Museum Educational Site Licensing Project: Content Selection Working Group

Fowler Museum of Cultural History

Description of the Museum

The Fowler's collections comprise more than 700,000 objects, including approximately 100,000 ethnographic and 600,000 archaeological specimens. The Sir Henry Wellcome Collection of 30,000 objects, assembled early in the century and given to the Museum in 1965, forms the core of the African and Oceanic holdings and represents the single largest gift. These and other objects representing prehistoric, historic, and contemporary cultures from Africa, Oceania, the Americas, Europe, and Asia offer a comprehensive and inclusive resource base for exhibitions and scholarship.

Ethnographic Collections

African. This collection, one of the largest and finest in the U.S. and considered to be among the top twenty African collections worldwide, contains examples from most African nations; the largest representations include Nigeria (4,000 objects), Ghana (3,100), Cameroon (500), Zaire (7,700), Kenya (980), and South Africa (1,100). The Yoruba collection alone is one of the three finest in the world, and has been featured in seven local exhibitions, with material being lent to twenty-five institutions nationally. The Fowler Museum recently completed the fifth year of a joint textile collection and documentation project with the National Museum of Mali, adding nearly 1,000 textiles and related objects to the Fowler collections and over 1,200 pieces to the National Museum of Mali's collection. The initial distribution to MESL included 324 images of 277 objects from the Yoruba and Akan cultures as well as 66 field photographs of cultural objects in use, taken from 1974 through 1980 in Ghana.

Oceanic. The primary strength of the Oceanic collections lies in materials from Australia (1,500), Polynesia (900) and Papua New Guinea, especially the Papuan Gulf (300 objects), Massim Trobriand (850), Sepik River (2,000), and Maprik (700).

Southeast Asian. Holdings from Taiwan (750 objects), the Philippines (1,750), and Indonesia (3,200) make this one of the strongest Southeast Asian collections in the U.S. The majority of the field collections from the Philippines, especially materials from Northern Luzon (Ifugao, Bontoc, and Kalinga), are noteworthy for their thorough documentation. The collections include a comprehensive group of textiles and sculpture from Sumatra and Borneo. The Indonesian and Philippine textiles holdings have recently been expanded considerably and are reinforcing the Fowler's standing as a major repository for the textile arts.

Folk Art. Folk art, particularly that of Mexico (3,600 objects) and Latin America (2,200) has been a long-standing, distinctive area of the collection. The current exhibition, "En Calavera: The Papier Mache Art of the Linares Family, with an accompanying publication, highlights a Mexican folk art tradition collected and researched by the museum since 1965."

Pre-Columbian. A comprehensive collection of some 4,500 pre-Columbian ceramics is exceptional; the best representation comes from West Mexico, the Valley of Mexico, and Pre-Columbian Peru. The initial distribution to MESL included 193 images of 170 objects from Pre-Columbian Peru representing all major cultural periods from the Formative through the Colonial.

Native American. Native American materials from U.S. and Canada are an important part of the collection, though not a major emphasis, and include well-known Northwest Coast material, as well as a notable cross-section of late nineteenth-century Eskimo art and material culture. Materials from the American Southwest, particularly from the massive Rainbow Ridge-Monument Expeditions of 1933-1938, also merit notice.

Antique Silver. Although somewhat outside the range of our other collections, the Fowler Museum has an excellent antique European silver collection of over 300 objects.

Archaeological Collections

The 600,000 object collection represents research conducted at more than 2,000 sites worldwide, with most originating in California, the Southwest, and Mexico. California sites number over 1,000, and Fowler's artifacts represent virtually all major areas from which the prehistory of Southern California has been reconstructed. Southwest collections are the second largest group. The two most important collections come from the Rainbow Ridge-Monument Valley Expedition of 1933-1938 and the more recent Pajarito Plateau project. Mexican collections are the third largest in the museum's archaeological holdings, representing 218 sites, mostly in western Mexico. World Cultures are represented in several small but significant collections that include artifacts from more than 70 sites in Africa, Europe, Egypt, the Near East, Australia, Japan, Guam, Panama, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Chile, and Peru. At the present time, the Museum does not have plans to digitally image objects in the archaeological collection.

Teaching Collections

The Fowler's collections manager works with professors to identify objects suitable for use in UCLA archaeology and anthropology courses. These carefully prepared instruction kits, drawn from collection storage as needed, are handled only by the collections staff during use. The director of education and the collections manager identify objects in the collection that are appropriate for "hands-on" use by the Department of Education. These objects, evaluated for stability, are selected for use in Museum Outreach Program in the Museum and on-site at schools. Many of the objects used are acquired by the Museum specifically for this purpose.

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Last Modified: Tuesday, 13-Aug-1996 18:39:27 EDT