Campus News

Greenland Ivory Carvings on View at the Arctic Museum

Story posted August 14, 2004

A rich heritage of art, skilled craft, tradition, and mythology come together in a new exhibition of ivory carvings from Greenland at The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum on the Bowdoin College campus. The exhibition, Recent Acquisitions: The Ocheltree Collection, will be on view July 20 through October 17 in the lobby of Hubbard Hall.

The carvings - collected between 1942 and 1945 by John B. Ocheltree, U.S. Consul to Greenland during those years - were recently donated to the museum by Ocheltree's daughters, Lorinda O. Bradford and Ann O. Marsland.

The collection includes 13 pieces of carved ivory, as well as Ocheltree's papers and letters written to his wife before she joined him in Greenland in 1943.

When John Ocheltree was appointed U.S. Consul to Greenland by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the fall of 1942, Greenland was a key strategic location for the Allied forces, both as a stop-over for planes en route to Europe and as a source of valuable cryolite ore, a crucial catalyst for aluminum production.

As Ocheltree relates in his letters, life in the remote capital Godthaab (now Nuuk) was challenging, but there were many enjoyable aspects as well. One of these was the opportunity to purchase fine ivory carvings from local carvers.

By the 1940s, a number of Greenlandic artists had developed distinctive styles. Among them was Ole Kreutzmann, known both for his figures of people in everyday poses and for more fantastical creatures based on Inuit myths and legends. The Ocheltree collection includes three carvings by Kreutzmann, one of the few artists at the time to sign his work.

Other pieces in the exhibit include a traditional working harpoon head and foreshaft, a model of a dog sledge, and a part-human part-animal creature by an anonymous carver.

Arctic Museum curator Genevieve LeMoine calls the carvings an important addition to the museum's collection. "It is especially nice to have both the carvings and letters," she said. "It gives the collection extra depth and makes it both more interesting and more useful for research. The human figures are particularly charming, as they demonstrate both the technical and the artistic skills of the artists."

Recent Acquisitions: The Ocheltree Collection can be viewed whenever Hubbard Hall is open, Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday 2-5 p.m.

Other exhibits, including Treasures and Trinkets: Collecting Culture in the North, can be viewed during regular museum hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday 2-5 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and national holidays.

For more information, call 725-3416 or visit the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum website at

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