Florida State students curate exhibit of Polynesian women’s art 

Florida State University’s College of Fine Arts and the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship Textile and Apparel Historic Costume Collection will present “Treasured Cloth: Women’s Art of Polynesia” featuring textiles created by Samoan and Tongan women and explores the cultural and historical significance of the objects.

The exhibit, which opens April 4 at the William Johnston Building gallery, is the culmination of a semester of work by the Museum Objects class taught by Associate Art History Professor Kristin Dowell.

In Dowell’s class, students learn about the history, practice and implications of displaying objects in museums and galleries. This hands-on opportunity gives students the chance to curate, design and mount pieces in an art show.

The textiles presented in the exhibit are part of the College of Fine Arts’ collection and have never before been displayed to the public. The collection features two large-scale tapa cloths, or barkcloths, made by Samoan and Tongan women that date back to the early 1900s. A barkcloth is a woven textile made of strips derived from the inner bark of trees and hold great artistic and cultural significance in Polynesia.

One of the two large tapas made its way to the United States after a Samoan man gifted it to a U.S. Marine stationed in Samoa during World War II. The other barkcloth was collected by former FSU Professor of Art History Jehanne Teilhet-Fisk and added to the archive.

Barkcloths are integral to the Polynesian culture as women express their creativity and artistic skill through creating and decorating the textiles. The barkcloths also play an integral role in the daily lives of the Polynesian people as they are transformed into cloths, grass skirts, mats and more. The textiles are often sacred to social events including weddings, births and deaths.

The work of the Polynesian women reflects the environment, culture, community, gender roles and art of their people. The pieces displayed are highly valued and many are an important aspect of ceremonial and cultural events.

This vibrant exhibit will provide insight on the lives of the women who created the textiles and is a unique opportunity to learn about an important cultural tradition.

An opening reception will take place from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, April 4, and the exhibit will run through Monday, April 22. The William Johnston Building gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.