The World’s Columbian Exposition and Penn

“The World’s Columbian Exposition and Penn: On the Trail of Archaeological Objects”
Yoko Nishimura (Gettysburg College)

There are thousands of Japanese archaeological artifacts stored in the major arts and archaeology museums of the United States. Many of the collections crossed the Pacific in the late nineteenth century, while many others arrived in the first half of the 20th century. The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania houses one of the largest Japanese prehistoric collections. Of the 483 prehistoric Japanese artifacts, 188 items plus sixteen large watercolor paintings of archaeological items and prehistoric sites were given by the Tokyo National Museum (formerly, the Tokyo Imperial Museum) after their display at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The archival record of the Tokyo National Museum identifies the artist of the paintings as Goseida Hōryū II (1864-1943), who was a well-known Western-style painter in Tokyo. After the exposition, the drawings and the 188 objects were transferred to the Penn Museum, while the remaining objects, primarily bronze items and stone beads, seem to have returned to Tokyo. The artifacts and drawings together show that the Tokyo Imperial Museum, supported by the Meiji Government, carefully chose artifacts from different parts of Japan to offer a representative glimpse of all the major ancient Japanese artifact- and site-types known at that time. It was a balanced, informative display of the prehistoric objects reflecting the current state of archeological knowledge. Today, this collection of 204 objects is of great value, not only in terms of research but as an educational tool in the classroom, as well.

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