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Museum of Anthropology exhibit explores Papua New Guinea culture

September 4, 2007

A new permanent exhibit, “Face to Face: The Arts of Exchange in Mainland Papua New Guinea” will open Sept. 14 at the Wake Forest University Museum of Anthropology.

Over a period of years, the museum has gathered a significant collection of items representing many of the diverse groups living in Papua New Guinea, an island nation located north of Australia.

Masks, figures, pottery and ceremonial objects will be on display.  Some of the objects are valued personal adornments worn on special occasions to enhance the wearer’s status and display wealth.  

"All the objects in the exhibit are decorated with faces, primarily spirit faces,” said Beverlye Hancock, the curator of the exhibit.  “Everything from pots to cook in to objects used in men’s ceremonial houses have faces on them.  The faces represent very powerful and protective spirits.”

In conjunction with the exhibit, the museum will present “The Art of Conflict in New Guinea,” a lecture by Paul Roscoe, professor and chairman of the anthropology department at the University of Maine, at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8.   Roscoe will discuss how art was used by New Guinea peoples to signal military strength.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

Many of the items were collected in the 1960s by Joan and William Kapfer when they were technical assistants to the Lutheran Mission in the Highlands near Mt. Hagan.

Additional items were given to the museum by other donors who worked or traveled in Papua New Guinea, including Frank Dixon Underwood, Russell Olson, Nancy Sokal, Adele LaBrecque, Gordon Hanes and a group of anonymous donors.  Dr. David and Karina Rilling contributed pots and dishes with ancestor and nature images modeled and engraved on their surfaces.

Papua New Guinea has an ancient past but its more isolated regions have only become known to the outside world since the 1930s.  The main island, the second largest in the world, has a diversity of environments, peoples and languages, but the many rivers and their tributaries serve as highways on which canoes move goods from people to people and place to place.  The exhibit also explores the type and importance of trade networks between people in the area.

Other museum events scheduled this fall include:

“Dias de los Muertos” (Days of the Dead) Exhibit:   Sept. 18 –Dec. 14. Annual exhibit featuring a traditional Mexican “ofrenda” (home altar) and other items related to the ancient religious celebration honoring children and the dead.  Free and open to the public.

Family Day: Oct. 20, 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.  The event will feature Mexican crafts, games, music, storytelling and food related to the “Days of the Dead” holiday.”   Free and open to the public.

Children’s After-School Program:  “Let’s Celebrate” Oct. 8, 22, Nov. 5, and Nov. 19, 4:15-5:30 p.m.  The Oct. 8 program, “Whose Got the Yam?,” will focus on the Yam Festival in Papua New Guinea and relate it to other harvest festivals.  Children will make their own yam masks.

Lecture:  Oct. 26, 3 p.m. Rowena McClinton will discuss her recent publication on the Spring Place Moravian Mission site in North Georgia.  Sponsored by the Cherokee Moravian Historical Association and Wake Forest’s anthropology department.  Free and open to the public.

The Museum of Anthropology is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.  For more information, call (336) 758-5282 or visit

Press Contacts:

Cheryl Walker
(336) 758-5237

Kevin Cox
(336) 758-5237

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