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Student Blog: Field Museum of Natural History

Student Blog: Field Museum of Natural History

In this blog post, WUDPAC class of 2024 Fellow Mackenzie Fairchild reflects on her third-year fellowship at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, from preparing polychrome wooden pagodas for loan to treating cellulose nitrate reptiles.
 
ARTC/CHEM professor receives technical diving grant

ARTC/CHEM professor receives technical diving grant

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Field Notes with Winterthur Scientist Catherine Matsen

Field Notes with Winterthur Scientist Catherine Matsen

What is conservation science? Winterthur Museum's most recent edition of Field Notes, an Instagram series aimed at highlighting the variety of careers at the institution, features Senior Scientist Catherine Matsen.
 
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Art conservation and voices from the past

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A student in a lab coat and wearing gloves uses a small brush to lift dust from shells on an object.

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​Winterthur/University of Delaware Fellow Riley Thomas vacuuming the lid of the Ile Ori with a soft brush. (Image: E. Krape)​

​In Yorubaland, a region in West Africa that includes a large swath of Nigeria and is home to the Yoruba people, the human head is considered the physical and spiritual core of the human body. The head figures prominently in their complex religion, which has many deities, and in their art and material culture, even as many Yorubas have converted to Christianity and Islam.

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Close up of a sculpted headdress, with a figure painted in blue and yellow pigment and decorated with carving and purple tassels.

​Detail image of the female figure atop the Ile Ori, viewing her right side. The purple tassel is believed to be an earring. (Image: R. Thomas)​

​This year WUDPAC Fellow, objects major, and material culture enthusiast Riley Thomas is treating a mid-20th-century Yoruba object called an Ile Ori, which translates to “house of the head.” Found in many Yoruba homes, an Ile Ori is a shrine intended to hold the representation of a head, called the Ibori. The Ibori is believed to be the essence of the person and determines his or her destiny in life; after death an individual’s Ibori and Ile Ori are both disassembled and scattered at the grave. Ile Oris can be found in many museums, but this one is part of Special Collections at Bryn Mawr College, where it is available to researchers and students. ​​

Individuals commission leather workers to create an Ile Ori for them, and so each has its own design and decoration. The Ile Ori Riley is treating consists of two parts: a cylindrical base topped by a conical lid with a finial resembling a woman. Standing 15.5 inches high and 9 inches wide, it is made of rawhide, orange and blue textile pieces, and decorations that include 13 rows of 59 cowrie shells and two iron-framed glass mirrors.

​Riley understands the importance of deferring to cultural sensitivity and appropriateness when treating the Ile Ori. While her examination showed that the Ile Ori is in fair condition, with losses in the textile components and an accumulation of dirt and grime, her primary goal will be to ensure the object remains intact and stable. She has been advised that what she interpreted as surface soiling on the cowry shells is considered an intrinsic part of the object and its history, resulting from offerings. She anticipates that her treatment efforts will be limited to a light dusting, stabilization, and rehousing and would pursue further aesthetic treatment only after consultation with others, including scholars of Yoruba material culture. When Riley has completed her consultations, analysis, and treatment, she will return the Ile Ori to Bryn Mawr for use by scholars and others interested in the Yoruba people and their culture.​​

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Close up of rows of shells attached to the headdress. Dirt sits inside crevices in the shells.

​Detail image of the cowry shells adorning the base of the Ile Ori. (Image: R. Thomas)​


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A sculptural headdress with rows and attached white shells, craved figures, and designs painted in blue and yellow.

​Overall image of the Ile Ori before treatment. (Image: R. Thomas)​

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This year WUDPAC Fellow, objects major, and material culture enthusiast Riley Thomas is treating a mid-20th-century Yoruba object called an Ile Ori, which translates to “house of the head.”
 
 
3/12/2024
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