Thursday, 15 September 2016

A Gift from the New South Africa

Cruet sets. Right to left: Mandela and De Klerk (2016.44.1), Tutu and Terre Blanche (2016.44.2) and Elizabeth II and Prince Philip (2016.44.3) © Pitt Rivers Museum
I have recently accessioned an interesting new acquisition of Africana into the collections. At the time of the first free elections in South Africa in 1994 a local pottery in Bryanston, S. Africa, called Baker Street originals produced two salt and pepper sets, one depicting Nelson Mandela and F.W. Klerk and the other Archbishop Tutu and Eugene Terre Blanche; subsequently at the time of the Queen's state visit to South Africa a couple of years later they produced a third set representing the Queen and Prince Philip. Baker Street trading the manufacturers of the cruet sets was established in 1986 and through the years has manufactured various items for the home and garden including the now famous and collectable cruet sets of South African political figures. The company are still manufacturing goods but no longer produce the cruet sets, which were produced in small quantities. The Mandela and De Klerk and the Archbishop Tutu and Terre Blanche sets were donated with their original packing, a cardboard box illustrated by South African cartoonist Peter Mascher, who has worked for South African newspapers Beeld, Citizen and Daily Dispatch. The cruet sets are made from terracotta and have been hand painted, they are caricatures of the famous South African political figures and British monarch. Mandela and Tutu were famously anti-apartheid freedom fighters whilst the position of De Klerk is more complicated, he was Head of State under the apartheid era but helped to broker the end of apartheid and supported the transformation of South Africa into a non-racial democracy whilst Terre Blanche was a white supremacist, a major figure in the right-wing backlash against the collapse of apartheid.

Pepper shaker depicting Nelson Mandela (2016.44.1 .1)  © Pitt Rivers Museum
Pair of salt and pepper shakers depicting Archbishop Tutu and Eugene Terre Blanche with souvenir cardboard box (2016.44.2) © Pitt Rivers Museum
Following a series of tense negotiations and years of liberation struggle, the first democratic election was held in South Africa on the 27th April, 1994. This election changed the history of South Africa. It paved the way towards a new democratic dispensation and a new constitution for the country. For the first time all races in the country were going to the polls to vote for a government of their choice. Nineteen political parties participated and twenty-two million people voted. The African National Congress (ANC) won the election, they formed the Government of National Unity and Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president. De Klerk was the last Head of State of South Africa under the apartheid era and acted as deputy president during the presidency of Mandela. Controversially, the Nobel Peace Prize 1993 was awarded jointly to Mandela and De Klerk "for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa"

Pepper shaker depicting Queen Elizabeth II (2016.44.3 .1)  © Pitt Rivers Museum
Queen Elisabeth II visited Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Port Elisabeth between the 19 - 25th March 1995 on a state visit to South Africa. It was the first visit of a British monarch since 1947. Her trip marked the country's return to the Commonwealth following the election of its first multi-racial government. Her visit was as Head of State visiting an independent country and also as Head of the Commonwealth to mark South Africa's return to the organisation in July 1994.

Faye Belsey
Assistant Curator 

Thursday, 1 September 2016

One of my Favourite Objects

Detail of house pole 1901.39.1 © Pitt Rivers Museum
One of my favourite objects in the Museum is a carved wooden bowl from British Columbia (1887.1.632). It is carved to represent a beaver with a human face carved in the top side of the bowl. The carving is very stylistically striking using a prominent feature of indigenous art of the Northwest Coast of North America called formline. Formline is the term used to describe the distinctive style comprising ‘continuous, flowing curvilinear lines that turn, swell and diminish in a prescribed manner. They are used for figure outlines, internal design elements and in abstract compositions’ (Marjorie M. Haplin. “Northwest Coast Native Art”). In 2009 I was lucky enough to be part of the project team recording information from a research visit of a delegation of Haida people. This object was viewed as part of that visit. During their time here I was able to learn a great deal about the collection of Haida objects that feature prominently in the Museum’s displays, not least the imposing house pole (1901.39.1) which is positioned centrally in the Museum Court.  

The bowl was donated by Reverend W. Warner Parry to the University Museum and was part of a large number of ethnographic objects transferred to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1886. From the accession entry we do not know if the bowl was also collected by Parry or if it came to him through a third party. Parry was part of the British Royal Navy and so it is possible that he travelled to the Northwest coast of America and acquired the bowl in person. A label glued to the side of the object tells us that the bowl was ‘from an Indian burial ground. Maple Bank Esquimault, Vancouver Island’. The bowl is interesting as despite its provenance having been recorded it is unlikely to have originated at Esquimault. In fact, the Haida tribal members who visited in 2009 confirmed the bowl as Haida in origin. However, the style of the bowl is markedly different from all the other Haida grease bowls in the collection. The bowl is one of three bowls with carved with the beaver motif in the Museum collections, the other two coming from the original Pitt Rivers founding collection that came to the Museum in 1884.

Beaver bowl 1884.68.48 © Pitt Rivers Museum
Beaver bowl 1884.68.58 © Pitt Rivers Museum 
The symbol of the beaver in Northwest coast tradition represents the values of productivity, creativity, creation, cooperation, persistence and harmony. The beaver is also serious and hardworking. We have a number of objects with the beaver totem from Haida Gwaii, an archipelago on the North coast of British Columbia formally known as the Queen Charlotte islands. Many are associated with rank, status and prestige. Indeed, the beaver bowl is on display in the Museum in a display case of the same title (case 58.A), such beautifully carved and handmade objects belonged to significant Haida families.

It is the exquisite carving and anthropomorphic nature of the beaver which appeals to me so much in the design of the bowl. The Haida I met in 2009 were warm and animated people, it is through them that the objects I had spent time passively observing came alive and spoke of the people who made them and used them in their former life before they became a part of a Museum collection.

Faye Belsey 
Assistant Curator