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Lecture by Dr. Jennifer Wagelie: Pacific Encounters on the Potomac: The History of the Collection and Display of Maori Art at the Smithson
The Smithsonian Institution's collection of Maori (New Zealand) art and material culture dates as far back as the Institution itself, with its beginnings in the trove of ethnographic material that returned with the Wilkes Expedition that had traveled from the United States to the Pacific, 1838-1840. Scientific expeditions, like the Wilkes Expedition, along with world's fairs, and donations by American servicemen, were just a few of the many ways Maori objects entered into the Smithsonian's collection. Enormous feather and flax cloaks, intricate wood carvings, stone adzes, and nephrite pendants or hei-tiki are the basis for what amounts to an almost encyclopedic collection of Maori art – objects that began to be displayed as early as 1895. This talk presents a reconstruction of the history of the Maori collection and its exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. As an extended case study based on close object examination, archival documentation, and photographic evidence, it more broadly illustrates what happens to non-Western objects when they are collected and displayed in cultures that are not their own.
Dr. Jennifer Wagelie earned her Ph.D. in art history from the Graduate Center, City University of New York, focusing on the art of the Pacific Islands. Her dissertation reconstructed the history of the collection and display of Maori objects in American museums, a first for the field. Throughout graduate school, she worked as a lecturer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and as a researcher/writer for their web-based Timeline of Art History. She served for six years in the Department of Academic Programs at the National Gallery of Art as the program administrator for internships and fellowships. She was a postdoctoral research fellow in the Anthropology Department at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History and last year was a postdoctoral teaching and research fellow in the Anthropology Department at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, teaching courses on the history of museum anthropology and ethnography of the Pacific Islands. She is currently the Senior Academic Officer at the Indiana University Art Museum and finishing a book on the Smithsonian Institution's collection and display of Maori art and material culture.