Winter 2023 | Mingei International Museum

A Note from Jess

Working in a museum like Mingei is a joy and a privilege. Almost every day I remind myself of this by getting up from my desk and walking around the Gallery and Commons Level. This stroll through our exhibitions, this repeat viewing, gives me an opportunity to find new meanings and moments in the work we do here at the Museum. The experience at Mingei is rich, and the ideas explored are varied and challenging to encapsulate within a few data points or pithy sentences. How do we distill big ideas? Or better understand the aesthetics and design of an object? How do we know if we are making our mark?

As an idiom, “making our mark” refers to doing something that is important or meaningful. Marking the moment is a way to highlight a key event or point of transition. And the act of mark-making is driven by a myriad of needs and desires: to signal identity or tradition, to count and track information, or to simply adorn an object with a pattern or decoration. In this, our first digital issue of Communiqué, we are considering the many facets of “marking”. Beginning with acknowledging the transition to a new format. I hope you will also watch my video message, which offers a few helpful hints on navigating around this platform.

Our next exhibition – 25 Million Stitches – has allowed thousands of people across the globe to participate in marking the number of global refugees, each represented through the craft of needlework. The beautiful combination of colors, stitch varieties, symbols, and stories reflected in hundreds of text panels helps us to understand the magnitude of this crisis humanizing a vast and often overwhelming statistic. African By Design, opening in May, marks the many sources and inspirations for African design in craft. The exhibition features objects such as clothing, jewelry, furniture, ceramics, and ironwork, to explore how form, shape, and pattern communicate aesthetic preferences and cultural information.

As for my daily walks, I like to think about the mark they might be leaving. As I move through the Museum, I imagine the invisible footprints of all the previous visitors – each of whom, through coming here and spending time, has helped to bring life to this space. And hopefully, each has left with something: a spark, a moment of recognition or appreciation, a memory of beauty – a mark they carry forward in their own lives.

Exhibition Highlight

African by Design

Form, Shape, and Pattern in African Craft

Throughout the African continent, handmade crafts have been central to the unfolding of daily life. These are the objects held and used every day – a favorite water jar, for example, or a well-constructed gathering basket, a comfortable headrest, a woven robe, or a forged iron blade. On top of their importance as well-made, functional objects, African crafts are often visually stunning. Objects of furniture feature bold, unexpected forms. Brilliant textiles dazzle with color and pattern. Clay vessels stand out because of their striking shapes and silhouettes, and because of the applied designs meant to be felt with the hands, as well as seen.

Kente Cloth, Ghana, Asante Culture, Silk, 20th Century, 201535019.

This exhibition presents over 100 works of African craft, including furniture, pottery, basketry, textiles, jewelry, clothing, weapons, currency, and more. The objects originate from many areas of Africa, and are part of layered cultural stories and histories. Each work invites us not just to consider the object, but also the maker – a person often unknown to us – whose inspiration and sense of design made an everyday object extraordinary.

Curated by Mingei Director of Exhibitions and Chief Curator, Emily G. Hanna, African by Design is on view at Mingei International Museum from May 20 - September 17, 2023. It is drawn from Mingei Museum’s permanent collection and local private collections.

Object Spotlight

Baby Carrier (ba’)

It goes without saying, the need for a well-made carrier to safely hold the newest members of our families transcends time and culture. Whether we’re taking our little ones out to be doted on by friends and family or making a trip to the grocery store, what we carry them in can offer insight into how we live our daily lives as well as our moment in human history. The same can be said about the traditional baby carriers, known as ba’, made by the Dayak communities of Borneo.

A ba’ is made of woven rattan, with an inner structure and base made of wood. The basket structure was decorated with beaded panels (called aban) whose designs communicated social rank, the baby’s gender, or familial wealth. The glass beads used to decorate a ba’ arrived in Indonesia with the earliest maritime traders from India and China. They traveled from the island’s coast to the mountainous, tree-covered interiors and were traded for rattan, bird’s nests, and other medicinal materials. 

These traditional baby carriers were designed to convey important information such as family history and gender. A depiction of a tiger was reserved for wealthy aristocratic families, for example, while abstract geometric designs were more common. A breach of the design restrictions disturbed the harmony of the community, potentially bringing illness, bad harvest, or famine. Embellishments such as tiger claws, boar tusks, animal teeth, and bells protected the baby from evil spirits, while even or odd numbers of teeth or claws indicated the baby’s gender. 

Baby Carrier (ba’) 20th Century Dayak people Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia Wood, grass, beads, shell, brass, bone Mingei International Museum, Gift of Barbara Joy Marriott-Wilcox, 200430001.
Baby Carrier (ba’) 20th Century Dayak people Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia Wood, grass, beads, shell, brass, bone Mingei International Museum, Gift of Barbara Joy Marriott-Wilcox, 200430001.
Baby Carrier (ba’) 20th Century Dayak people Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia Wood, grass, beads, shell, brass, bone Mingei International Museum, Gift of Barbara Joy Marriott-Wilcox, 200430001.
Baby Carrier (ba’) 20th Century Dayak people Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia Wood, grass, beads, shell, brass, bone Mingei International Museum, Gift of Barbara Joy Marriott-Wilcox, 200430001.

The carriers were used on both the front and back of a woman’s body – nursing infants were carried on the front to facilitate breastfeeding, and older children on the back. Once a child outgrew the carrier, it was saved for the next child born into the family, and the aban and other embellishments were detached and stored for future use. Beads from damaged or worn ba’ were recycled to make new aban or smaller items of beaded jewelry.

Although Dayak women still carry babies on their backs or chests, this kind of traditional beaded carrier is rarely used today outside of cultural festivals. Traditional ba’ are still made, but as objects of cultural heritage and for artisan markets rather than for daily use. But whether made today or many years ago, these baby carriers have always required expert craftsmanship and extreme attention to detail. The placement of every single bead matters. The artistry of the beading and the thoughtfulness of the design makes a ba' an excellent representation of a proud Dayak cultural heritage.

Inspiring Insight

A Conversation with Guest Curator, Jennifer Kim Sohn

In the Museum’s upcoming exhibition, 25 Million Stitches: One Stitch, One Refugee, Sacramento-based, Korean-American fiber artist Jennifer Kim Sohn, raises awareness of the international refugee crisis by marking the number of displaced people via stitches on embroidered panels.

Mingei in the Classroom

Between School in the Park, our outreach education program Art of the People, and summer and winter camps, school is always in session at Mingei. Programs in the classroom are an all-hands-on-deck event. Our Education Team plans, coordinates, and oversees these programs, and also collaborates with other museum departments to ensure the students have a robust experience.

For School in the Park, elementary and middle school students learn what happens behind the scenes at museums. In partnership with Price Philanthropies, this program takes students to different museums around the park. It blends formal and informal learning by utilizing the rich resources of museums. At Mingei, the students begin the week with a tour of the gallery where they talk about appreciating artwork with their eyes. The Education Team asks questions like "What do you see?", "Which one is your favorite?", and "Why do you think the artist used these particular colors or materials?" to spark important discussions. The rest of the week the students explore different departments, interacting with the Art Library, Collections, and the Marketing and Design Team. This past fall, the students worked closely with Marketing and Design to create flyers on iPads, talking through design topics such as branding and how incorporating photos of objects in the Museum’s collections and design elements can tell the story of Mingei.

Students getting a tour of the collections storage area.
Students making flyers on an iPad.

During summer and winter camp, students also get a full museum experience meeting Museum staff as well as local artists, designers, and craftspeople. This past summer camp, one group of students worked with local fashion designer, Claudia Rodríguez-Biezunski, to sew letters written to themselves and organized an exhibition for the letters at the end of the week. In winter camp, the students worked closely with the Marketing and Design Team to create their own lunch boxes.

Similarly, our school outreach program, Art of the People, visits 3rd and 4th-grade students in their classrooms where they can learn about art while engaging in a hands-on activity. The program includes two projects for a total of 8 in-school sessions, with all lessons taking inspiration from the Museum’s exhibitions and permanent collection. During these sessions, students connect to art processes and cultures while using critical thinking and collaboration to enhance their creative expression. At the end of the programs, students have their own exhibition at the Museum with their family and friends.

Flyers made by students from School in the Park.

Needless to say, there’s never a dull moment in the Education Department – and we didn’t even mention our other programs like Family Sunday, Mini Mingei, and Art Break! We’ll save those for another Communiqué issue. In the meantime, if you happen to see someone from the Education Team running around the Museum, maybe buy them a coffee or something.

Artifact at Mingei

Culinary Adventures

With both prix-fixe dinners and a la carte offerings, ARTIFACT uses ingredients and cooking methods to give food lovers an artfully Mingei culinary experience. This year, Chef Jeff Armstrong, along with one of ARTIFACT’s newest members, Chef Tony Coito, continue to craft dishes inspired by methods, spices, and botanicals from around the world for the monthly series ARTIFACT at Night. This special one-night, 4-course family-style dinners are the perfect way to explore international cuisine while being surrounded by art from around the world.

In Your Words

Docent Ambassadors

Mingei Docent Ambassadors play a vital role in the museum, often being the first people visitors meet when experiencing Mingei for the first time. As volunteers, Docent Ambassadors help museum-goers develop a deeper understanding of folk art, craft, and design by showing how it is relevant to their lives via guided tours and thoughtful conversations. They host groups of all ages, from Kindergarten to adults, and work closely with our Department of Education to tailor their tours for each group they serve. In this year alone, Docent Ambassadors contributed 476 hours in gallery tours!

Over the years, I visited the old Mingei many times. When it reopened, I was blown away by the Board and Staff's commitment – down to the smallest details – to making the building a physical manifestation of the Museum's mission. I decided I wanted to be on the team and applied to be a Docent Ambassador. One of the best decisions I've made.

Sheila Cushman, Docent Ambassador

This past fall, 20 new Docent Ambassadors joined the Mingei community bringing us to a total of 50 ambassadors, and we could not be more thrilled. The docents come from varied professional backgrounds – teachers, doctors, translators, gallery owners, textile designers, artists, priests, and interior designers – and also range in age with some being in their early-20s and others in their mid-80s. If you haven’t taken a tour of the museum, or maybe it’s been a little while, you can learn more about booking a tour with our docents here. There’s always something new to discover at Mingei!

For much of my adult life, I've spent time living and traveling abroad and have come to appreciate how people from across the world make beautiful objects that reflect their culture and themselves. At Mingei, these objects are celebrated for their intrinsic beauty, and artistic value and I truly appreciate that. Volunteering as a docent allows me to share my enthusiasm for Mingei's mission and to continually learn about different cultures through the artists and their artworks.

Jill Fleming, Docent Ambassador

Calendar of Events

Our Supporters

Donors of Note

Mingei International Museum is grateful to all its members and friends who provide financial support throughout the year. Be it through an annual membership, a contribution to the annual appeal or capital campaign, a donation in support of special exhibitions or programs, or a legacy gift through a will or bequest – you provide essential funds that continue to make the Museum a special cultural gift to San Diego and the world.

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