top of page is the home of the Field Museum's Regenstein Pacific team.

What is co-curation?

This year, a new installation greets visitors at the entrance to the Regenstein Halls of the Pacific: a video interactive featuring some of our co-curators and staff. The interviews, conducted in 2020, ask members of our museum community to reflect on their relationships with the collections, and their favorite collection items cared for at the Field.

Preview this new feature here, where we'll be sharing clips over the coming weeks. Below, we hear from Philippines co-curator, Alpha:

Videos by Angle Park, Inc.

2008 Regenstein Intern Heather Radke introduces Captain A.W.F. Fuller, collector of over 6,500 Pacific items now cared for by the Field Museum.

A selection of Fuller Collection items.

In 1958, Roland Force made a journey to London with his wife Maryanne (a respected anthropologist in her own right,) to sit down with Fuller and discuss the artifacts he was giving to the museum. He brought with him a Walkie Record-All, the cutting edge of portable recording technology at the time.

Every day from noon until three o’clock in the morning, the two men sat down and went through each object in the collection, listing off the date, the type of object, giving a description, telling who sold it to whom, and occasionally telling an anecdote or bickering about provenance.

Their 160 hours of commentary were recorded on plastic belts called sonobands, a medium that would become obsolete only a few years later. Typed transcripts of their conversations were made from these recordings by Maryanne Force.

These transcripts were ultimately used to help publish a catalog entitled The Fuller Collection of Pacific Artifacts. The purpose of this catalog was “to give the collection the prominence it deserves and to pay tribute to the collector” (Force and Force 1971: vii).

The sonobands themselves were then packed away in a small cardboard box, and stored in the Archives of the Field Museum for more than forty years.

However, in 2003, the Field Museum hired The Cutting Corporation (now the Audio Preservation Lab at Graphic Audio), a firm in Bethesda, Maryland. As specialists in the preservation of archival audio material, they could transfer the sonoband recordings to digital format.

We carefully packed and shipped off the approximately 150 sonobands along with the two Walkie Record-All machines that Roland Force had used back in 1958.

The Cutting Corporation was able to capture the old analog sonoband recordings in WAV format so they can now be heard for many generations to come.

2008 Regenstein Intern Katie Good describes the Fuller Sonoband project.

The Museum will be temporarily closing starting Friday, Nov. 20th, but we are excited to bring Members' Nights online to share behind-the-scenes highlights!

This event, taking place from Thursday, November 19th to Saturday the 21st, is free for members, who can register here to attend any or all three sessions on Zoom. Check out the full schedule here.

Thursday's kick-off event will feature the Field's new President and CEO, Julian Siggers, PhD, and Gantz Family Collections Center Director Deborah Bekken, PhD, as they explore the Kish archaeological collection. Colleagues Jamie Kelly (Head of Anthropology Collections,) and Lisa Niziolek, PhD (Director of Government Affairs and Sponsored Programs) will also present.

Christopher Philipp, Regenstein Collections Manager, will join to discuss his work with the Marshallese community (a familiar topic to those who have been following us on!) Chris provides more details below:

Contemporary Marshallese Collections.

In October of 2019, Regenstein Collections Manager Chris Philipp and exhibitions developer Ryan Schuessler traveled to Majuro Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands. Philipp and Schuessler were successful in establishing new connections with the Marshallese community in Majuro and updated individuals and organizations regarding the Museum's new partnership with the Marshallese community in Enid, Oklahoma. They also presented on the co-curated display, newly opened on October 16, 2020 at the front of the Regenstein Halls of the Pacific and extended the invitation to co-curate the 250+ historical items in the collection along with 65 newly acquired contemporary objects during this outreach trip. Among the items acquired on the trip were 3 contemporary jaki-ed (JAH-ghee-ed) or fine woven mats that were received at the Museum in early 2020 with the help of Dr. Irene J. Tafaaki (formerly of the University of the South Pacific and current President of the College of the Marshall Islands) and Maria Kabua Fowler. These examples represent a revival in Marshallese weaving in recent years spearheaded by Tafaaki and Fowler, co-authors of Clothing Mats of the Marshall Islands: The History, The Culture, and the Weavers. These mats and a floor mat (jaki) in the display are central to the current exhibition in the Pacific Halls. The 5 Marshallese high-school co-curators had this to say about jaki:

The jaki is a hand-woven floor mat that can be found in nearly every Marshallese household. It is a place of rest, a symbol of identity, and a tool that connects us. As climate change devours our islands, many of us in the United States are losing a sense of our home and culture. Despite this, our families try hard to help us remember who we are. The Jaki helps us do just that.

In addition to the jaki-ed, Philipp and Schuessler brought back other contemporary handicrafts (animono) featured in the show like fans, head ornaments, necklaces and earrings and also acquired a model outrigger canoe made by Junior Thomas, a graduate of the Waan Aelõñ Majel (WAM - Canoes of the Marshall Islands) program which is “is committed to empowering young Marshallese men and women by giving them the skills they need to move forward into a sustainable and happy future.” WAM director Alson Kelen recounted his memories of the Field Museum’s collaboration with the Alele Museum in the Marshall Islands that occurred during the development of the permanent Pacific Halls over 30 years ago and resulted with the acquisition of the full size outrigger canoe currently on display:

The canoe that has been on display at the Field Museum was donated by Jinade of Jaluit Atoll. Alele museum at the time wanted to trade the canoe with a fiberglass boat, but Jinade wanted to have a canoe built out of plywood. Dennis Alessio of the Tole Mour was asked to build this canoe for Mr. Jinade, because Dennis was so fascinated with the Marshallese canoe, he said that he would only do it if they would document the process for the future generation. This was the beginning of the Waan Aelõñ Kein project. Waan Aelõñ Kein project documented several canoe sizes and designs from 6 atolls from Relik and Ratak. At the end, the project has built and documented two voyaging canoes, Walap In Enewetak which represented RMI in the 6th Festival of Pacific Arts, and Lanin Mentel which voyaged across Lolelaplap. This voyage was the first of its kind in over 100 years. [In] 1998, this project became Waan Aelõñ in Majel.

This canoe model, the jaki-ed, and selections of contemporary handicrafts will be on display along with other historical items in the front of the Regenstain Halls of the Pacific for the next 2 years as part of the Museum’s rotating gallery featuring co-curated exhibits with Pacific communities. We hope that, over time, more of the Museum’s space will be dedicated to this type of shared storytelling and continue to highlight the success of outreach, collaboration, and sharing among Pacific Islander communities both near and far and the Museum.

Above: Canoe model and 3 jaki-ed acquired during Philipp's 2019 Marshall Islands visit. Photos by JP Brown.

Outrigger canoe on exhibit at the Field Museum. Photo by James Balodimas.

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