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Pacific Collections

The Museum’s collection of material culture from the Pacific Islands (not including the islands of Southeast Asia) contains over 64,000 objects; it is one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of its kind and remains an important resource for knowledge, ongoing research, and loan and exhibition.  The Museum has had no less than 378 accessions (through donations, museum sponsored expeditions, purchases, and e

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The Museum’s collection of material culture from the Pacific Islands (not including the islands of Southeast Asia) contains over 64,000 objects; it is one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of its kind and remains an important resource for knowledge, ongoing research, and loan and exhibition.  The Museum has had no less than 378 accessions (through donations, museum sponsored expeditions, purchases, and exchanges with other museums) that have contributed to the accumulation of its Pacific collections that include a variety of utilitarian and ceremonial objects such as tools, household utensils and containers, weapons, musical instruments, works of art, ornamental accessories, and clothing.  For well over a century many different curators and staff members in the Anthropology Department have contributed towards amassing and caring for this world-class collection of archaeological and ethnographic specimens, publishing significant anthropological research, and making The Field Museum one of the world’s great anthropology museums. 

The history behind the accumulation and use of the Field Museum’s collections reveals a varied cast of many players that have contributed in many ways to the creation and curation of one of the world’s finest collection of material culture from the Pacific Islands.  The accomplishments of some stand out as prominent as in the case George Dorsey, A.B. Lewis, and A.W.F. Fuller.  Their stories illustrate the complex relationships that linked traders, sea captains, businessmen, and potential buyers around the world and the important role these figures played in the procurement of specimens for museums.  Their stories also shed light on how museums and collectors went about their business in the late 19th and mid 20th centuries, sometimes with intense competition among one another.  Lewis and Fuller both sought objects that were free of European influence in a time that wished to explain an “ethnographic past” of the Pacific Islanders.  Generations to come would be just as interested in recording the “ethnographic present” of these peoples and the influence the outside world had.  It is known that objects were being made for foreign consumption even as early as Captain Cook’s voyages.  The ethnological purity of both the “ethnographic past” and the “ethnographic “present” are, of course, illusory, and we are correct in being cautious about accepting either as social facts about the way things were. 

Today, the Museum’s current Pacific halls, “Traveling the Pacific” and “Pacific Spirits,” opened between 1989 and 1990 contain 777 objects, 51% of which originate from A.B. Lewis collection and 18% of which originate from A.W.F. Fuller collection.  Other objects from these collections, as well as others, are also displayed throughout the Museum including the two large feather masks flanking the Museum’s south entrance, from Awar, Hansa Bay, Papua New Guinea that A.B. Lewis received from Gramms.  The majority of these major collections, like all others, reside in storage.

In 2005 the 180,000 ft² Collections Resource Center (CRC), located below ground level and adjacent to the Museum’s historic building was opened.  That year Museum staff initiated the relocation of the Pacific collections, as well as others, to this state-of-the-art storage facility from the various and scattered storerooms that existed around the building.  Beginning in 2000, and lasting for a decade’s worth of time, teams of collections managers and conservators at the Museum have prepared these collections by making new storage mounts as part of the Department’s continuing program of preventative conservation and moved these collections into their new home.  These major upgrades in the storage facilities and conditions as well as artifact housings and supports have greatly contributed towards the Museum meeting its goal preserving and increasing access to the Pacific collections.  It is in the CRC that these material expressions of Pacific Islander culture and heritage will reside for future generations from Chicago and around the world to visit, study, and appreciate.


Image above: Detail of Micronesian navigation chart from Majuro Village, Marshall Islands.  Catalog Number 2399.107959. © The Field Museum, A92511, Photographer Alexander Spoehr.

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Collections

A.B. Lewis left Chicago on May 8, 1909, with Fiji as his first destination and with the primary objective, as instructed by Dorsey, to assemble a display worthy museum collection from the southwestern Pacific.
In 1958 The Field Museum purchased one of the most extensive and valuable collections of Pacific artifacts ever assembled; Captain A.W.F. Fuller’s collection of 6,884 objects of material culture.
The Museum’s collection from Australia numbers over 2,200 objects.
While the acquisition of new collections for the Museum still involves obtaining actual objects, our collecting also involves much more than just this. 
The Museum’s initial holdings from the Pacific islands included notable collections that were received from the K.K. Naturhistorisches Hofmuseum in Vienna, Austria, J. G. Peace from Melanesia, Carl Hagenbeck, and Otto Finsch and exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian...
The Museum’s ethnographic materials from Melanesia, numbering over 38,000 objects, represent one of the world’s finest collections of Pacific material culture ever assembled.
The Museum’s archaeological and ethnographic materials from Micronesian number nearly 16,000 specimens.
Our collection of clays and other ceramic raw materials from the Sepik coast of northern Papua New Guinea helps us understand the history of potting and exchange networks in the western Pacific.
The Museum’s ethnographic materials from Polynesia number nearly 8,000 objects and represent almost every island group in the region.
For six short months in 1893, Jackson Park in Chicago was home to one of the largest and most spectacular expositions of the 19th Century. Near the close of the Fair, The Field Columbian Museum (now The Field Museum) was founded.