Gary Bergland and his daughter, Malia Beal, visited the Museum in December in order to donate a collection of Samoan items. Gary Bergland and his late wife, Mary Jo Bergland, were employed in American Samoa in the 1960s at the Samoan Education Television Project and the American Samoan Department of Agriculture, respectively. The materials they collected and brought back to the US make a significant contribution to the Museum’s collection, which is primarily composed of both earlier and later items from Samoa’s history.


Before accepting a donation offer, the Museum collects as much information as possible from the donor, and staff must carefully consider what “story” the objects therein can tell. For collections to have research and cultural value for posterity, it is crucial that they be well documented, with proper provenience, information about the items’ makers, and object histories. The Berglands’ collection comes to us with photographic and written documentation, as well as the history of the collection from Gary Bergland himself.


Highlights of the 45 piece collection include upeti, or pattern boards, which are used to print designs on barkcloth (commonly known as tapa, or siapo in Samoan), as well as examples of tapa printed from these boards. Mr. Bergland, a hobby photographer, provided photos of an artist creating one of the siapo, from the stage of bark-beating to painting decorations. There is also a fine mat, or ‘ie Samoa, a type of mat that has recently been recognized by UNESCO as a work of Intangible Cultural Heritage. ‘Ie are intricate and time-consuming to make; as such, they are given as gifts of high honor. Mary Jo Bergland was given this mat as a goodbye present from the Samoan community in which she worked.


“Our hearts are happy knowing the Samoan pieces are with the Field,” says Beal.


(L-R) Malia Beal and Gary Bergland presenting a tapa and its accompanying pattern board for the Field Museum’s collections.

Chicago is fortunate to have been the only United States stop on Bangarra Dance Theatre’s 2019 tour. In preparation for their November 22nd and 23rd performances at the Harris Theater, FM hosted a panel discussion on November 19th between artistic director Steven Page, dancer Elma Kris, and Regenstein Curator John Terrell.


Before and after the talk, attendees were invited to view three specially selected Australian items from the Museum’s collection. Members of Bangarra selected two bark paintings with the help of Will Stubbs of the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre in Yirrkala: Possum Tree Story by Narritjin Maymuru (c. 1916-1981) and Djambuwal, Master of the Storms and His Spear by Larrtjaƞa Ganambarr (1932-2000.) Maymuru and Ganambarr were both artists from Yolngu country, an area that inspired much of Bangarra’s current programming.


The paintings are part of the Louis A. Allen collection. Allen was something of an amateur anthropologist, travelling across Australia with the intent to meet artists and record their stories, while also collecting their work. Allen helped to revive interest in Aboriginal art in Australia with the publication of his book Time Before Morning. He eventually sold much of his collection to the Australian government and 13 pieces came to the Field Museum, of which 12 are bark paintings. They were last exhibited in 1972, when they were donated to the Field.


The third item on display was a shield, likely from Victoria. Museum staff chose this item to represent one of the “mysteries” of the collection, an object with very little information associated with it -- but one we hope community members and researchers may one day fill in the blanks for and help us solve.


See the Chicago Tribune for details on Bangarra’s event, as well as an interview with John Terrell and collections manager Chris Philipp.

Header photo © FMNH. By James Balodimas