Function & Ceremony: The Art of Melanesia

Function & Ceremony: The Art of Melanesia in the Marsh Gallery

Function & Ceremony: The Art of Melanesia in the Marsh Gallery

For the first time in its 15-year history, the Schmidt is exhibiting works from its Melanesian collection. Objects include, but are not limited to, Gope (spirit boards), a Mwai mask, Sepik River Region canoe prows, and Kaima costumes.

Iatmul Mwai Spirit Mask, Papua New Guinea, wood, pigments, fiber, claystone inlaid with cowry shells, boar tusks, & human hair

Iatmul Mwai Spirit Mask, Papua New Guinea, wood, pigments, fiber, claystone inlaid with cowry shells, boar tusks, & human hair

Sago Bowls, Koiwat & Kamangauwi Villages, Papua New Guinea, terracotta and pigment

Sago Bowls, Koiwat & Kamangauwi Villages, Papua New Guinea, terracotta and pigment

Curator’s Essay by Jessica Mannisi:
Defining Melanesia is a bit tricky, whether it be culturally or geographically. Anthropologists cannot agree on definitive boundaries. Generally, it is considered as a sub region of Oceania, consisting of four countries: Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea, as well as the territories of West Papua and New Caledonia.  In such a small region, the area is home to more than 1,000 languages – the densest rate of languages in relation to land mass on earth (approximately 435 miles² per language). The indigenous populations are divided amongst hundreds of small-scale societies, ranging from a few dozen to 200,000 people, and these societies are often completely cut off from each other due to the extreme topography of the lands.

Nevertheless, there are some common artistic ties that most scholars can agree upon. Common traits among the people of Melanesia are:

  1. The tools they use have the technical development of the late Stone Age. (Materials for tools include stone blades, shark teeth, shell splinters, sea urchin spine drills, files made of shark or ray skin, and obsidian.)
  1. Artists’ names are unknown. (Religious significance of objects always takes precedence – not the maker.)
  1. There is a firm connection with religion that dominates all aspects of daily life. (Even the most functional objects commonly have religious or spiritual connotations and are never merely decorative.)

Unlike Polynesian and Micronesian art, Melanesian art is based on ancestor worship, totemism, and other religious concepts, but never on chieftains or those of the living.

There are some things to consider while walking through this exhibition.

First of all, it is important to remember that the people of Melanesia never make something just for aesthetic reasons. A work of art in and of itself is an absurdity to them. Every swirl, embellishment, or animal depiction has a spiritual or sacred purpose or meaning. For example, the decision to use crocodile heads on canoe prows is not because they look beautiful (or menacing). The crocodile is a sacred being. Origin stories claim a giant, ancient crocodile brought the land up out of the primordial ocean, and the land still rests on this animal. Upsetting it can mean earthquakes and destruction.

Also, several of the objects in the Schmidt’s permanent collection are believed to house ancestral spirits. From a Western perspective it is a little difficult to wrap one’s head around the idea, but these objects are not just remembrances or images of an ancestor – they ARE the ancestor.

This is the first time in the Schmidt’s 15-year history that these works have been exhibited together, and there are several reasons for this. To begin with, they are all somewhat fragile. The materials used to create these pieces are far more delicate and ephemeral than a work of art made of metal, oil paint, or even glass. Even with their sacred nature, the people of Melanesia understood this and made replacements once the object had reached the end of its lifespan, so to speak.

Furthermore, there is the sacred nature to consider. It is important as a museum to be a respectful steward of such spiritually valuable objects, whether one believes in them or not. To display an object that potentially holds an ancestral spirit should be done so with care, respect, and the proper knowledge.

I have passed these objects almost daily over the last 6 years, and have wanted to give them their moment to be appreciated by the public. For much of 2015, I’ve done careful research to determine the identity, culture, and purpose of these objects, and I have gained an even greater appreciation for them. Amazingly, this collection is in excellent condition, and several of the objects are somewhat rare examples of their kind.

With all this being said, I hope you enjoy this rare viewing of our Melanesian collection.
About the Collection

Most of the works in our Melanesian collection come from a generous donation by Charles J. Stathis in 1999. The Mwai mask was acquired through a purchase by the SWIC Student Committee for the Visual Arts in 1992.

Exhibition runs through February 25th. For more information, visit

Typewriter Tim: Zen & the Art of Typewriter Tim

Typewriter Tim's "Balance," metal and glass

Typewriter Tim’s “Balance,” metal and glass

Tim Jordan, aka Typewriter Tim, started playing the typewriter as a percussive instrument while studying painting at the University of Kansas. Soon after, he got the idea to blowtorch manual typewriters, and did so after someone told him that he couldn’t. From there, he stumbled upon the idea of infusing glass into them after accidentally jamming some glass dips into an old one, and spent years finding a glass blower that would let him experiment with mixing glass and metal – something that you’re not supposed to do.

When he’s not blowing glass into typewriters or playing improvisational funk music with his band, he is an art facilitator and therapist at Artists First at the Turner Center for the Arts.

Typewriter Tim's "Untitled #1," metal

Typewriter Tim’s “Untitled #1,” metal, and charcoal and ink drawings “Happy Accident” and “From the Top”

Artist Statement:
I started playing the typewriter as a percussive instrument while studying painting at The University of Kansas in 1993. Soon after, I started blowtorching typewriters after someone told me I couldn’t. I “accidentally” jammed some glass dips I had upside down into a torched typewriter. I then became obsessed with recreating that effect without glue.

For the next 10 years I asked every glassblower in the region I was in to help me pour glass through typewriters and they all said the same thing, “Glass doesn’t mix with metal. It won’t work.”

I moved back to St. Louis from Los Angeles and got a random phone call from someone at The Third Degree Glass Factory after he heard what I wanted to do. I couldn’t believe it because I had already given up my quest to find a glassblower by then. So we started burning, filling, ladling, dripping, flipping, pouring, wrapping, and playing with glass and typewriters and their parts, having the greatest time doing it.

My bands play the most beautiful improvisational funk music with a typewriter player for 3-4 hours nonstop just like how we throw 2200° glass on interesting metal machines.

Zen and the Art of Typewriter Tim is a retrospective of process, duality, setting the stage, letting go, and the work creates itself with the help of my friends. I like the idea of things that don’t mix, and are extremely different, getting along and being cool. People think it’s funny that I hate to type. My smug answer is that typewriters don’t type. We just sit there, waiting for a muse. That part is you.

Typewriter Tim's "Untitled," metal and glass

Typewriter Tim’s “Untitled,” metal and glass

Typewriter Tim’s exhibition runs through February 25th. For more information, visit

Paula Haniszewski: Smile Like You Mean It


Paula Haniszewski's "Trap Queen," oil on board

Paula Haniszewski’s “Trap Queen,” oil on board

Paula Haniszewski received her MFA in painting from the New York Academy of Art. Since 2011, she has been an assistant professor of art at Southwestern Illinois College, and has been the art department chair since 2014.

She has exhibited professionally throughout the East Coast and Midwest. Her current body of work is playful, satirical, and imaginative, and is a salute to the American psyche from her own perspective.

Paula Haniszewski's "Punk Ass for President," oil on board

Paula Haniszewski’s “Punk Ass for President,” oil on board

Artist Statement:
My recent work involves drawing, collage, sculpture, and painting inspired by American artists Grant Wood, Mike Kelley, Walt Kuhn, John Singer Sargent, Wayne White, and Walt Disney. 

Playful, satirical, and imaginative, these new works are a salute to the American psyche from my own milieu. The neurosis surrounding success and failure, right and wrong, and the past and present are themes that inspire me. 

Paula Haniszewski's "Press One," oil, plaster, & wood

Paula Haniszewski’s “Press One,” oil, plaster, & wood

Paula’s exhibition runs through February 25th. For more information, visit or the artist’s website

New Exhibitions – Opening Tomorrow!

Please join us tomorrow evening, January 14, from 6-8pm, for the opening reception of exhibitions by Paula Haniszewski, Typewriter Tim, & a Melanesian exhibition of the Schmidt’s Permanent Collection.

Artist talks, curatorial talk, and concert begin at 6pm that evening; exhibitions are open through February 25th.

Paula Haniszewski's "Punk Ass for President"

Paula Haniszewski’s “Punk Ass for President”

Typewriter Tim's "Untitled"

Typewriter Tim’s “Untitled”

Trobriand Islands Wave Splitter (detail)

Trobriand Islands Wave Splitter (detail)

Spring Arts Education Classes Now Open!

The dreary days of winter may be upon us, but there’s plenty in store at the Schmidt for the coming year. Our arts education class registration is now open for the Spring 2016 semester.

All of our popular spring programs are available for every age level: the High School Student Series, 6th-8th Grade After-School Program, our K-12 Homeschool program, and our  Creative Kids Art Classes.

For more information, visit

New Exhibitions Opening Next Week

Please join us next Thursday, November 5th, for the opening reception of exhibitions by Guy Weible and David Weinberg.

David Weinberg's "Adrift, Plate 19" (detail)

David Weinberg’s “Adrift, Plate 19” (detail)

Chicago artist David Weinberg‘s dreamy, black and white photography reflects on the dissolution of boundaries and a delineation of space and time.

Guy Weible's "Platter 1"

Guy Weible’s “Platter 1”

Retiring SWIC art instructor Guy Weible’s show is a career bookend exhibition, featuring a look at a prolific series of dynamic ceramics.

Artist talk by Guy Weible: November 5th, 5pm
Opening reception: November 5th, 6-8pm

Artist talk by David Weinberg: November 12, 6pm
Perseid String Quartet Concert: November 12, 7pm

Exhibitions are open through December 19th.

letting go, to seed

Keep up-to-date on time-lapse shots of Jessica Witte’s outdoor installation by following her blog:

Jessica Witte's outdoor installation, "letting go, to seed," on the Schmidt Family Garden Patio

Jessica Witte’s outdoor installation, “letting go, to seed,” on the Schmidt Family Garden Patio