The Bowers Museum is a public art museum in Santa Ana, California. The museum’s permanent collection contains over 100,000 pieces, with noteworthy strengths in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, Native American art, Asian, African, and Oceanian art, and California plein-air painting. The Bowers arranges and sponsors exceptional exhibitions from throughout the world, as well as traveling exhibitions regionally and internationally. Kidseum, a children’s museum with a focus on art and archaeology, is located two blocks south of the main site. The Bowers Museum and Kidseum are located 6.4 kilometers (four miles) south of Disneyland in Santa Ana.
“Spirits and Headhunters: Art of the Pacific Islands” features masterpieces from Oceania’s three cultural regions: Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. A special emphasis is put on New Guinea and the rich creative traditions that are integrated into daily and ritual life. Larger-than-life masks, superbly wrought feast bowls, artefacts affiliated with the hidden Sepik River men’s home, shell and feather currency, magic figures and shaman equipment, objects related to seagoing trade routes, personal adornments, and weapons of warfare are among the items on display. Many of the Pacific Islands’ art and antiquities are included in the Bowers’ collection.
The exhibition “Ancient Arts of China: A 5000 Year Legacy” includes over 75 sets of artefacts dating from the Neolithic period (about 3000 B.C.) through the Qing dynasty (AD 1644–1911). It is organized by the Shanghai Museum and draws from the Bowers Museum’s permanent collection as well as a few loans from private collectors. The exhibit features bronze containers, mirrors, polychrome potteries, sculptures, porcelains, paintings, ivory carvings, and garments that depict the evolution of Chinese technology, art, and culture. The majority of the Asian art and artifacts in the Bowers’ collection are from China and Japan.
The exhibition “California Legacies: Missions and Ranchos, 1768-1848” includes objects from three historical eras: the settlement of Alta California through Spanish land grants, life at the California Missions, and the wealth and lifestyles of the first families who flourished under Mexican rule of the Ranchos of California.
The exhibition “Ceramics of Western Mexico” focuses on Pre-Columbian art from the western Mexican states of Colima, Nayarit, and Jalisco, with a particular emphasis on West Mexican shaft tombs and the tribes that used them to bury their dead. On exhibit are ceramic figures put within shaft tombs to accompany the deceased in the afterlife. Objects expressing imagery from daily life that illustrate the intensity of West Mexican figurative work and are lifelike in shape, such as the notoriously fat Colima dogs, are also included in the exhibition. The Bowers’ collection is nearly entirely made up of pottery, with some textile, stone, and metal items thrown in for good measure. This collection is strongest in sculpture from West Mexican ancient tribes.
“California Bounty: Image and Identity, 1850-1930” delves into the state’s visual history, which has been formed by a unique blend of Mexican and Anglo traditions, as well as the state’s location on the Pacific Rim. The exhibition demonstrates how paintings of California’s land, people, fruits, and flowers reflect the state’s bounty as well as the massive advertising campaign launched by real estate developers, citrus growers, railroads, and other boosters to attract people to the West. A group of forty pieces by William and Alberta McCloskey, as well as California plein air paintings, are highlights of the painting collection.
“First Californians” is a comprehensive study at the collection’s indigenous peoples’ art and artifacts, showcasing the culture and history of the Southern California Coastal Indians. It investigates how the region’s Indians interacted with their surroundings for food, clothing, decoration, and religion. The Bowers Museum’s collection is strongest in western and southwest cultures, although it also includes native cultures from around the United States. Basketry, ceramics, beading, stone and shell tools, weapons, and jewelry are among the objects in the collection. These items range in age from prehistoric to modern.
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