San Francisco

“Hunters of the North”

Lowie Museum of Anthropology, U.C. Berkeley

This museum stores the largest and most important anthropological collection west of the Mississippi, over four hundred thousand items in all. It has no permanent display of its treasures, but concentrates on a series of revolving exhibitions with a theme, currently showing the artifacts and art of Alaskan Eskimos collected in the last quarter of the 19th century before the native ways of life disintegrated under the impact of Western civilization. One aspect of this exhibition poses a fascinating question: what factors influenced these people, without a written language, living in the timelessness of the cold Artic, without contact in any form with the outside world, to change and develop their iconography? Both the abstract motifs and delightful drawings of the animals of their world have an enormous variation of style over the last thousand years. The effect of contact with civilization was immediate and led to the introduction of Western perspective into their carvings. The extra-ordinary and wonderful ritual masks are the highlight of this exhibition.

John Coplans