Aug. 14, 2009
Image: Small beaded bag made entirely with strung beads from The UI Museum of Natural History's Philippine Collection
Rediscovering a rarely seen Museum of Natural History collection
The University of Iowa Museum of Natural History will display nearly 100 objects from its rarely seen Philippine Collection -- many for the first time since they came to the museum more than 100 years ago -- in a special exhibition opening this month at the UI's Old Capitol Museum.
"The Museum Goes to the Fair: Rediscovering the Philippine Collection at the Museum of Natural History," organized by the UI Pentacrest Museums in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Museum of Natural History, will open Friday, Aug. 28 with a free, public reception on the lower level of the Old Capitol Museum from 5-7 p.m. The exhibit will run through Feb. 21, 2010.
The objects in the exhibition are drawn from an extensive collection of nearly 700 Philippine artifacts and include textiles, jewelry, musical instruments, household items, weapons, tools and baskets. Former museum director Charles Nutting obtained the specimens from the Philippine Reservation at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition-known commonly as the St. Louis World's Fair.
"Our 150th anniversary offers the perfect opportunity to open up our vault and share important collections that are infrequently on public view," said Pamela White, director of the Pentacrest Museums. A current Museum of Natural History collections inventory puts its object-count at 110,000, a mere fraction of which the museum is able to display for the public, she noted.
"The Museum Goes to the Fair" will explore the history of the museum's Philippine objects, as well as that of the 1904 World's Fair. Associated programs will include movie showings, lectures, children's activities and more.
"The exhibition is not unlike the world's fair itself," said Byron Preston, Pentacrest Museums exhibit preparator. "We hope to keep people entertained with photos and artifacts but also sneak in a snapshot of where we were at the time with the ethics of exhibit display, as well as a little bit about the history of the Museum of Natural History and how we came to get the Philippine items."
Popularized in the nineteenth century and held in cities across the globe, World's Fairs have historically aimed to highlight and display the latest scientific, cultural and industrial technologies. The 1904 World's Fair was held from April to December in St. Louis to commemorate the 101st anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. It attracted nearly 20 million visitors, spanned nearly 1,300 acres and contained more than 1,500 buildings, making it one of the largest World's Fairs in history.
Of the many attractions at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, the Philippine Reservation was the largest and most popular, Preston said.
The United States had recently fought a war with Spain, at the end of which in 1898 it purchased the Philippine Islands, then a Spanish colony. To promote expansion and investment in the country's new colony, U.S. and Philippine officials-key among them future U.S. president and former Philippine governor William Howard Taft-persuaded more than 1,000 Philippine people from as many as 30 tribes to come to the United States for the fair.
The islanders lived in reconstructed tribal villages where they demonstrated their crafts, life ways and ceremonial rituals for fair-goers. With its 47 acres, 100 buildings and more than 75,000 Philippine cultural and historical objects, the reservation generated over $200,000, more than any other single exhibition at the fair.
After the fair, most of the artifacts from the reservation went to the Smithsonian Institution and the Philadelphia Commercial Museum (now the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology). The remainder was dived among other educational institutions, including the UI Museum of Natural History.
For more information about "The Museum Goes to the Fair" and its associated programs, check the Museum of Natural History website, http://www.uiowa.edu/~nathist or call 319-335-0606.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500