Title: Telum Male Figure
Date: mid- to late 19th century
Cultural Region: Astrolabe Bay
Cultural Region: Madang Province
Medium: wood, paint, and traces of resin
51 3/16 x 9 5/8 in. (130 x 24.5 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Morton D. May
Object Number: 43:1977
Place of origin: Madang Province, Papua New Guinea
Current Location: Not On View
This male telum figure from Astrolabe Bay was originally painted red and black. There are still traces of red paint around the eyes and on several of the body joints. On his head is perched a bird and held in his mouth is a dance- or war-ornament that looks like a rattle. Both male and female telum figures were used in ritual context and appear to be linked to a widespread myth describing a war that began when a man discovered that his wife had a tattoo on her pubic region, and then found out that his own brother had made the tattoo. Astrolabe Bay was one of the first places on the island of New Guinea to be settled by Europeans when Germany established a colony there in 1884. Shortly afterward the local art-producing traditions ceased when the people were converted to Christianity.
1892 -
Ethnographic Museum, Budapest, Hungary, collected by Samuel Fenichel (1868-1893) in Papua New Guinea [1]

- 1973
Maurice Bonnefoy, Paris, France, acquired from Ethnographic Museum by exchange [2]

1973 - 1977
Morton D. May (1914-1983), St. Louis, MO, USA, purchased from Maurice Bonnefoy [3]

1977 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, given by Morton D. May [4]

[1] An invoice dated October 23, 1973 from Maurice Bonnefoy to Morton D. May documents the purchase of this object, listed as “#2841 / “Telum” standing figure; wood, reddish and brown pigment. New Guinea, Northeast Coast / Astrolabe Bay…Collected by Samuel Fenichel, 1892 / Ex-Collection Ethnographical Museum (Neprajzi Muzeum), Budapest, Hungary, No. 70.161.1 – exchange” [May Archives, Saint Louis Art Museum]. According to an entry in Volume 4 of the Encyclopedia of Entomology (2008), Fenichel was an entomologist commissioned by the Hungarian National Museum to collect zoological and ethnographical materials for its collections. He "arrived to German New Guinea (Kaiser Wilhelmsland) in December 1891...He explored the country around Astrolabe Bay...he also collected ethnographical objects, the number of items in his collection were over 3,000. Most of Fenichel's specimens reached the Hungarian National Museum..." [Encyclopedia of Entomology. Capinera, John L., ed. 2nd Edition. Vol. 4. Dordrecht: Springer Science Business Media, 2008, p.1420-1421]. An article written by Gábor Vargyus (1992) provides insight to the objects Fenichel collected, particularly telums: "...from the eight telum in the museum's possession seven come from Fenichel..." [Vargyas, Gábor. "A Short History of the Pacific Collections of the Ethnographic Museum, Budapest." Pacific Arts, No. 5, January 1992: 24-32]. The Ethnographic Museum (Hungarian: Néprajzi Múzeum) was originally called the Ethnographic Department of the Hungarian National Museum.

[2] See Note [1].

[3] See Note [1].

[4] A letter dated March 1, 1977 from Morton D. May to James N. Wood, director of the Saint Louis Art Museum, includes the offer of this object as part of a larger donation [SLAM document files]. Minutes of the Acquisitions Committee of the Board of Trustees, Saint Louis Art Museum, April 14, 1977.

Exhibition History
Title: Ritual Arts of the South Seas: The Morton D. May Collection
Date: August 22 – October 19, 1975
Venue: Saint Louis Art Museum
Title: The Art of the Pacific Islands
Date: July 1 – October 14, 1979
Venue: National Gallery of Art
Title: Die Kunst Neu-Guineas
Date: July 27, 1962 – September 16, 1962
Venue: Museum für Völkerkunde, Basel
Publication History
Title: The Saint Louis Art Museum Handbook of the Collections
Editor: Mary Ann Steiner
Publisher: Saint Louis Art Museum
Title: Opuscula Ethnologia Memoriae Ludovici Biró Sacra - New-Guinean Style Provinces: The Style Province 'Astrolabe Bay'
Year Published: 1959
Title: Oceanic Art
Year Published: 1997
Title: The Arts of the South Pacific
Author: Jean Guiart
Title: Oceanian Art
Author: Tibor Bodrogi
Title: Die Kunst Neu-Guineas
Author: Alfred Bühler
Author: Carl Schmitz
Title: L'Art Océanien
Year Published: 1993
Title: Reinstallation: New Installation Showcases Oceanic Collection
Periodical Title: Saint Louis Art Museum Magazine
Edition: October - December
Year Published: 2002
Title: Saint Louis Art Museum: Handbook of the Collection
Editor: Mary Ann Steiner
Publisher: Saint Louis Art Museum
Title: The Art of the Pacific Islands
Author: Peter Gathercole
Author: Adrienne L. Kaeppler
Author: Douglas Newton
Title: Ritual Arts of the South Seas: The Morton D. May Collection
Year Published: 1975
Title: The Art of the World: Oceanic & Australia - The Art of the South Seas
Year Published: 1962
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