Each year, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum (MVM) curators come up with a number of fun and interesting exhibits about Martha’s Vineyard. I feel like the MVM is one of those places that should be on everyone’s bucket list, and I can’t wait for it to be in its new, bigger space in Vineyard Haven.
As always, their exhibits catch my eye, and being intrigued by exotic things myself, A Taste of the Exotic, Mementos from Around the Globe, which opened Memorial Day weekend, caught my eye. One of the cool things about the MVM is that they have an audio guide that you can use with your smartphone or with a little radio the MVM can give you.
So, you can find out so much more about each item in the exhibits. I love going to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum and learning about the history of this amazing Island.
Back to A Taste for the Exotic which features items that our seafaring ancestors brought back with them to the Island during the 1800’s and early 1900’s. For the exhibit, the MVM focuses on three regions, the Arctic, the South Pacific, China and Japan.
Since the whale population was on brink of extinction, whaling captains and their crews had to travel farther and farther away to find whales. It’s amazing to think about the impact this small community had on the world.
So it seems as though the South Pacific, particularly Hawaii, was a popular “stop over” place. There sailors from America would refresh their supplies, and spend a little time before moving on to somewhere like China.
Apparently along with other people, Vineyarders thought that the people that inhabited these areas were exotic and barbaric. Because of this, a lot of what was taken from the South Pacific, aside from necessary provisions, included a lot of weapons — weapons like the throwing club and shark tooth dagger.
Also of interest, the different types of shells and some of the exotic carved pieces. The natives made such beautiful, intricate items out of wood and tortoise shell (which sadly was very popular, as it still is), in the 1800’s and 1900’s.
Interestingly, these so called savages caught on and started making native weapons and the like, to sell to what we would consider tourists. The items on display became popular pieces to take back home to share and show where you’d been, and I am sure, make people even more happy to have you return home.
In Europe and among wealthy Americans, East Asia was all the rage during this time. Whether it was a kimono, a vase, a hair comb, a painting, anything, was coveted.
Walk into any whaling captain’s house in Edgartown and you would find such items on display. They were considered objects that showed your wealth and spoke of your worldly travels. I imagine that some of the pieces are still on display in homes today.
There really are some amazing pieces from China. The hand-painted feather and ivory fan on display is stunning. It’s hard to believe it’s from the mid-19th century and that it survived the trip from China to Martha’s Vineyard on a whaling boat. I am a mess just from the ferry boat ride!
The North Pole was one of those places that was on every explorers checklist but it was almost impossible to get to. The MVM has a particularly interesting collection on this area. A local whaling captain, Edwin Coffin, who had retired, was commissioned to make a voyage to the North Pole.
Why you ask? Well as Indian Jones says, “fortune and glory.” It really was a trip financed, so claim could be made on the North Pole.
The ship they sailed on was called the America. Sadly, they never reached the North Pole, but rather were stuck in ice for two years, from 1903 – 1905.
During this time, Captain Coffin kept a journal that he wrote in every day. He describes what the men went through on a daily basis, the harsh weather conditions, the lack of food, and what the worst part was — the boredom they suffered.
The MVM has this journal and it even has a small film that shows the America unloading its cargo onto the ice. I am sure the crew didn’t think they would have to wait a full two years to be rescued, but such was the case, since the ice was so bad.
Curious as to how Vineyarders were getting these amazing items? Well, we had some interesting items to trade with the locals. We had our firearms to offer, and apparently, we traded with a lot of alcohol. Many cultures didn’t have alcoholic drink like we did, and they became quite interested in it. Also, our crafts would be traded, such as jewelry and housewares.
This is just a small tidbit about what you can see at A Taste for the Exotic, Mementos from Around the Globe. All of the items featured were donated to the MVM by Island residents, and many of the artifacts came with a little background on their Vineyard life.
How wonderful to have some of these pieces as part of your family legacy, and even more amazing that people had the foresight to take care of the these amazing objects.
And, how wonderful that we can see and learn about all of this today. Not on Island yet or have a packed month of Summer activities? Not to worry, the exhibit is running until April of 2014.
Also, opening this week in the MVM’s Northeast Gallery, Ladies of the Sea: Tull, Treat and Jernegan.” This exhibit features the work of three artists inspired by the sea. There are these exhibits and more all happening this Summer.
A big thanks to Assistant Curator Anna Carringer, who took me on a little tour of the collection. Her passion for the museum is contagious!
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