Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.
Working at a natural history museum is quite a rewarding experience. My enthusiasm is partially from being one of the most recent hires at the museum. I began in September and have enjoyed working with Dan Swan, curator of ethnology, and his team planning our upcoming exhibit, Warrior Spirits: Indigenous Arts from New Guinea. Nearly 100 pieces from the collections of the Sam Noble Museum and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art will be displayed beginning Feb. 4.
The collections include a variety of cultural objects, including masks, drums and ceremonial garments, many of which were collected during surveys in the 1970s assessing petroleum and mineral resources. U.S. soldiers also contributed items collected while Allied Forces manned listening stations in New Guinea during World War II.
Here is a sneak peek at the people and culture surrounding our upcoming exhibit:
The people of Papua New Guinea are mostly descendants of Melanesians, closely related to the islanders of Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. The island was one of the first landmasses to become populated by modern humans, about 50,000 years ago.
Hundreds of cultures live on the island of New Guinea in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. These groups reside in small, remote rural villages- more than a third of them in the rugged highlands- and make their living by fishing, farming, hunting, and gathering. As a result of the villages’ isolation, many different languages are spoken on the island. With nearly one thousand distinct dialects spoken there, New Guinea possesses the greatest concentration of languages in the world.
The traditional Melanesian cultures are kept alive in elaborate rituals that accompany deaths, feasts, marriages, compensation ceremonies and initiation rites. Many of the artifacts in our collections reflect the diversity of the region, highlighting such ceremonial traditions as the dramatic fire dances practiced in the Highlands of West Papua and the ritualized veneration of ancestors among the Sepik River groups of New Guinea.
Art in New Guinea is as varied as its people. Carving, twining and weaving, produces many different types of art. Carved wooden sculptures, masks, canoes, and storyboards from New Guinea are valued around the globe in private collections, museums, and art markets.
The objects in Warrior Spirits, which include daggers carved from the bones of cassowary birds – a large flightless bird native to New Guinea and prized for its aggressive territorial nature—along with carved shields, war-clubs, spears and bows and arrows, were created and used by the indigenous peoples of present-day Papua New Guinea and West Papua, Indonesia.
Warrior Spirits: Indigenous Arts from New Guinea will be on display from Feb. 4 through May 13. Augmented with maps, graphics, and audio and video elements, this exhibit allows visitors a glimpse into the fascinating world of New Guinea. For more information, visit our website: www.snomnh.ou.edu.
Just as summer is beginning, October seems like a long, long way away, but I wanted to give anyone who’s interested a chance to follow this blog by nature artist Debby Kaspari.
Debby has done a lot of scientific illustrations for the museum, including the huge mural of a 40-foot elasmosaur for the Centennial Exhibition “Collecting Oklahoma” a couple of years ago. She is currently doing a whole series of drawings and paintings, as well as photography, video and audio recordings, for an exhibition that will go on view here at the museum in October. It will be called “Drawing the Mot Mot,” and will be a mix of scientific information about rainforest life and insight into the life of a field artist. Visitors will have the opportunity to see video of Debby doing her artwork in rainforests around South and Central America, learn about the plants, animals and ecosystems she is capturing on the page, and hear the sounds of various rainforest animals, especially birds.
The exhibit is still in development, and Debby is currently on a little research island in Panama, making drawings and collecting sound clips for the exhibit. Earlier in the year, she was in the Amazon. She blogs from her laptop about her experiences, and the blog is really rich and wonderful. She’s a fine writer, a wonderful artist, and peppers each entry wit photos, audio clips and video.
Visit and enjoy. It will whet your appetite for the exhibit come October!