Windows to the Ainu World was conceived at the suggestion of my supervisor and mentor, Anne Rose Kitagawa: Chief Curator of Asian Art and Collections at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. Anne Rose was aware of my keen interests in the histories and peoples of northern Japan, and recommended I conduct further research into the Ainu-related materials at the JSMA. While the JSMA has a number of fine Ainu-related works in its collection—many of which were acquired by associates of the museum founder Gertrude Bass Warner (1863-1951)—additional research was needed to better appreciate the origins of the collection as well as the specific subject matter being represented. Furthermore, because the majority of the objects at the JSMA were created by secondhand observers rather than by Ainu artists themselves, these objects required careful study and contextualization (in relation to their historical time and place). It is important to keep in mind that many of these objects were produced by artists and observers from outside the Ainu community at a time of intense Japanese and Euro-American expansion, and often reflect the troubling colonial attitudes of their times. Nevertheless, while recognizing their connections to difficult and often troubling histories, these objects help us understand how the Hokkaido Ainu and their culture were previously understood by the Japanese, British, and American travelers who created and collected them, and ultimately broaden our understanding of the space referred to as “northern Japan.”
In addition to highlighting works at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, this exhibition also draws from the collections of the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History and the University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives to survey and document the various Ainu-related objects found throughout the university's many departments—helping us understand not just “what” objects are at the university, but also “how” and “why” they came to the University of Oregon. I am truly humbled by the opportunity to contribute my knowledge and interests to this project, and I would like to express my deepest thanks to my supervisor Anne Rose Kitagawa, Museum Director John Weber, Collections Photographer Jonathan Smith, and all the staff at the JSMA for their continued support and encouragement throughout my research. I would also like to thank Anthropological Collections Director Dr. Pamela Endzweig at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History for her collaboration and eagerness to support this project, to Franny Gaede, Digital Scholarship Services Director at the Knight Library for all of the technical assistance in setting up this website. Finally, I would also like to thank the greater University of Oregon and Eugene communities for helping to make opportunities like these possible. Thank you!
MacKenzie Coyle—JSMA Post Graduate Curatorial Fellow in Asian Art