Dutch East Indies mask; 29-1/2" x 11" x 4-3/4"; carved wooden mask with small cowrie shells covering all of large face, except around red-painted eye area; white shell spirals are also on forehead and cheeks; eyes are white sections of 1-1/2" spiral shells; below nose hangs a long extension, over the smiling cut out mouth, that attaches to chin with head of an alligator; a beard of fibre bristles curves from ear to ear; pieces of black hair form a cushion between clay face and fiber bristles; hole in top for hanging; carved Mai initiation mask, Sepik River Area, Papua New Guinea, ca. 1968.
David Ver Lee participated in a Harvard medical study of natives in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands between 1966 and 1972. The group studied the diseases of the pre-industrialized native cultures and compared them to the diseases common to industrial cultures. While there, Dr. Ver Lee collected dozens of pieces of native artwork that he usually acquired through bartering with a maker or owner. As Dr Ver Lee says, “There were no gift shops on the islands we visited in the 1960’s.”
The Ver Lee artifacts are wonderful additions to the Holland Museum’s Pacific Islands collection. The western half of the island of New Guinea is part of the former Dutch Colony of Indonesia, and the Museum has had artifacts from New Guinea in its collection since the 1940s. Many of the Ver Lee objects come from the Sepik River area of Papua New Guinea, the independent country that encompasses the eastern half of the island. The Ver Lee objects allow us to represent more fully the rich native cultures of this remote island that has local connections.
Gift ofVer Lee, David