Polynesian Resource Center

Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Polynesian Art and Culture

Book Review: Polynesia: The Mark and Carolyn Blackburn Collection of Polynesian Art

Polynesian Resource Center
Mark Blackburn started collecting Polynesian Art thirty years ago, and since then he and his wife Carolyn have built an extensive collection. It is hard to know the progress of this collection, we do not know what past through the collector's hands, what they saw but did not buy and quite frankly how much money they had available to purchase items. This is one of the weaknesses of the book, the lack of personal back story that would have put the collection into context. The Blackburn's friend Adrienne Kaeppler wrote the text and she is a very well published authority on Polynesian Art, but in a small section on Hawaiian calabashes, Mark Blackburn reveals himself as an interesting and knowledgable writer. His comments on native repairs on Hawaiian calabashes are pertainent, a collector's insight into the strange fashion of paying ten times the price for a repaired object as opposed to a perfect one. Blackburn knew Terrance Barrow, James Hooper and Roger Neich all now deceased, so he has had access to unpresidented knowledge on the subject of Polynesian Art.

He is one of those collectors who started from reading about James Cook's three expiditions which is I am sure where many collectors first gain an insight and then a love and desire to own Polynesian objects. It tends to suggest that collectors of Polynesia are romantics at heart, but his colletion needs putting into context because I doubt today a super collection of Polynesian Art could be built because prices continue to spiral upwards and there is just not enough quality items left to buy on the open market. If we compare the Blackburn Collection with Murray Frum's Collection they differ because Frum started earlier, had plenty of money with which to pursue his passion and Frum also chose a broader base of Pacific items including Papuan objects. The Blackburn Collection is solely focused on Polynesia, has vastly more volume and is of lesser quality. That should not be seen as criticism merely a statement of fact, the collectors had different goal and different starting points. How different we do not know, which is for me the flaw of the book.

Polynesian Resource Center

Of the great items in the Blackburn Collection the foremost would have to be a great Tongan war club which was probably a sacred or certainly chiefly item never meant for use, but as a symbol of status. There is a small Marquasan carving in human bone which is very beautiful and interesting because its use is not established, but would make an aborbing subject for a study in Polynesian Art history. Their Hawaiian calabash collection is suberb, there is a very interesting early Austral dance paddle and a Marquesan decorative skull that is fasinating if the viewer is not of a squimish nature.

The lack of a good Easter Island Moai kava kava suggests the Blackburns fighting fund was modest, but if that is so it makes their collection all the more admirable and all in all this book is very fine and a good addition to any serious Polynesian collector's library.

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