IACA Journal summer 2013 - page 16

IACA Journal | Summer 2013
The Field Museum
Today’s museums are far more than dusty warehouses displaying mementos of times
gone by. Their collections, and the people who study them, link past to present to future
– providing us with new ways to understand ourselves and our potential. Chicago’s
Field Museum of Natural History stands proudly among the world’s foremost.
On June 2, 1894, the Field Columbian Museum opened at the former Palace of Fine
Arts Building in Jackson Park (now the Museum of Science & Industry). The vast
majority of its collections were purchased from or donated by exhibitors at the recent-
ly-concluded World’s Columbian Exposition, and ranged from the Tiffany collection of
gems to a staggering variety of timbers, fibers, seeds, and other plant-based commercial
products. Because the Palace wasn’t originally designed to be a permanent structure
– and because the collections’ growth rapidly outstripped available storage – it quick-
ly became apparent that a new home for the Museum would be needed. In 1917, the
cornerstone was laid in Grant Park, and on May 2, 1921, the Daniel Burnham-designed
building welcomed the public for the first time – and continues to do so today!
Many of the Native American artifacts and specimens currently
housed at The Field Museum were originally exhibited as part
of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Others were presented to
The Field by research collectors. Still others, acquired through
scientific excavations in the southwestern United States and
coastal Peru, among others.
North American representation includes a Northwest Coast collection, with empha-
sis on the Haida and the Tlingit; an extensive collection from the Hopewell culture of
Ohio; and a particularly strong Plains collection, including a one-of-a-kind assemblage
of Crow shields. Mesoamerican, Central American, and South American highlights
include an exceptional assortment of Maya, Aztec, and Inca ceramics; a striking array of
Andean textiles; gold, redstone, and greenstone artifacts from the Colombian peoples;
and well-preserved pottery, ceremonial artifacts, and musical instruments from Central
Brazil and the Amazon.
As the Director of the Field’s Museum Stores, Jeri Webb is always in search of new ways
to honor the Museum’s Native American collections, while connecting the visiting
By Jeri Webb » Director of The Field’s Museum Stores
public to the contemporary stories of
those cultures. The Field’s commitment
to dynamic, groundbreaking exhibitions
provides her with ever-changing oppor-
Webb came to The Field Museum in
2003, after working for nine years as the
Retail Director at the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra. Her enthusiasm for her work
keeps growing.
“I have a deep love of music and the arts,
so it was an honor to go from one world-
class organization to another. The depth
and breadth of the Field’s collection is
truly astonishing, and whenever I look
through the archives, I am always struck
by the power that all of those beautiful
objects hold. I think of the long hours
the artists put into creating those objects,
the challenges they had in finding the
materials to work with, and the skills
they developed based on the teachings of
their mentors. I am deeply honored to
be able to meet and help support these
artists through our sales at the Field
Museum,” she says.
One of the best ways to experience
the sheer breadth of the Field’s collec-
tions, the vitality of the cultures from
which they sprang, and their continued
relevance today is to visit the
exhibit. Opened in 2007, this
19,000-square-foot hall – showcasing
over 2,200 artifacts, plus videos and
interactive displays – is not strictly
arranged by chronology, or by culture;
instead, it tells the tale of the Americas
idea by idea. For example, a section
on Hunter-Gatherers transitions into a
section on Farming Villagers, demon-
strating the social changes that came
about as cultures began to experiment
with domesticating plants and animals.
Likewise, a section entitled Powerful
Leaders explores how community life
changed as many individual people
ceded decision-making rights to a few,
while an area of the exhibit devoted to
Rulers and Citizens takes that model one
step further and lays out the rise of cen-
tralized governments. The final section,
Living Descendants, introduces video
Transforming Tradition: Pottery from Mata Ortiz (2005-6)
© The Field Museum GN91201.JPG
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