Twenty minutes northeast of Orlando, the Albin Polasek Museum in Winter Park Florida is hosting “Island Objects,” an exhibit of archaeological materials and historical items from the Pacific Islands of Micronesia.
It showcases traditional culture and illustrate the ways it has adapted to external societal forces through periods of Spanish, German, Japanese, and American occupation. The exhibit was curated by Barbara Wavell, an anthropologist and author of Arts & Crafts of Micronesia.
A broad range of objects are represented in the exhibit including carved wooden figures and storyboards, intricately patterned fans, human statuary, navigation charts, and woven clothing and adornments.
The exhibit runs through April 15th and praised by an Orland Sentinel article in January. The 400 objects on display are all part of Wavell’s personal collection, meticulously gathered and documented since 1975.
"The collection began in the 1970s when Wavell was a student at Rollins College, just a block or so down the road from the Polasek. An anthropology student, Wavell browsed flea markets in search of exotic carvings.
During one such excursion, she encountered a squatting figure and a carved board that she couldn’t quite place. An investigation ensued, and she determined they were from Micronesia, scattered islands between Hawaii and the Philippines.
Distinct from neighboring Polynesia and Melanesia, Micronesia includes the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Nauru — as well as the U.S. territories of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and Wake Island.
'I realized there really wasn’t much information on the art of Micronesia,' says Wavell, who received her undergraduate degree from Rollins and a master’s degree in cultural anthropology from the State University of New York at Binghamton. 'It was very mysterious.'”
“A theme of this exhibition is adaptation,” says Wavell. “They persevered with this art — no matter who happened to be in charge.”
“It’s a beautiful and remarkable culture,” says the Polasek Museum's Rachel Frisby. “This exhibit has been wildly popular.”
In conjunction with her personal collecting, academic research, and publication of texts devoted to Micronesian topics, Wavell has long partnered with Habele, a US-based nonprofit serving students throughout the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Habele has provided copies of Wavell’s books to public libraries, schools, and universities in Micronesia, as well as to Micronesian diplomats and US officials working in the region. In 2016, Habele’s LEAD Scholar made a presentation of Wavell’s Woven Hand Fans of Micronesia to Amata Radewagen, the Delegate for the United States House of Representatives from American Samoa.
Wavell has also provided support and research for Waa’gey, a mentorship-based after school traditional skills program. Through hands on learning about carving and sailing, Waa'gey sustains centuries old traditions and imbues young men with a sense of accomplishment and belonging. Supported by Habele, Waa'gey serves at-risk students in Yap and Chuuk States, Micronesia.