1991 October 18 - 1992 February 23
Chiefly Feasts: The Enduring Kwakiutl Potlach explored the artwork, rituals, and feast of potlatch ceremonies of the Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) people of the Northwest Coast of North America, a ceremony the Canadian government had outlawed between 1884 and 1951. The exhibition was organized by the American Museum of Natural History with guest curator Gloria Cramner Webster, high-ranking Kwakiutl, great-granddaughter of Boas expedition member George Hunt, and retired director of the U'mista Cultural Centre in British Columbia; Museum vice president of Public Programs, Aldona Jonaitis, expert on Native Northwest Coast art; and special curatorial assistant, Peter Macnair, curator of anthropology at the Royal British Columbia Museum. The Museum collaborated with the Kwakiutl people in developing the exhibition. A delegation of elders visited the Museum, providing information on collections and translating Kwakwala texts (1).
Many objects in the exhibition had never before been on display and were collected by Museum anthropologist Franz Boas on an expedition that included field assistant George Hunt who was raised in the Kwakiutl community. Hunt collected hundreds of artworks and recorded description of Kwakiutl culture, including potlatch ceremonies (1).
In addition to Gloria Cramner Webster, two more great-grandchildren of George Hunt, artists Tony and Calvin Hunt contributed to the exhibition. Tony Hunt served as consultant and was represented by two masks. Calvin Hunt recreated two artifacts, the nulamista and sisiyutl board, as the originals were too fragile to exhibit (2).
The exhibition opened with a reenactment of a potlatch ceremony with Kwakiutl Indians dressed in full regalia and traveling up the Hudson River to the Museum's Hall of Ocean Life where they performed traditional masked dances (3, p. 7). Programs related to the exhibition included demonstrations of traditional mask carving by Kwakiutl artist Kevin Cranmer and totem pole carving by Kwakiutl artist Richard Hunt in the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians, a dance performance by the Wewanagila Dance Company of Vancouver, British Columbia, and a documentary film series (4; 5)
The exhibition was supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the New York Council on the Arts, the Estate of Thayer Lindsley, and the John Ben Snow Memorial Trust (PR). Following its run at the American Museum of Natural History, the exhibition traveled to the Royal British Columbia Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Seattle Museum of Art (1).
Artifacts and topics covered included (6):
*7-foot-long Dzonokwa bowl
*Examples of lavish gifts given to guests by potlatch hosts, such as coppers, crocheted articles, and household goods
*Songs and dances
*Late 19th century photographs of Kwakiutl villages and potlatch ceremonies
This is a condensed summary of the exhibition. For additional information, see Sources and/or Related Resources.
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