Swirling designs, a myriad of faces, and earth tones baked into pottery now on display at the Longyear Museum of Anthropology have far more significance than simply being pleasing to the eye.
“The variety in this exhibition is amazing, both in terms of the shapes and the decorations,” said curator Carol Ann Lorenz. “All of these designs have meaning.”
Mastery in Clay: Indigenous Pottery from Papua New Guinea in the Richard W. Arnold Collection, showcases a rare selection of a private collector now on display at the Longyear. The exhibition, located on the second floor of Alumni Hall, is free and open to the public until June 1.
“With highly developed skills and creativity, Papuan potters have produced, in a relatively small corner of the world, clay vessels of extraordinary richness and diversity,” Lorenz said. “Nearly fifty selections from the collection illustrate the breadth of Papuan vessels and the mastery of the potters who made them.
Included in the collection are pots from the late 19th and early 20th century used in ceremonial rites of passage for young men. Many of the vessels have deeply incised line designs, while other non-ceremonial bowls are created in collaboration between men and women on the islands.
Bowls on display from the Sawos people of East Sepik Province are an example of such collaborative pottery. Women mold the bowls using a coil method, which is passed on to men who smooth and incise designs in the work. The men give the bowls back to the women for firing, and then they are returned once again to men for painting with earth pigments.
“A lot of these traditions are dead,” Lorenz said. “People store their water in plastic, they cook their food in metal pans. This is a dying tradition that exists in very few places.”
The Longyear Museum is Colgate’s teaching collection of archaeological and ethnographic materials from Africa, Oceania, and the Pre-Columbian cultures of North, Central, and South America.