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New exhibition, Exotic Exchange: RPM and Chicago's Field Museum, on view at the Reading Public Museum
Installation view of the exhibition.

READING, PA.- The Reading Public Museum announces the opening of a focus exhibition, Exotic Exchange: RPM and Chicago’s Field Museum. An update to the 1st floor World Cultures Gallery, the new exhibit displays objects that were part of an exchange with the Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History in 1918 and 1925. The exhibition features nearly 90 artifacts from different field expeditions in the early 1900s to Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Africa.

As early as 1917, Levi Mengel, founding director of The Reading Public Museum, was in correspondence with curatorial staff at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History hoping that an exchange could take place between the two institutions. The Reading Public Museum was expanding at a rapid rate and was looking for high quality works from around the world to be displayed in its galleries. The Field Museum, in an effort to keep up with older, more established East Coast institutions, had recently sponsored expeditions to locations in the South Pacific, Africa, and South America. The timing was perfect to make this exchange, and a few hundred artifacts were purchased from the Field Museum in 1918 and 1925.

Most of the objects on display come from Papua New Guinea and were collected on the Joseph Nelson Field South Pacific Expedition from 1909-1913, which was headed by anthropologist A.B. Lewis. Lewis’ team explored and photographed their expedition to nearly all of the islands and provinces of New Guinea, collecting everyday objects, and ceremonial artifacts. The team collected over 14,000 objects, making the A. B. Lewis Collection the largest single collection of Melanesian material culture ever assembled.

The items in this exhibit from the Philippines were selected from the Field Museum’s assemblage of over 10,000 objects collected during the R. F. Cummings Expeditions. Between 1907 and 1910 anthropologists Fay-Cooper Cole, his wife Mabel, William Jones, and Stephen Chapman Simms collected objects and studied the Ilongot and other native peoples. Other objects included in the exhibition come from South and West Africa.

The Exotic Exchange: RPM and Chicago’s Field Museum exhibit features many artifacts that have not been seen in a very long time and never on display together. Everyday items used by people living in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Africa, such as masks, pipes, food bowls, musical instruments, religious objects, personal items like combs and pillows, clothes, belts, headbands, and weapons are now displayed in the newly updated gallery. The objects from each country show the differences and similarities of these cultures.

An exhibition in the same gallery, Treasures of Asian Art, features approximately 50 works of art from China, Japan, Thailand, and Tibet. Drawn from Reading Public Museum’s permanent collection, the objects include painted ancestor portraits, a carved rhinoceros horn, libation cups, jade figurines, images of Buddha, thangkas from Tibet, and tomb and architectural ceramics from China.

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