After an absence of about thirty years, I took the journey back to Oxford to visit the Pitt Rivers Museum. This anthropology museum remains a fascinating place and was just as I remembered it. I am sure it has been through many changes but entering through the doors at the back of the University’s Natural History Museum is like stepping back in time.
I remember the national museums in London looking just like the Pitt Rivers in my youth but modern changes and views about accessibility and communication have resulted in better displays with less crowded display cabinets. Here, the artefacts are packed in and the dark rimmed cabinets look as if they are from a different age. There is a sense that the items on display speak for themselves and do not need cards of information for the public to understand.
The whole world is here, or so it seems. Artefacts are grouped by concept rather than country but all continents of the world are represented with items from Africa and Asia being the most stunning. It was hard to see the wood for the trees at times and it was the overall impression of awe and wonder rather than individual pieces that I found stunning. However, I was struck by the beauty of the Benin palace plaques. The rest… it washed over me, in the most positive possible sense.
The collection was started by Lieutenant General Pitt Rivers who donated about 15,000 items to the University of Oxford. As was the case with Victorian Empire builders, his easy access to far flung parts of the world enabled him to amass a collection of some size and worth.
The Pitt Rivers Museum is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?