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      Oceanic Art

      PEM’s Oceanic holdings reveal connections between the porous boundaries of art, religion and life.

      Tapa, early-mid 19th century Artist not identified. Austral Islands. Tapa (processed inner tree bark), pigments. Received before 1867. E3172.

      Oceania encompasses thousands of islands and extends across the southern expanse of the Pacific, the world’s largest ocean.

      With acquisitions dating to the museum’s origins in 1799, PEM’s outstanding Oceanic collection includes objects spanning the 18th century to the present from more than 36 Pacific island groups in Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Several hundred well-documented pieces distinguish these holdings, including works from Aotearoa (New Zealand), the Austral Islands, the Caroline Islands, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Hawai’i, the Marquesas Islands, the island of Niue, Papua New Guinea, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Samoa, the Society Islands (including Tahiti), the Kingdom of Tonga and Vanuatu (New Hebrides). The collection is renowned for its excellent provenance and strong aesthetic presence, as well as its exceptional quality, condition and mastery of materials and techniques.

      Oceanic artists have expressed their understanding of the world through objects drawn from the natural environment, including figural sculpture, painted barkcloth and carved weapons. Through ritual objects and regalia, Pacific people communicate with gods and ancestors and affirm their divine lineage. Elaborate designs and graceful forms reveal connections between the porous boundaries of art, religion and life. Many of these works are imbued with ha, the breath and pulse of life, and mana, supernatural or divine power.

      During the East India Marine Society’s first two decades of membership (1799 to 1819), nearly 20 sea captains and traders contributed more than 110 objects from the Pacific Islands, from religious and ceremonial objects to household items, adornment, fishing equipment and weapons. Logbooks, journals, letters and nautical equipment related to many of these voyagers are held in PEM’s Phillips Library and maritime collections.

      The Peabody Academy of Science subsumed the society’s collections in 1867, and beginning in 1880, director Edward Sylvester Morse focused attention on building unrivaled ethnographic collections. In the early 20th century, curator Lawrence W. Jenkins worked with Salem patron Stephen W. Phillips to document and publish portions of the Oceanic collection. Phillips acquired thousands of additions to these holdings, including 28 objects from famed South Seas author Robert Louis Stevenson’s collection and more than 200 objects collected by Hawaiian missionaries Reverend Asa Thurston and Lucy Goodale Thurston. By the early to mid-20th century, director Ernest Stanley Dodge embraced the growing field of ethnology, which subsequently shaped the collection’s growth and interpretation. The Oceanic collection remains vital as we honor the many objects that embody spiritual, functional and celebratory traditions, linking past generations to the present and future.

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      Highlights from this collection

      Fan
      Fan

      Marquesan artist

      Pipe, 1880-1890's
      Pipe, 1880s–1890s

      Patoromu Tamatea (19th century), (Ngati Tamatea Tutahi tribe, part of Ngati Pikiao who lived around Lake Rotoiti; Maori)

      Tapa, early-mid 19th century
      Tapa, early to mid-19th century

      Artist in Austral Islands

      Kupe'e hoaka (bracelet), late 18th century

      ON VIEW

      Kupe'e hoaka (boar tusk bracelet), late 18th century

      Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) artist

      On view in Salem Stories.

      Kū, early 1800s

      ON VIEW

      Kū, early 19th century

      Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) artist

      On view on Level 2 of the new wing at the top of the stairs.

      Kava - We, the two of us, 2000
      Kava - We, the two of us, 2000

      Bernice Akimine (Native Hawaiian, b. 1949)

      Bure kalou (spirit house), early 19th century
      Bure kalou (spirit house), early 19th century

      Fijian artist, Bure kalou (spirit house), early 19th century. Coconut fiber, wood, shell. Gift of Joseph Winn Jr., 1835. E5037.

      Fan
      Fan

      Marquesan artist, Fan. Wood, pandanus, coconut fiber. Gift of Clifford Crowninshield and Matthew Folger, 1802. E5351.

      Pipe, 1880-1890's
      Pipe, 1880s–1890s

      Patoromu Tamatea (19th century), (Ngati Tamatea Tutahi tribe, part of Ngati Pikiao who lived around Lake Rotoiti; Maori), Pipe, 1880s–1890s. Wood, paua shell. Museum purchase, 1939. E23544.

      Tapa, early-mid 19th century
      Tapa, early to mid-19th century

      Artist in Austral Islands, Tapa, early to mid-century. barkcloth, pigments. Museum collection, before 1867. E3172.

      Kupe'e hoaka (bracelet), late 18th century
      Kupe'e hoaka (boar tusk bracelet), late 18th century

      Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) artist, Kupe'e hoaka (boar tusk bracelet), late 18th century. Wild boar tusks and fiber. Gift of Nathaniel Silsbee, 1800. E5299. Photo by Jeffrey R. Dykes/PEM.

      On view in Salem Stories.

      Headdress, Sennit, feather
      Headdress, Sennit, feather

      Marquesan artist, Headdress, Sennit, feather. Gift of Stephen W. Phillips, 1919. E17750.

      Kū, early 1800s
      Kū, early 19th century

      Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) artist, Kū, early 19th century. ‘Ulu (breadfruit) wood. Gift of John T. Prince, 1846, E12071. M. Kamalu du Preez (Kanaka Maoli [Native Hawaiian]), Malo (loincloth), 2019. Wauke (paper mulberry). Museum commission, 2019. Photo by Bob Packert/PEM.

      On view on Level 2 of the new wing at the top of the stairs.

      Peue ei (women's head ornament), mid-19th century
      Peue ei (women's head ornament), mid-19th century

      Marquesan artist, Peue ei (women's head ornament), mid-19th century. Coconut fiber, porpoise teeth, beads. Marquesas Islands. Gift of F. Walter Bergmann, 1958. E35650.

      Kava - We, the two of us, 2000
      Kava - We, the two of us, 2000

      Bernice Akimine (Native Hawaiian, b. 1949), Kava - We, the two of us, 2000. Glass, glass powder, dye, and sand. Museum purchase, made possible by the Piilani Cook Whittier Fund, 2002. E301984.AB.

      Loans and acquisitions

      Loans and acquisitions

      PEM is committed to providing the broadest possible access to its collection through the loan of objects for educational and scholarly purposes. Learn how to request a loan from the museum’s collection.

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