Cultures of Asia

Cultures of Asia

The Field Museum has a long history of research in South and East Asia. From the World's Columbian Exhibition, which featured people and objects from Asia, through the work of several curators in the Department of Anthropology, such as Berthold Laufer, who built our Asian Collections, Field Museum anthropologists historically have conducted cutting-edge research in the region. Today, Curator Gary Feinman conducts archaeological survey in Shandong, China.

Image above: Detail of a Saron Barung, which is a type of metallophone, from the gamelan featured in the Java Village at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Catalog Number 3.36011. © The Field Museum, GN91437_59dPhotographer John Weinstein.

    gfeinman's picture

    Gary Feinman

    MacArthur Curator of Anthropology Integrative Research Center

Cultures of Asia Collections

Asian Textile Collections

Seemingly fragile, textiles can be an enduring link to vanished cultures, as well as a fascinating cross section of the aesthetic sensibilities of far-flung contemporary peoples. Among the five most distinctive collections in the United States, The Field Museum’s holdings of Asian textiles include nineteenth and twentieth century pieces from India, Bhutan, Central Asia, China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. 

In a black and white photograph, a man wearing a pince-nez as well as a suit and tie holds up a carved horn.

Berthold Laufer Collections

Berthold Laufer (1874-1934), curator of Asian Anthropology from 1908 to 1934, was a pioneer in the study of Asian cultures. With a doctorate in oriental languages from the University of Leipzig, Laufer was a sinologist who was fluent in more than a dozen languages, many of which were non Indo-European. Polymath and polyglot, his interests seemed unbounded and his linguistic skills unequaled.

Boone Collection

The Boone Collection consists of over 3,500 East Asian artifacts gathered by Commander Gilbert E. Boone and his wife Katharine Phelps Boone. The Boones acquired most of these objects in the late 1950s, during a three-year tour of duty in Japan. Consequently, the objects are predominantly Japanese (accounting for over 50% of The Field Museum's Japanese collection), but a significant number are also from China and Korea.

Chinese Rubbings Collection

For more than 1,500 years rubbings have been a vital medium for preserving China's art, culture, and history. These beautiful works are made by pressing thin sheets of wet paper into carvings or inscriptions cut in stone or other hard materials and carefully inking the surface to create a copy of the original. The resulting rubbing has white impressions where the paper was pressed into the carving surrounded by a typically black ink field.

Javanese Mask Collection

These masks were brought to the United States by a group of dancers, who performed at the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. Such masks are worn by actors in traditional dance dramas known as wayang topeng. The dancers were from the island of Java in Indonesia. While in Chicago they resided in the Java Village, which was organized and financed by the colonial government of the Netherland's East Indies as Indonesia was known in those days.

Photo Archives - Philippines Collections

Between 1908-1910, Museum curator Fay-Cooper Cole visited the Philippine Islands and Indonesia and produced over 400 photographs while visiting the areas. Through Edward Ayer and the Newberry Library in Chicago, the Field Museum made copies of the Newberry's collection of Dean C. Worcester's collection of photographs.  Over 2,000 copy negatives were made of the photographs made by Worcester and by his government photographers.

Schuster Collection

The Carl Schuster collection of Chinese textiles is unique and by far the largest and most exclusive collection of Chinese folk embroidery in the world, including China. Distinct from multicolored and multi-technique silk or cotton embroideries from other parts of China, the Western and Southwestern folk embroideries collected by Schuster are mainly cross stitches in cotton thread on cotton cloth with combinations of either blue on white or white on blue.