ideas and inspiration I have gained. I am particularly excited about the opportunity to connect more Tasmanian Aboriginal people with our cultural material in international institutions and to expand our own curatorial practices to include more contemporary cultural expressions. I will be forever grateful to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for providing me this opportunity and to the Pitt River Museum and staff for being such great hosts during my visit. wulika, nayri nina-tu (goodbye & thank you).

Zoe Rimmer

Curator, Indigenous Cultures
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

New Accessions

This Chokwe dance mask was donated to the Museum by Linda Taylor. Mrs Taylor spent her childhood and teenage years in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and left in 1960 when she was 18 years old. During her time there she collected this mask and kindly donated it to the Pitt Rivers Museum in January 2013. 

Mask being catalogued; 2013.9.1 © Pitt Rivers Museum

The mask is a Mwana Pwo mask depicting a beautiful young woman. Such masks are used in initiation rituals and also danced at the induction of a new chief, fertility rituals, during funerals and for public entertainment. The markings on this particular mask are unusual, which indicates that it is from a border area where other cultures have influenced the Chokwe. It is a well-made mask and is especially interesting because of the cross-cultural influence. Other examples of Mwana Pwo masks can be found in ethnographic collections in Europe and America. 

Faye Belsey 
Assistant Curator