Keith Johnson, a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at California State University, Chico, founded the Museum of Anthropology and Museum Studies Program in 1970. Since its beginnings, the museum has collected over 2,000 ethnographic objects from around the world including North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Recently renamed the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology in honor of the museum’s benefactor, Valene L. Smith, a pioneer in the Anthropology of Tourism, the museum’s collection has grown thanks to the generous contributions of its many donors. As an educational institution, the museum provides students with hands-on training in different aspects of museum work through the Department of Anthropology. Students learn how to accession, rehouse, and handle objects applying best practices while also learning the theoretical components of museum work.
The collections donated to the museum are accessioned and safeguarded by students under the supervision of the museum’s Director, Dr. Georgia Fox. Many of the collections in the museum reflect the scholarship, study, and travels of the donors. Some donors include: Valene L. Smith, whose collection consists of ethnographic objects from Alaska and her world travels; Dorothy Hill who was an ethnographer of regional Native American tribes; Kathryn McCreary, whose scholarly collection of Arctic peoples include research documentation and books in the museum’s library; and William S. Behrick, who collected ceramics from China, Japan, and Korea. In recent years, the museum has also acquired a large collection of African art, instruments, tools, and weapons from the Estate of Arthur Lehmann, a cultural anthropologist and former faculty member who spent many years doing field work in Africa.
Of these many objects, the museum’s collection houses many headpieces from the Americas, Asia, and Africa. This online exhibit presents some of the best of the headpieces from the collection. The objective of this exhibit is to show that although adornments are universal among human cultures, styles and meaning are not. All of these headpieces represent a particular view on the world through the eyes of their creators and wearers. As you experience the exhibit and learn about the different headpieces, think about the headpieces you have seen people wear. Why do they wear these particular pieces? What do you think the pieces mean?