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.

Dandylion Gillins webx

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.

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.

Belt xray web

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.


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!

New Exhibits Feature WFU Student Work

By the conclusion of the Spring 2016 semester, half of the Museum of Anthropology’s main exhibits will feature work completed by Wake Forest students in undergraduate classes. Opening three student-curated exhibits this academic year reinforces the important connection between the MOA and Wake Forest students.   There is no doubt that the exhibits will also attract interest from members of the community at large drawn to the diverse topics and exceptional artifacts on display.

In the fall, the MOA opened a new long-term exhibit entitled Childhood: Exploring Youth Culture Around the World, which you can read about in detail here.

Another student-curated exhibit, Musical Narratives of the Southwest Pacific Rim, will be on display from March 15 to August 26. This exhibition is the result of three semesters of work by World Music students taught by Wake Forest ethnomusicologist Dr. Elizabeth Clendinning.  Highlighting the MOA’s collections of musical instruments, masks, shadow puppets, and dance costumes from Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, and Papua New Guinea, the exhibit will take the visitor on a tour of the performing arts of these regions. The exhibit will examine how music, dance, and theater intersect with storytelling, religious practice, gender roles, and modernization. Visitors will be invited to interact with the exhibit through hands-on music-making with select objects on display.

The "biography" of this antelope mask will be explored in the exhibit.

The “biography” of this antelope mask will be explored in the exhibit.

Finally, MOA Academic Director Dr. Andrew Gurstelle is currently teaching a First Year Seminar on museum studies, which will produce an exhibit exploring the “object biographies” of intriguing specimens in the MOA’s collections. Incredible Journeys: The Life Histories of Museum Objects will be on exhibit from April 19, 2016 to March 25, 2017. The exhibition will trace objects from their original use through the missionaries, traders, soldiers, and doctors that acquired them, the connoisseurs that collected them, and finally how anthropologists (and the Museum) might use them. The exhibit will showcase the range of the MOA’s collections and the diverse trajectories that objects can have.

The MOA staff is excited to be able to work with faculty members with such wide-ranging areas of expertise and such intelligent and motivated students. We look forward to developing more exhibits that will draw from the MOA’s collections and inspire Wake Forest faculty and students as well as the greater Piedmont Triad community.

MOA Opens New Faculty-Directed Exhibit on Youth Culture

What do children play with in Mexico? How do kids in Somalia learn to read? The MOA’s new long-term exhibit, Childhood: Exploring Youth Culture Around the World, answers these and other questions about children’s lives around the globe. Among the featured artifacts are an early 20th century Chinese doll in the image of a famous opera singer and a Senegalese lunchbox lined with newspaper comic strips. The exhibit also includes a section for visitors to share comments about their memorable childhood experiences.

Dr. Mary Good

Dr. Mary Good in the new exhibit

The exhibition was developed from the work of a Wake Forest class, Anthropology of Childhood, taught by Assistant Professor of Anthropology Dr. Mary Good during the spring 2015 semester. Under Dr. Good’s direction, the students each selected objects from the Museum’s collections in the categories of children’s clothing, education, dolls, games, or toys. The students researched their artifacts and wrote label text. Working with Museum staff, Dr. Good developed the remaining exhibit content. This semester, three Wake Forest students completed internships to assist with the exhibit’s installation. “It’s been such a rewarding experience for the students and for me to see their final class project turn into something tangible that museum visitors can learn from and enjoy,” Dr. Good said. “It also helps students to reflect on how they can communicate knowledge they learn in the classroom about cultural diversity to a broader public audience.”

This exhibit marks the first time in the last decade that a Wake Forest class project has been turned into a full exhibit at the Museum of Anthropology, a trend that promises to continue as the MOA increases its collaborations with faculty members in a variety of disciplines across campus.