Sara Cromwell

MOA Highlights Gullah Art and Culture

This fall, the Museum of Anthropology presents a unique collaboration in the form of a new exhibit: Visions of Home: A Celebration of Gullah Art and Culture, which will be on display August 30, 2016 through April 22, 2017.

Home has personal significance and meaning.  The idea of home can encompass leaving, losing, finding, making, enjoying, remembering.  Home may be a journey, a place, an object, a landscape, people, creatures, a hope, a memory, and more.  Through the contemporary art and ethnographic artifacts featured in the exhibit, home is envisioned as a patchwork of places, histories, and identities by the Gullah people of the southeastern Atlantic coast.  The exhibit features original works by Sea Islands artists from the Red Piano Too Gallery, as well as works by Wake Forest University Assistant Professor Katherine Ziff, and objects from the Museum of Anthropology’s collection.

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Dandylion, Cassandra Gillins

The Red Piano Too Art Gallery, located adjacent to the historic Penn Center of St. Helena Island, South Carolina, represents an eclectic and unique collection of Southern artists, particularly those who call the Sea Islands home. The artists submitted 57 pieces of two- and three-dimensional works in response to a call for art from the Museum this spring.  In June, the Museum staff traveled to St. Helena Island to collect the loaned art, meet gallery owner Mary Inabinett Mack, and experience the landscape firsthand.


Bisimbi, Katherine Ziff

Bisimbi, Katherine Ziff

The Red Piano Too artists’ work is shown within the context of arts-based research by WFU Department of Counseling Assistant Professor Katherine Ziff that reflects upon the traumatic experience of enslaved Africans.  In the New World, they found a way, through a religious and cultural affinity with nature (in the form of water spirits known as the simbi), to creatively embody home in the Lowcountry of the Carolinas.  The exhibit features five of Katherine’s original prints.  These contemporary works are paired with a selection of Central and West African objects from the Museum of Anthropology’s permanent collection.

The MOA will present programing related to the exhibit throughout its run beginning with a reception for MOA Friends on September 30.  A panel discussion is scheduled for November 9, at which scholars will elaborate on the themes of the exhibit and offer their personal reflections.  During the spring semester, the Museum will host a screening of Daughters of the Dust, a 1991 Sundance Festival award-winning film about Gullah life in the Sea Islands, an academic lecture, and a family-friendly workshop.  Additional details about these events will be coming soon.

Indonesian Shadow Puppet

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This mid-to late 20th century shadow puppet is currently on display in our Musical Narratives of the Southwest Pacific Rim exhibit, which explores the performing arts of the Southwest Pacific Rim thorough musical instruments, masks, puppets, and dance costumes from Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Samoa.

These shadow puppets often portray characters from Hindu epics, such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata.  This particular Indonesian puppet represents the character Arjuna in the Mahabharata, the longest Indian epic.  Arjuna, one of the 5 Pandava brothers, is one of the protagonists of the epic and is known for his skill in archery.  Puppeteers provide the movement, voice, and sound effects for the character.  The show is often accompanied by a small gamelan performance, a traditional instrumental ensemble of Indonesia.  Video of a performance is included in the exhibit.

New Artifact Database Now Online

We are excited to announce that our online artifact database is now easier to search than ever.  With the help of new software from PastPerfect, you can now access our complete artifact collection with this address or through the link under the Research & Collections tab.  Take a minute to explore our amazing collections!

WFU Honors Thesis Examines MOA Artifact

The Museum of Anthropology staff is excited to have new information about one of its artifacts thanks to the hard work of a Wake Forest student. This spring, senior Anthropology major Shannon O’Hanlon completed her honors thesis researching one of three Alaskan Yup’ik caribou teeth belt in the MOA’s ethnographic collection. Shannon developed an interest in the Museum, and the Yup’ik collection specifically, during a 2014 internship in which she worked to research, develop, and install The Yup’ik Way of Life: An Alaskan People in Transition, a unique exhibit that combined Yup’ik artifacts from the MOA with loaned photographs depicting Yup’ik life in the late 20th century.

The belt Shannon studied is part of the Museum’s Wachovia Historical Society collection and was originally collected by Moravian missionary John Kilbuck and his wife Edith in the late 19th century. The Yup’ik no longer produce this type of belt, but at that time they were worn by women and used in healing rituals. The caribou teeth were believed to chew or cut the sickness out of an ailing person.

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The belt was x-rayed in a local dentist’s office.

As a part of her research, Shannon worked with local dentist and Wake Forest alumnus, Dr. Philip Golden (‘72), who provided the equipment to take x-rays of the teeth. There are 247 sets of teeth on the belt, for a total of nearly 2,000 individual teeth. All of the surprisingly small teeth are lower incisors, as caribou do not have upper incisors, only a hard bony plate that the lower teeth strike against.

Shannon’s analysis of the belt offers new insights regarding Yup’ik cultural values and material traditions, as well as bio-ecological aspects of Yup’ik hunting practices and their changes over time. Her work demonstrates that the belt is indicative of links between historical Yup’ik practices, caribou herd dynamics, and present-day Yup’ik concerns. Shannon found that the caribou represented in the belt were much healthier than those studied by modern researchers, despite Yup’ik hunting practices remaining largely the same. This suggests that hunting is not the driving factor in poor herd health. Poor herd health in modern populations is more likely due to larger environmental issues such as climate change and industrial development. Shannon’s research also examined the important role anthropology museums can play in preserving traces of bio-ecological systems through the conservation of material culture.

Shannon poses with the belt after successfully defending her thesis.

Shannon poses with the belt after successfully defending her thesis.


Chinese Scroll Painting

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This early 20th century Chinese scroll painting is currently on exhibit in Incredible Journeys: The Life Histories of Museum Objects, which focuses on how the featured artifacts came to be at the MOA.  The painting is in the Northern Song style, which, rather than depicting the subjects in three-dimensional detail, aims to show how the objects in the painting and in real life are alike in spirit.  The style plays on the dichotomy between realism and abstraction.

The scroll was collected by Marion Dudley, who lived and worked for the YWCA in Hong Kong and Shanghai between 1927 and 1947.  She collected dozens of paintings, silks, porcelains, and other decorative objects. Chinese society was experiencing cultural and political upheaval during the period Dudley lived there.  As a result, many artists sought to preserve traditional aesthetics while also incorporating Western techniques.




Summer Camp Registration is Open!

The MOA is very excited to announce that registration is now open for two 2016 summer programs focusing on the people and traditions of West Africa.

The Museum will offer two one-week sessions of “Cultures Up Close: West Africa: July 11-15 and July 25-29.  Using music, art, stories, games, and other activities, campers will learn about the diverse cultures and traditions of West Africa.  This half-day camp is designed for children ages 6 to 12.  The fee is $125 ($100 for MOA Friends) for a one week session, which includes all supplies and daily refreshments. Each session is limited to 15 children.

The Museum will also offer a one-day workshop for teens, ages 12 to 16.  “Talking Textiles” will take place on Monday, July 18, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  The symbols and patterns used to create West African cloths have meanings, tell stories, and represent the wearer. Looking at different types of West African textiles, teens will learn how they are created and the what the symbols and patterns mean. After viewing Adrinkra and Adire cloths from the Museum’s collection, participants will create their own Adrinkra and Adire inspired works. The fee is $45 ($30 for MOA Friends), which includes all supplies and a snack.  The workshop is limited to 10 participants.

Download the registration forms for both programs here!