Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tribal Treasures on a Summer Afternoon

Cicadas drone, crickets chirp in the lush green hills.

The humidity is noticeable, but not unpleasant, as I sip a small cup of expresso and admire the cache of heavy silver bracelets on the homespun indigo cloth before me.
The light skims along edges and among patterns of incised and repoussed design.
Ancient spirals, floral discs, twisting scales and peacock feathers, reveal themselves in glints and shadow on the cool metal.

Though in New England now, each piece brings up memories of steamier days in Southeast Asia and the thrill of discovering something authentic in the mishmash of forgeries and tourist pieces that have dominated the Asian art markets for several decades.

As the world becomes smaller and traditional cultures tweet and surf the web,
it is gratifying to know that art historians and anthropologists are still researching and recording the traditional cultures of tribal peoples in these rapidly changing times.

In many Southeast Asian groups, jewelry forms reflect Neolithic and Bronze Age art, animist religion and represent the microscopic view of the universe. The lovely old patina from wear and use adds to the visual power of these handsome dance objects.

The Barbier-Muller Museum in Geneva holds a treasure trove of traditional jewelry from Indonesia,Malaysia and the Philippines. They traveled a breath-taking exhibit called Power and Gold back in 1985 and the catalog by that name is a must have for those interested in such things. In 2000, Anne Richter gave us The Jewelry of Southeast Asia , her wonderfully insightful study of the history and cultural impacts of ancient as well as dominant cultures of the region on jewelry design.

I’ve enjoyed re-reading these books as I researched these bracelets which are now up on my website. Go to to learn more, then choose Adornments/Asia /1. and click on the thumbnails.

Complete book information is given in the text, if you want to enter this fascinating world via these lovely objects.
It is truly a rich feast.