ASCC ARTIST SELECTED AS NATIONAL MUSEUM COMMUNITY SCHOLAR
Local artist Reggie Meredith, a member of the Fine Arts Department at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) has been selected by the Smithsonian Institution to spend a month this summer as a Community Scholar at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, DC.
She will be participating in their Tapa Conservation Project and also sharing her insights on Samoan Siapo, gained from many years of experience in making it with her aunts Mary J. Pritchard, Marylyn Pritchard Walker and Adeline Pritchard Jones, all master artists who have passed on.
For almost 20 years, one of the most popular ASCC Art courses has been ART 161: Art Forms of Samoa and the Pacific, taught by Meredith. “I felt we needed to have a course that exclusively dealt with our indigenous art forms,” recalled Meredith of the course’s origins, “because it seemed at the time that most of the creative energy in the curriculum was driving contemporary thought.”
Since then, Meredith has consciously discussed and implemented the Samoan Arts, especially its motifs and patterns, in her classes, whether ART 161 is being offered during the semester or not, with Siapo having over time proven an especially effective teaching vehicle.
“Siapo is presented every semester to students enrolled in any Art course,” she said. “It’s spoken about in Design, Drawing, Painting, Ceramic Sculpture, and Art History. Its inclusion into the thoughts and minds of our young people helps them see clearly what is traditional, long lasting and identifiable.”
“I’m honored to be called upon by such a prestigious institution as the Smithsonian to engage in conservation efforts for our treasured Siapo art form,” continued Meredith, who will join three other Siapo artists from Fiji and the Cook Islands at the NMNH this July.
“Together we’ll study how conservators preserve, stabilize and store these delicate works of art made of paper mulberry. Since we’ll learn from professionals in the field of conservation, I’m certain the skills we obtain will benefit not only my students, but our people as a whole. Everyone in the Pacific knows that it’s difficult to keep Siapo intact given the many conditions we face here.”
To develop these conservation skills, the Tapa Conservation Project will focus on historical siapo pieces collected during the United States Exploring Expedition to the Pacific led by Captain Wilkes from 1838 – 1842, including works from (what is now) American Samoa.
“As you can imagine, much of this old and precious tapa/siapo is not in excellent condition,” said renowned anthropologist and NMNH associate Dr. Adrienne Kaeppler, who will serve as one of Meredith’s principal advisors. After training on preservation techniques with NMNH conservators, the Project participants will apply these skills to these historical pieces originally traded or given away to early visitors to the Pacific such as the US Exploring Expedition.
“We would also be interested in hearing your views on the siapo, the designs, and how these might have changed during the century leading up to Mary Pritchard’s remarkable work,” said Dr. Kaeppler in a recent email to Meredith, “and in learning about the traditional dyes and what plants or other sources they might have come from.”
In preparation for her trip to DC, Meredith has begun writing an updated account of Siapo activity in American Samoa, which she intends to link to the highly influential book by Mary J. Pritchard, Siapo: The Bark Cloth Art of Samoa.
“We should maintain Siapo making far into the future,” said Meredith, “because it provides identity for us as a thriving living culture that is unique as the art form of Siapo itself. The very essence of Siapo conveys who we are. The patterns speak of our land, our sea, our people, and what has been most meaningful to us since the beginning of time.”
The National Museum of Natural History is part of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s preeminent museum and research complex. The NMNH is dedicated to inspiring curiosity, discovery, and learning about the natural world through its research, collections, exhibitions, and education outreach programs. Opened in 1910 it contains 1.5 million square feet of space overall and 325,000 square feet of exhibition and public space. With a growing network of interactive websites, the Museum is transforming itself into a hub for national and international electronic education, accessible to anyone with access to the internet.
For more information on the National Museum of Natural History, visit http://www.mnh.si.edu/