Each year the Logan Museum hosts students, scholars, curators, and Native American tribal representatives from across the country and around the world. They come to study, publish, borrow, and be inspired by our collections. Some objects are used in graduated theses and some become part of blockbuster traveling exhibits. Some objects are eventually returned to their communities of origin as a result of our compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). All of these activities happen behind the scenes, removed the public eye. Here are glimpses of two recent visits:
NAGPRA allows federally recognized tribes to repatriate human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony from museums and federal agencies. Tribes identify NAGPRA-sensitive objects through consultation with museums. Site visits are often required so religious leaders can determine if certain objects are indeed sacred. These objects are often described as being “alive” and when returned to their source communities, are often put back into cultural practice. Last week, four representatives from the Pueblo of Jemez in New Mexico visited to examine potentially sacred Jemez objects curated by the Logan Museum. The Governor of the Pueblo and three other religious leaders spent most of a day consulting with museum staff and touring collections storage areas. Tribal visits help build positive working relationships and trust and also promote the sharing of knowledge.
A PhD student in the School of Fashion and Textiles at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia also recently visited, to examine the Logan’s collection of molas. Molas are appliquéd and embroidered textile panels that form the front and back of blouses worn by the indigenous Kuna women of the San Blas Islands of Panama, like the one pictured above. Mola designs can be geometric or may reflect modern graphics such as political posters, labels, or images from television or advertisements. The visiting researcher’s study focuses on collections held by five U.S. museums and traces the development of designs, fabrics, and styles through time. Such visits give museum staff and students opportunities to pick the brain of an expert and often result in new identifications. During the visit, the researcher identified a unique blouse that buttons up the front. It’s important to the mola study because it’s well documented: it was collected in 1952 by a Beloit College alumnus who visited the San Blas Islands on a cruise ship. The Logan Museum curates over 100 molas, over 80 of which were donated to the museum in 2007.
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