“Mastery of Clay” Exhibit Arrives in Longyear Museum

Pottery from Papua New Guinea was displayed throughout the Longyear Museum in Alumni Hall on Thursday, March 21, courtesy of Richard W. Arnold’s collection “Mastery in Clay: Indigenous Pottery from Papua New Guinea.”

The exhibit displayed a variety of earthenware, traditional of potters from Papua New Guinea, ranging from everyday cooking pots and eating bowls to bowls used for both traditional and religious purposes. The pottery contrasts not only in use, but in size and pattern: their surfaces contain designs of abstract swirls and figures, plants and animals of the Papua New Guinea area and even human faces.

The clay-made objects displayed in this new exhibit show the creativity and talent of the potters from Papua New Guinea. Even though all the pieces in Arnold’s collection came from just one specific place in the world, the pottery still highlights an immense amount of variety and diversity when it comes to both the uses for the pottery and the shape, size and design.

One of the most interesting pieces, which came from the Chambri people, was a large, colorful bowl that was decorated to look like a human face. With intricate designs in brown, white and black, the human face clearly stood out in an astonishing and definitely unique fashion. This type of bowl, called a naranggau, is typically decorated with one to four human or animal faces, each occupying almost the entire surface of the pottery. In addition to the human face, this bowl also had an interesting structure, with a slightly larger bottom that curled inward and then outward again at the top.

There were many other pieces of pottery in the collection that stood out for their curious and aesthetic qualities. One piece of earthenware from the Aibom village that is unique to Papua New Guinea was crafted using what is called a ring-building technique, creating an unusual design and structure. Another piece of pottery from a place called Papi uses intricate geometric designs to create a beautiful eating bowl that can be used by families every day and to display their sense of tradition.

In addition to the villages of Aibom and Papi, there is also a great deal of noteworthy pottery in Abelam. This village is both large and densely populated, and its people use pottery to maintain traditional religious practices, especially in the Worsera area of Abelam. In the Northeast area of Papua New Guinea, Arnold’s explained, men gather the clay and the women make the pots, fashioning them so that they have an everyday use, a traditional use or a religious use.

There were over 40 selections from Arnold’s collection at the Longyear Museum that displayed pottery from many different places in Papua New Guinea. Most of the earthenware was from the East Sepik Province, from places such as Kwanga, Yongoru Boiken, Abelam, Komogi and Girawa.

Arnold’s “Mastery in Clay” exhibit will be displayed in Colgate’s Longyear Museum on the second floor of Alumni Hall from now until June 1. Anyone interested in anthropology, art or Papua New Guinea should check out this collection before the year ends.