Anthropology Dept. is home to hidden treasures

July 2, 2010

Traditional Japanese wood carvings (shown above) by Yasujiro Yamakawa (1865-1941) were recently discovered in a collection acquired by Temple’s Anthropology Laboratory in 2004 from the former Philadelphia Commercial Museum.

Existing creations of Yamakawa are rare today, but highly admired by connoisseurs of Japanese dolls and crafts for their unique quality. These particular pieces are now in Tokyo being restored and displayed in celebration of Yamakawa’s work.

The Commercial Museum held items exhibited worldwide in various world’s fairs, including the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. It’s buildings, later part of the old Philadelphia Civic Center and since torn down, were first built for the National Export Exhibition of 1899.

By the turn of the 20th century, the Philadelphia Commercial Museum was among the biggest museums of any kind in the nation.  It functioned both as a popular destination for locals and tourists, and as a valuable resource for American businessmen wanting to learn more about foreign trade and economics in order to expand to overseas markets.

As the great age of the world’s fairs came to a close in the 1920s, the original mission of the museum became less and less relevant.

When the city of Philadelphia recently dispersed the remainder of the museum’s artifacts, various groups and universities were invited to add items to their own collections. The Yamakura dolls are among a number of unique pieces acquired by Temple’s Anthropology lab.

–Kim Fischer

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