Art That Spans Oceans and Decades
The title of this newsletter is a tagline I use frequently. It says it all, and Headhunt Revisited: With Brush, Canvas and Camera has some extremely exciting news! As you may know, we discovered descendants to four of Caroline’s portrait subjects while on expedition fifteen years ago. I continue to receive the most wonderful comments on how powerful it was to share prints of the paintings directly to family members. We have now discovered a FIFTH !
Dr. Garrick Hitchcock, an anthropologist with Melbourne University, contacted me after coming across a story that was produced in Origin Magazine published in 2015. In the story, a particular image of Caroline’s portrait of Robin from the Torres Strait titled “Kai-Kai”, which means “food” or “meal” in pidgin. The painting was created sometime in 1929. Caroline wrote of her regard for Robin in her book “New Guinea Headhunt”. Garrick’s specialty area is in the Torres Strait!!!
Last September I received a message from Garrick saying that he was getting closer to finding the family. He was as excited as I was that it was possible he actually knows a descendent. Garrick sent photographs of a gravestone and death certificate that began the quest to confirm that Robin was one and the same of this handsome man in the painting. In a message from last September, he said that Robin was from Darnley Island (Erub) and he actually located the family tree. Robin was descended from a chief or headman. I was as excited as ever, knowing that this project continues to “span oceans and decades”.
More research and more time passed and I sent a file for Garrick to print and have laminated as a gift to the granddaughter of Robin. Garrick was back in the Torres Strait at the end of 2019. In early February, 2020 Garrick was planning a trip to Mua Island, next to Badu where Robin’s granddaughter, Gwen Baira, lives.
We were all very excited – then unforeseen circumstances with COVID delayed Garrick’s planned travel. He was able to communicate with Gwen’s husband, Tom, and sent him a small photo of the painting until Garrick can present an actual print as a gift. Tom said that Gwen was “happy to see that photo – then she cry. She last saw her grandfather when she 6 years old.”
The story continues with hopes that Dr. Hitchcock will be able to return to Torres Strait for a face-to-face meeting. I, personally, would like to be there with him. What an extraordinary discovery!
In addition to this exciting news, I’ve been thrilled to discover more talented artists. As you may know, Jeffry Feeger, a Papua New Guinea contemporary artist. also appeared in the film. I’ve been searching for other artists, especially after my assignment to the Solomon Islands last July. It connected me back to John Wayne, also appears in the film. His carving is exemplary.
Now I’m communicating with a young man, Jackson Diosi, whose art resonated with my personal passion of the connection between the Solomon Islanders and the ocean that surrounds their beautiful islands. Jackson is now drafting and sketching ideas utilizing many of my underwater images from the Solomons. As he moves forward, I’ll continue to share his progress on the commissioned piece. I can’t wait to see the finished painting! According to Jackson, “women are the head” in their culture and heritage.
I was happy to provide the film to Jackson so he and his family could all watch it together. I was so touched by the response and I’m sure you will also be moved to celebrate with me that this journey continues for Caroline’s story.
In a message from Jackson he expressed how he and his family felt about the film:
“Hallo Michele, good evening from the Solomons. We just finished watching that very beautiful documentary. Just wanted to tell you this got to be the most beautiful and well directed documentary of culture I’ve ever seen. I’m so proud knowing you because of what you did. So sad seeing this (my) unique culture disappearing very fast. Margaret and Caroline are such an inspiration. So wonderful you traced their footsteps firstly to Solomon then to Papua New Guinea …those Solomon Islands she did are displayed on large printed paper here at our gallery. I always stared at them everytime and wonder what was the story behind it …now I know it felt so touching and I was emotional when I realised religion has made so many changes in our culture.The way she captured all those portraits are very beautiful and each has their own unique story. So is your voyage. I know there aren’t much due to time of that film but I know it was a great trip for you discovering each traces. I felt sorry about the jellyfish sting though. 🙁
Your video has inspired me so much now on keeping the identity I have …so proud of my brother, Jeffry Feeger, that he is doing a great job in that film. If anyone asks me what’s the story behind those paintings at the gallery, I will proudly tell the story of these two awesome women and you an awesome photographer who tells a history of it…it’s like all these black and white photographs I’ve seen and now they have colors. Well done. I’m so proud working with you creating more awesome work of my country in time to come. Thank you for sharing.”
Even in these difficult times of the pandemic, there is joy to be found. Thank you all for following my journey.
As we all consider the current state of COVID 19, I was drawn back to Caroline’s books. It was almost 100 years ago they ventured to the Pacific Islands in Melanesia and early in their “Winney the Pooh Expotition”, they had their first introduction to communicable disease. In Ruavatu, Solomon Islands, the local plantation owners were their hosts and they had a baby, which Caroline lovingly called “little sausage”.
Excerpt from Headhunting in the Solomon Islands:
“A crying baby might not seem worth mentioning on a headhunting (portraits) expedition. ….the Ruavatu ‘sausage’ was not a howler by nature. ….A child seriously ill could die before a runner with a paper talk-talk could get to Berande, before the Berande launch could get to Ruavatu and take the child to Tulagi.
Yet the runner was sent off, and we waited outside the nursery house feeling more unnecessary than ever as guests. Then came Monday morning. So far our attitude had been that of intensely sympathetic but detached spectators at a crisis, and now, lo and behold, we discovered ourselves principals. ……….
Three white men stood along the deck (this was from a government launch) “Got any sickness there?” he shouted. “What’s up?” screamed the Missus. “MEASLES!” came the answer. “Epidemic —brought—by the Ark; we had shaken hands with its passengers …There had been no baths to wash away our sins. And now the baby had a temperature. ….Measles in this country is not the pleasant holiday from school it is at home. It is a serious disease, as serious as smallpox in a crowded city…… It was an ironic twist of fate that the Ark of God, whose only mission was to save souls, should have been the means of making so many of them immortal.”
Sadly, hundreds of local people died and villages ravaged by having to quarantine only to watch the numbers of their own diminish. During this time of a global pandemic, Westerners have no right to throw stones at other cultures. We too, have brought in our own diseases to unfamiliar territories.
As of this writing, there are few cases in Solomon Islands or Papua New Guinea. My hope is that this remains at low levels. I think of all the friends I’ve met over the years who hold special places in my heart and live in remote areas with little to no health care.
Sending thoughts and love for everyone to get through this difficult time!
There is so much happening the month of March to honor and celebrate! Of course, I’ll start with Caroline. Her birthday is March 6th and she was born in 1897. It’s also time to acknowledge Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on the 8th. So many accomplished women have been left out of our history books. Scientists, writers, artists and more need our attention to help tell their stories.
Caroline and her dear friend from high school, Margaret Warner, did the unthinkable for the 1920s. Two women, with little money in their pockets, ventured to Melanesia. Many times, they had to depend on the plantation owners and government officials to arrange transportation from one location to the other. These “hitchhiking” young women endured many obstacles and health issues. From Caroline’s book, New Guinea Headhunt, is an excerpt describing what they gathered. One vessel they traveled on was a supply vessel they called “Maroma” because of the odors emanating from the cargo hold. They endured the discomfort for the opportunity to travel from Samarai to one of the most remote areas of Papua – Rossel Islands (Yela) and through the Louisiade Archipelago.
“Then there was the first-aid kit. When we left San Francisco, we had carried no medicine at all, largely I think because we had our health and there is nothing quite so indestructible-feeling as a healthy American. But also because we did not have any extra funds with which to gamble on being sick. Now we had brews for malaria, for dysentery, for a total absence of dysentery, for eye-strain and foot and ear fungus, for island sores and insect bites …. These items luckily did not have to be purchased now all of a lump; they were an accumulation acquired as we had acquired the indispositions they had cured.”
Two significant paintings were produced during this portion of their expedition. Yela Fisherman and Iomai.
Lectures and screenings of the film continue! I would like to thank the Northern California Chapter of Explorers Club for hosting an evening. Sadly, I could not attend but a dear friend, Deborah Kirk, represented the project for the evening.
In Australia, the film was screened at beautiful Retford Park hosted by the National Trust of Australia. Major supporter, Lynne Ainsworth, arranged for the event and I wish to thank her and the gracious hosts. Forty people attended with some travelling from the Blue Mountains and Sydney! The feedback and questions following the film were very positive and strong interest was shown in the prints, shown below, and books of Caroline’s that were on display.
Have a wonderful month celebrating the achievements by women!
The last year of Caroline and Margaret’s great adventure was spent in the Fly River Territory. After all this time of gathering portraits and having to deal with hardships in the tropics, they made do with a palmetto tree turned upside-down and decorated with socks rolled up, flour to sprinkle like snow and a tin star nailed to the stub of the plant. Genius! What made it more special is that instead of having lights, the palmetto attracted fireflies that glowed during the night. What struck me most in her book, New Guinea Headhunt, are the last sentences.
“This Christmas our thoughts did not wander nostalgically the thousands of miles to home. We had been gone too long; we had learned what every good traveler must, to live our lives where we found ourselves.” – Caroline Mytinger
From the entire team of the documentary film project, may you hug your loved ones, spend time with family and friends and have joy in your heart!
I’ve had the pleasure of spending time at the home where Caroline lived the last 40 years of her life! Thank you to Jerry Fielder, Daniel Campbell and Rosemary Kennett for allowing me to sit and absorb what it might have been like for my heroine.
The Mytinger Project/Headhunt Revisited always focuses on stories of Caroline, Margaret, art and history. You may wonder why this one is so different but don’t stop reading! You’ll discover the connection for me and a topic so vital in addition to being so personal. Many of you already know how much I love the ocean environment and underwater photography. It was almost thirty years ago I first stepped onto the ground and dived into the waters of Papua New Guinea. It was love at first sight!
Walindi Plantation Resort is located in West New Britain and Kimbe Bay. Straight from the website for Mission Blue and the announcement that I’m celebrating.
“Kimbe Bay’s marine conservation history dates back to 1983 when couple Max and Cecilie Benjamin first opened Walindi Plantation Resort along its shore. The resort quickly established itself as a premier dive spot– the area possesses one of the highest biodiversity in tropical fish and coral in the world. The Benjamins noticed, however, that the state of the world’s reefs had begun to decline. In 1997, they opened Mahonia Na Dari, or ‘Guardians of the Sea’, right next door. Today, Mahonia Na Dari along with James Cook University run the Marine Environment Education Program (MEEP) in which local students of all ages are equipped with the training, tools and knowledge to conserve the Bay’s marine environment for their community and the world.”
To read the full announcement just follow this link: Mission Blue – Kimbe Bay Hope Spot.
It was the friendships I established, and the lessons learned that my journey to Headhunt Revisited began.That was almost twenty years ago when I first read Caroline Mytinger’s books. It it weren’t for the people I now consider family, the project, expedition on board the MV FeBrina, and continued support would never have resulted in the completed documentary film.
Mentioned above is Mahonia Na Dari, means Guardian of the Sea, in the local Bakovi language. I’ve had the pleasure to visit the research center on many occasions and speak about it in magazine articles. The work done is inclusive of the communities that depend on the health of the bay and teaches the younger generation the value of the sea. As we speak, the local efforts in mangrove restoration is admirable.
Caroline and Margaret spent some time not far away in Rabaul, East New Britain. I know they would both be celebrating the diversity and the beauty of Kimbe Bay! I’d also like to thank International League of Conservation Photographers for the letter of support in the application process to Mission Blue to make Kimbe Bay a Hope Spot.
The new Pacific Northwest Chapter of Society of Woman Geographers was held October 18th at the home of Randa Kayyali Privett in Seattle. It was a lovely event attended by an intimate group of extremely strong and brilliant SWG members.
Left to right –
Bottom Row: Ann Jarris, Michele Westmorland, Jennifer Thomas
Top Row: Terry Glenn (the oldest member of SWG!), Helen “Gilly” Burlingham, Gilly Burlingham, Randa Privett (host), Elisabeth Eaves, Stacy Bumback.
We started the evening with informal introductions, wine and appetizers, followed by a presentation by me about the process of making the documentary film.The lecture spoke to the inspiration, the expedition (proudly carrying the SWG flag), the challenges and the success of this long-term project.
Following the presentation, there was a lively discussion and many interesting questions asked by our group. PNW members were delighted that the longest-serving SWG member, Terry Glenn, traveled to the meeting from Portland for the event along with Helen and Gilley!
The focus and heroine, Caroline Mytinger, was an early member of SWG! The time was 1930, just after she returned with her friend, Margaret Warner, from their 4-year journey to Melanesia followed by the first exhibition of the artwork at the American Museum of Natural History under the auspices of anthropologist, Margaret Mead.
There have been many articles written about the film project but I am so proud that Caroline’s very own chapter appeared in a book written by SWG member, Jane Eppinga, titled They Made Their Mark. It is a powerful record of 24 women who dared, who explored and who succeeded. Frequently mentioned in my lectures, Malvina Hoffman, sculptor, and Amelia Earhart, pilot, were early members of this prestigious organization.
I am proud to be a part of Society of Woman Geographers and look forward to more opportunities to meet some amazing female explorers, scientists and artists! Thank you, Randa, for establishing the Seattle Chapter.
In the last newsletter, I paid tribute to John Wayne, expert carver in Marovo Lagoon. I am continuing the story because it’s so important to recognize others who appeared in the film, supported me through the journey and some new friends made during this incredible trip!
In Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, and with the help of our host, Visit Solomon Islands, I was reconnected with one of the first direct descendants discovered on our expedition. Caroline’s significant painting, Marovo Lagoon Family, is a very beautiful piece of art. Maike, the young man, was described by Caroline as “tall and elegant … steeled-muscled and sleek …” Maike was an artist himself – and a good one.
It took several days, but with the help of Ellison Kyere of Visit Solomon Islands, I was able to make connection with Terry Liva “Maike”. Terry lives and works in Honiara and although I only got to spend a brief time with him, it was such a pleasure to see him again and make sure his family had laminated copies of the painting and the film.
This is NOT the end of the story of my visit to Solomon Islands. When at Uepi Island Resort, the carvers from area brought over their stunning art. A gentleman approached me and said, “I know you! You bought my very first lobster bowl.” Yes, I did and it is proudly displayed in my home. Gary Ghuza has continued his work and created some absolutely amazing pieces.
Honiara is the capital of the Solomon Islands. During our brief overnights in the city, Tanya and I were able to visit the new Solomon Islands National Art Gallery under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. I was so delighted to see the reproductions of Caroline’s art gifted via Ambassador Catherine Ebert-Gray and Consular Agent, Keithie Saunders last year at the Melanesian Arts and Cultural Festival (MACFEST). The Assistant Curator is Julie Ann Fakaia and she is an artist in her own right with paintings also displayed at the gallery. I’ve reconnected with friends from the past – and made new ones on this amazing journey.
This month, I’m pleased to be giving two lectures about Caroline, Margaret and the power of art. The local chapter of the Society of Woman Geographers here in Seattle and the Northern California Chapter of Explorers Club in San Francisco are my hosts. Watch for updates!
On hearing the name John Wayne, many people would immediately think of the famous actor who stood 6’ 4” tall and who appeared in Western movies such as Stagecoach and many other the 1950s and 60s. However, that was not the case when I had the honor to travel to the Solomon Islands. This tribute is about a man, who is not the height of a giant movie star, but is a star in his own right when it comes to the world of wood carving, a tradition of producing beautiful art. Within the Solomon Islands, the John Wayne of this tribute is well known.
The John Wayne, I refer to, appeared in Headhunt Revisited where he discussed both his history and that of his great-great father, Kanijama. Those of you who have seen the entire film may remember his elegant appearance and strong passion for history. If you’ve not been so fortunate as to see this, a link to the clip is included below, or better yet, order your own copy of Headhunt Revisited: With Brush, Canvas and Camera through the website shop.
You can also see a short clip with John through this LINK to Vimeo.
With the assistance of Uepi Island Resort owners, Jill and Grant, contact was made with John. Jill had watched the film while our team was out diving and upon our return, she was determined to fulfill my wish of seeing John. It had been some 14 years since our expedition team had visited Marovo Lagoon for the initial filming of the project. We pondered whether or not John would be able to come to the resort? An hour away by motorized skiff may not sound like much, but if the weather failed to cooperate, it could prove challenging. Regardless, once contact was made, John was on his way. Meanwhile, I became anxious and nervous as to how much he would remember of the moments we had spent together so many years ago.
On John’s arrival, we greeted each other warmly. Signs of years gone by were showing on both of us. John’s hair had become speckled with gray and his eyes were no longer the deep brown I remembered them to be. The bluish cast is not uncommon in the eyes of the elder community of island life and indicates that cataracts are developing. Despite the condition, John’s eyes sparkled at seeing me, a question mark was evident on his face. He responded with a look of “I know you, but where from?” I reminded him of the lengthy interview we had done with the large camera and audio equipment and his eyebrows raised and a brightness shone across his face.
John and I soon retreated to the library area inside the lodge where Jill had set up the television so that I could share the Solomon Islands portion of the film. Watching it together was an emotional time for both John and myself.
John watched the segment in the film that featured his people and to share it with him on a personal level was one of my most special moments throughout this entire project. At the end of our afternoon conversation, John reminded me that I had purchased a small table from him in 2005. Time has passed and many changes have occurred in my life during those years that meant I no longer had the table. Problem solved! Through his cell phone, John showed me a photo of a table he felt I would like – it was designed with an octopus! How perfect that he should have this beautiful item depicting a sea creature. The ocean and lagoons of Marovo are rich with marine life; the deal was done. Travelling home with me on the long journey to the USA would be an even more magnificent table; a table carved and etched with John’s name. Now it’s time to have a glass top made and to locate the table in my home in a place where everyone who visits can admire this special piece of art.
The next morning, John arrived at the resort not only with the table but also with his son and 5 of his grandchildren. He wanted to share the moment with some of his family as opposed to just a delivery man. I was overjoyed!
I was in the Solomon Islands to work with three other amazing women with a focus on the marine environment and scuba diving. However, it’s always top of mind that we make the connection between the oceans and the people who depend on its health. A photo of an octopus on the reef is a fitting end to this newsletter.
Next month is going to be big for me on many personal levels! I have been invited to join a group of very special ladies for a visit to the Solomon Islands. Thank you to Susan Bejeckian and the leaders of the Tourism Solomons!
Tanya Burnett was recently inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame and I’m proud to call her a “sister” in the organization. Tanya is a respected photographer/writer and knows the islands well from her popular dive tours.
We will also be joined by Nicole Helgason of Reef Builders who is also a noted author. Charlotte Bailey is Social Media Manager of Girls that Scuba and based in London. One day of this special journey to explore dive locations at Uepi, Munda and Tulagi takes place on my birthday. Yes, the big 70 on July 20th.
What is much more important is I would like to honor and celebrate those who appeared in the Headhunt Revisited film. Just a couple of months ago, I received word that the eldest son of Maike appearing in Caroline’s beautiful painting titled “Marovo Lagoon Family” is deceased. Ujjiah Sotutu Maika, passed away not long after we filmed him. Ujjiah shall not be forgotten. Here is a clip from the film with him and his younger brother, Terry. Check out the video of descendants where Ujjiah and Terry appear at the end. Montage_Descendants
Caroline’s 1928 painting included their father and grandparents. I hope that I meet Terry and his family while on this very special trip. To give you an idea of what Marovo Lagoon and Seghi looked like while Caroline and Margaret were on their expedition, below is the magnificent painting and photos from the scrapbook showing what Seghe/Marovo Lagoon was like over 90 years ago.
There is another very special gentleman who graciously appeared in Headhunt Revisited. John Wayne (yes that is his given name) is a renowned carver. John is a true artist when it comes to traditional, contemporary and extremely intricate wood carvings. I have several pieces on my shelf and several depict the rich marine life of the Solomon Islands.
John told many stories of his great, great grandfather, Kanijama, who was a proud warrior. “Times have changed.” John explained. The culture changed with Christianity and colonialism and John is keeping his rich heritage alive via art and storytelling. I have hope that I will once again see John and bring another of his beautiful carvings home to add to my collection.
Caroline never had any children of her own however, while living in Monterey, she mentored many aspiring young female artists. I have had the pleasure of staying in touch with two of these women and today, both are successful teachers and/or artists!
Karen Scott: “I met Caroline Mytinger when I was in college; she was one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. In the ’20’s, Caroline travelled to Melanesia with her friend, Margaret, to paint portraits of people from cultures she considered to be quickly vanishing. No-one sponsored Caroline’s journey, rather she made passage fare by painting commissioned portraits while travelling. Upon her return to the USA, Caroline wrote two books detailing her travels and adventures, and her many portraits were displayed in the American Museum of Natural History. I am sure it was Caroline who inspired me to consider joining the Peace Corps. Still, travelling to Nepal via a US government program as I did, is both far easier and safer than Caroline’s journey by ship with little money, a minimal supply of art materials and a crazy plan to paint people she met along the way.”
Ina Kozel: “As a young woman and aspiring artist, I became quite close to Caroline.” Ina, after many conversations with Caroline, expressed “she wanted no obituary, no funeral, no stone, no to-do. Gone, she said, like a leaf in the wind.” She would be happy to know this film inspires a new generation of artists.
I continue to follow the path of artist, Jeffry Feeger, who not only produces stunning portraits, but encourages both his own sons, as well as other young Papua New Guineans to use art as a form of personal expression and a way to illustrate social issues. Jeffrey recently appeared on Good Morning PNG, a program broadcast by EMTV. With over 4 million viewers, EMTV is the largest television broadcast station in Papua New Guinea.
As an illustration of just how much artistic talent there is in PNG, I recently received my own set of personal pen/ink drawings from Michael Bolokon. The delivery service was generously arranged through the foremost tree kangaroo specialist in the United States, Dr. Lisa Dabek who, through the Woodland Park Zoo, works on the YUS/Tree Kangaroo project. Lisa kept the tree kangaroo drawing – I have the turtle, shark and birds for myself. Michael is now working on a “roo for you” and I hope to see him in the near future to collect this. No doubt, if you look at his art, read Michael’s words and description, you WILL be impressed.
“The designs, when you look closely, represents something in nature. The spirals are the wind and the waves – the triangle arrowheads are the traditional spear in the Highlands regions – the square and repeated patterns are found in the coastal parts of PNG – the flow of the lines are birds feathers and fur of mammals – the vein patterns are found on plant leaves, especially the deciduous or flat leaves with vein structures. Putting the patterns and designs on animals is a combination of how PNG exists through its flora, fauna and culture. Without one – the others fall apart.” Michael Bolokon