Painting by Juan Umajinga

This beautiful painting was made in Ecuador by Quichua artist Juan Umajina, from the community of Tigua, located in the Andes Mountains.  The Tigua area is well known for this type of painting; however, it is a recent artwork from a more ancient origin. For centuries Tigua artists painted beautiful designs on drums and masks for festivals. It was not until the 1970s that they began using oil and acrylic paints with chicken feather brushes to paint on the flat surface of a sheepskin stretched over a wood frame. The paintings are now known throughout Ecuador.

The paintings commonly depict communal scenes of life within the villages of the Andes. This canvas by Umajina shows a beautiful highland landscape with a traditional curing ritual taking place beside a waterfall.

La Morenada Dance Mask

This mask is from a costume for La Morenada, one of the most popular Bolivian Highland dances. Each year the people of Oruro put on the largest cultural event in Bolivia, El Carnaval de Oruro, with almost 40,000 dancers and musicians participating. There are a number of theories about the origins of the dance; the most common is that it was inspired by the treatment and suffering of African slaves brought to Bolivia to work in the silver mines of Potosí.

This mask is primarily made of forged tin. It is a depreciatory characterization of a Spaniard, who is seen in the dance leading African slaves. His face is outlined in gold painted beads, and his beard is made of black horsehair. Attached to his crown are three plastic weave feathers in yellow, white, and red.

Want to see this in person? It will be on display inside the Museum of Man beginning February 8!

Mantón de Manila

This beautiful and intricate silk shawl is hand-embroidered in satin stitch with knotted fringe. Visiting scholars to the Museum have identified the piece as a “Mantón de Manila,” a large shawl frequently used by Spanish women and Flamenco dancers. The mantón is originally from China and came to Spain via Manila—hence the name. The original shawls had dragons and pagodas; however, Spanish tastes called for flowers and birds.

This piece is believed to have been made in the Philippines by a woman of Chinese and Filipino ancestry. It is heavily influenced by Chinese work—the shape of the flowers and birds and the color gradation are Chinese. The production itself, however, is not as intricate and delicate as embroidery from China during the 19th century.  

Aleut Carvings


These beautiful ivory pieces were brought to the Museum by Ty Reid in 1986. They were collected on the Aleutian Islands in the early 1940s by Mr. Reid’s father, who was stationed there. Ivory carvings are traditionally made by men. The small fish above were probably fetishes or good luck talismans for fishermen.

The Aleut, or Unanga people, have lived on the Aleutian Islands for thousands of years. Traditionally they made their living through sea hunting and fishing, commonly using biadarkas, or kayaks, on the water. Prior to contact from the outside, the Aleut population was estimated to be between 20,000 and 25,000. By 1800 the population had been decimated by exploitation, disease, and invasion to only 1,200. Today the Aleut people number approximately 24,000, a testament to their strength and perseverance.


Ironwood Carving of a Sea Turtle by Armando Torres

Before 1961, the Seri had always carved utility pieces and toys out of soft wood. They had also carved pieces out of weathered ironwood to make things they used and needed. But the year 1961 was a turning point in the lives of Seri carvers. One man, José Astorga, had seen the need for a paperweight among some Anglos who had written on papers that had blown away. So José made an ironwood paperweight and polished it. That was the beginning. He branched out into objects that he knew, such as sea life. Eventually some of the other villagers recognized Astorga’s success, and the craft expanded throughout the whole village. Such items are being made even today, and the carvers have gotten quite sophisticated about their work.

Oaxacan Textile by Gabino Jimenez

Oaxaca is well-known for its beautiful and elaborate textile arts. This piece was donated to the Museum of Man in 1972 by George Courser, who himself received the textile as a gift. In 1981 the Museum’s weaver in residence, Gabino Jimenez, recognized the textile. He himself had made the piece in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The design includes a central concentric circle, which is a stylized version of an Aztec Calendar. Surrounding the center is a wide border that includes human figures wearing elaborate headdresses and tending lotus plants. The four corners of the border show eagles on cactus plants with serpents in their beaks. Gabino learned the art of weaving from his grandfather and prepares his own handspun wool and dyes.

Birch Bark Box and Lid

Though stitching dyed porcupine quills to a bark foundation is an ancient Indian art, it is hard to practice: the quill ends must be inserted into holes made by an awl and then folded under, like staples. Indians everywhere collect bark from fallen trees, or harvest it from live ones in the spring, to fashion boxes, bags, wigwams, and canoes. Quill work, on the other hand, is most common on the East Coast and the Plains, where it is used to decorate special items of bark and hide. Many tribes switched to beads, as they are easier to manipulate, though the Chippewa and Micmac labored to preserve the art of quilling. The Micmac, in particular, “set the standard for the craft.”

Tent Panels

These tent panels are made of cotton with hand sewn appliqué. Collected by Mrs. Emily Michler who traveled abroad extensively in the 1890s. 

Panels, like the ones above, were made to decorate the inside of large tents known as suradeg. The panels traditionally have bright and exquisite geometric patterns. This ancient practice is passed on from father to son, and many believe that it is slowly dying. Designs are initially drawn on large pieces of brown paper and fine needles are used to prick out the outline of each pattern. The paper is then laid over colored fabric and black carbon dust is sprinkled lightly to leave a fine stencil of the pattern. Now it is ready to be cut out and hand sewn.

Germantown Yarn Rug

Navajo weaving has been separated by scholars into three classifications: the Classic Period from 1700 to 1875, when pieces were primarily produced for clothing; the Transitional Period from 1875 to 1900, when new materials and designs were incorporated; and the Rug Period, which runs through contemporary times.

This rug was donated to the Museum of Man in 1958 and is a beautiful example of the Transitional Period. Mr. Ash collected the piece when he operated a store in Yellowstone National Park.  It is in the “eyedazzler” style, which incorporates a serrated diamond design and vibrant colors.

Silver Coin Squash Blossom Necklace

This traditional necklace consists of ten squash blossoms and a central naja or crescent. The beads are made of Liberty and Mercury Head dimes soldered together. The naja is fabricated from three wire crescents joined at each end with a turquoise setting in the middle just below the pendant.

The squash blossom necklace is a Southwest Indian jewelry design. The crescent symbol was brought to the region by the Spanish conquistadors (influenced by the Moorish occupation of Spain), who had silver and iron crescent pendants on the bridles of their horses. The Spanish also brought with them the art of silversmithing, which the Navajo made their own beginning in the mid 1800s. The Navajo call the necklaces yo ne maze disya gi, which translates as “the bead that spreads out.”