The Anthropology Museum, Vancouver

I’ve always loved this museum – it’s an amazing place.

At least for me, what makes the UBC’s Museum of Anthropology special is the access they allow to their wonderful collection of ethnographic items from the people of the Northwest Coast (the people famous for their “totem” poles, for those unfamiliar with this culture). While most of the collection is dimly lit, storage drawers allow display of a vast amount of material. It’s like walking through a giant treasure chest.

The light-filled great hall is filled with poles old and new. It gives a teeny tiny sense of what it must have been like to come across a village studded with house poles and memorial poles and others of all types and vintages mixed together. But the room is also odd, trapped somewhere in time. The poles here are protected from decay, which allows them to be appreciated indefinitely, but the cycle of creation and decay has been arrested, leaving the poles somewhere between the two. Still, it is amazing to be able to see these pieces and to try to understand the ancient stories that they tell.

Of course, poles aren’t the only things on display here, there are wooden boxes galore and gigantic (and outrageous) feast bowls, some complete with serving spoons held in toothy jaws.

There are walls and walls of masks hanging in dimly lit cases. They are displayed by type, with a collection of sun masks in one, raven in another, and so on through all the people and creatures that inhabit Northwest Coast mythology.

There are other First Nations pieces as well, including intricately beaded moccasins.

As a beader, I’m always impressed by the work and sense of style that went into these functional objects.

The museum’s collection actually began with ethnographic materials from the South Pacific, which are also a treat to see.

What a great museum! (And I haven’t even mentioned the Bill Reid room, with its stunning collection of his glittering gold and silver jewelry. . . .

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