Artifacts from four sunken trading ships, delicate Chinese silk shawls and Philippine tabernacles are just some of the treasures featured in the new exhibit in the Thacher Gallery. Over 125 objects from 12 California missions and private collectors reveal California’s cross-cultural history. “Galleons and Globalizations” takes a look at the extraordinary artifacts from 17th and 18th century California missions and the Pacific Rim.
The Rev. Thomas Lucas S.J., gallery director, said at the opening of the new exhibit, “Then, as now, the whole world ended up in California.” All the artifacts were brought here from missions in Baja, China, Japan, Mexico, North America, Paraguay, Peru and Spain. From the 1560s to the 1800s, American silver was traded on the Acapulco-Manila Galleons along the Pacific trade routes.
These artifacts tell a story of complication and beauty at a time when explorers discovered new lands on every voyage. The problem was that the Native Americans who lived on the land did not see the explorers’ right to take it away from them. Lucas said, “We have pieces that are concrete physical evidence of the first encounters of the European population and the Native American population here.”
Alejandra Bandala, an alumna of USF interning at the gallery, said her favorite piece is the Spanish dictionary. “I find it amazing that there is such an old dictionary. It’s an amazing language and it’s almost dead. I think it’s important to preserve it so we have a reference. It is very significant to my roots,” she said. Other pieces that really stand out in the gallery are the Native American baskets woven with the Spanish imperial coat of arms in Ventura.
Lucas said, “What we’ve tried to do here is create a little world that looks at these complicated relationships of trade, with all of its benefits and all of its downsides. To look at a moment of cultural encounter that was very respected…We see the beautiful and flawed, tragic experience of the California missions that, nonetheless, produced extraordinary works of art which had within it hybrid pieces.”
Although the artwork collected during this period was extraordinary, Spanish pioneers were responsible for many Native American deaths in claiming the new lands. Multiple “hybrid pieces” can be seen within the gallery. A Madonna painting shows the Lady of Guadalupe with traditional clothing, but with Chinese features. Similarly, a 1783 Philippine tabernacle sits next to its California-carved counterpart. Statues of saints sit in the middle of the exhibit with other treasures from Japan.
Not only does this exhibit speak volumes about California’s history, it celebrates the Jesuit tradition. Anna Tull, an arts history/arts management senior interning at the gallery, said, “This show is a centerpiece of the whole University’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of the death of Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit martyr who died in 1610. He has been really influential for the theme of the University.” As an Italian Jesuit, Ricci collaborated with China during early European Catholicism’s interactions with intercultural dialogue and reverence.
Kalie Patterson, a fine arts junior, commented on the high quality of the new exhibit. “This exhibit is a lot more museum-quality than we have had before. More than just hanging pictures, we’re learning about restoration and cleaning artifacts and how to properly mount things. It’s a good experience,” she said.
“Galleons and Globalization” runs Aug. 20- Dec. 19, 2010. The opening reception is on Thursday, Sept. 2, 3- 5 p.m.
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