Friday, September 12, 2014

Vancouver B.C. Must-See: Museum of Anthropology

Away from the tourist bustle of Vancouver's West End is a gem of a destination set high on cliffs above the Strait of Georgia.  The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) on the University of British Columbia campus at the westernmost edge of Vancouver offers magnificent examples of Northwest Coast art, both contemporary and classic.

Well before explorers and settlers arrived in the region from Europe and beyond, the First Nations people of the Northwest Coast had developed a sophisticated and complex culture of wood carving, painting, song, and dance. The MOA features some stunning examples in a lovely setting.
On a brilliant late summer weekend, we bicycle from the West End over the Burrard Street Bridge and through lovely, leafy residential neighborhoods out to the UBC campus and the MOA.

After parking our bicycles, we wander down the path to the contemporary MOA building, which was designed to reflect traditional northern Northwest Coast post and beam structures.  Just past the entrance, large and spectacular wood totem poles, bentwood boxes, cedar canoes, and sculptures are displayed in the Great Hall. I swear I can feel the power of these treasures set beneath the 15-meter-high high ceiling and glass windows.


Bottom of a Haida totem pole

Down below the Great Hall, we step inside a treasure trove of museum pieces stuffed inside glass cases and pull-out drawers in a darkened collections room. The quantity and quality of the collection is incredible.  To see it all really means many trips here to soak it all in.

Many masks, many more
Another highlight of the MOA's collection is Haida artist Bill Reid's massive wood sculputure "The Raven and the First Men,"displayed to full effect in the Rotunda. Princes Charles (aka the Prince of Wales) was here to unveil this masterpiece back in the 1980s.

The Raven and the First Men
Since I was here in the 1990s, a replica of a traditional Northwest Coast longhouse (or plank house) and a faux beach has been added on the grounds behind the building.  This simulates what a traditional Northwest Coast village would have looked like on one of the thousands of beaches that stretch northward up the coast to Alaska.

As with many museums I've visited over the years for my art history studies and beyond, I can only take in so much before I get sensory overload.  After a couple hours we head to the museum cafe for a cold drink and snack (banana break baked on campus) on the outdoor patio before departing.  

I love this place!  It's on my intinerary for future trips to Vancouver. How about you? 

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons.

When You Go
While the MOA is known for its Northwest Coast art collection, it's also world-renowned for its research, teaching, public programs, and community connections. If you're in the Vancouver area or visit often, check out their ongoing public programs.  The MOA is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and stays open until 9 p.m. on Tuesday evenings. Suggested donation per adult was about $16 when we visited last weekend. Check out their website for information on getting there via bus, auto, walking, or bicycle.


JoJo said...

I never went there....I only made it up to Vancouver once in all the years I lived in WA. I always preferred Vancouver Island and Victoria.

Ivan said...

Absolutely love that museum! I went there about 10 years ago. This post makes me want to go back soon! Such amazing artwork and culture. Thanks, Jill.

Anonymous said...

one of my favorites, some of the most beautiful things. Just finished another trip to the Van Gogh and wasn't as knocked out as I was the last time. Paintings are lovely things but the quality, animation, energy and general genius of this Pacific Coast art is amazing and just as spectacular as the heavy hitters from the dead white guys of Europe. A must do trip, Mary Lou

Anne said...

Looks fantastic! A smaller but gem-like museum I recommend, way off the beaten track, is the Makah Museum at Neah Bay. Another trip back in time showing you the artistic genius that flourished along the Northwest Coast of North America.

jill said...

JoJo, I love Vancouver Island too, but Vancouver BC is such a stunning international city now, love it.

Ivan, thanks for the comment! Yes, there is a volcano in B.C. at the northern end of the Cascades, so maybe you do a Volcano Lands special up north. :)

Mary Lou, love your comparison. Agree totally.

Anne, thanks for the tip. Was at the Makah Museum years ago, wonder if they have updated, was a little worn out back in the late 1980s.

Unknown said...

The transformation masks that are hinged allowing the dancer to move the narrative along are particularly interesting. Much of the collection of artifacts can be viewed just by pulling out drawers containing the objects. When this museum was built it was a novel idea to give the general public access to the collections this way . Sort of like open stacks in a library! The building itself housing the collections was designed with one of the first roof gardens.

I also highly recommend visiting the UBCBotanical Garden just up the road from the museum. But thats another story! They have some of the most wonderful native plant specimens due to their superb location near the coast.

Helen Fern said...

Looks like a great museum!! I'd love to follow your blog, but I don't subscribe to the offering - I also have a NW blog and I'd love your opinion! I'm pretty new at it!