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What is co-curation?

Over a year and a half ago, the Museum began a new partnership with five high school students from Enid, Oklahoma. The students, as representatives of the Marshallese community in Enid, visited the Museum, explored the collections, and worked with Museum staff to create their own exhibition. The Museum has since moved forward with the installation of the exhibition curated by the students- now opening on Friday, October 16.

An exciting part of this process included the deinstallation of the “A.B. Lewis Case,” which has remained unchanged since 1991, when it debuted in the exhibit “Pacific Spirits: Life, Death & the Supernatural.” The Regenstein team felt the removal of this case was important for two reasons:

With its deinstallation, the entire gallery can now be devoted to regularly-rotating, co-curated exhibits. We hope that, over time, more of the Museum’s space will be dedicated to this type of shared storytelling.

A.B. Lewis collected many of the items on display in the Regenstein Pacific Halls during the early 20th century. While his contributions, via the Joseph N. Field South Pacific Expedition (1909-1913) are noted elsewhere in the hall, we can now use the space to focus on voices and stories from the descendant community.

Below: Mount makers Janice Lim, Ann Prazer and Erin Bliss deinstall the 30-year-old A.B. Lewis case. Photos by Chris Philipp.

Below: Erin and Janice install the Marshall Islands material. Photos 1-2 by Chris Philipp; 3-7 by Jackie Pozza.

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.

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