PHOTOGRAPHER PROJECT: Headhunt Revisited by Michele Westmorland

Painting by Caroline Mytinger. A young girl in dance costume, sorceress named Kori Toboro, wearing a net bag. Motuan village of Hanuabada, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Courtesy of Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California at Berkeley.

Painting by Caroline Mytinger. A young girl in dance costume, sorceress named Kori Toboro, wearing a net bag. Motuan village of Hanuabada, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Courtesy of Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California at Berkeley.

In 1926, painter Caroline Mytinger and her friend, Margaret Warner, set out from San Francisco for a four-year adventure in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. With little more than $400, a few art supplies, and a trunk of clothing, they made their way through what was then known as the land of headhunters, with the goal of painting Melanesia’s inhabitants. Their journey was nothing short of amazing and, at times, fraught with danger. Mosquitoes engorged with blood had to be snipped off with scissors; cockroaches the size of hummingbirds chewed on their toes. They ran into male explorers who assumed they were the first to delve into the remote Fly River Territory—and who were shocked to find two very petite young women from America in this seemingly hostile environment. A storm almost washed away all of Caroline’s painting supplies, and a volcanic eruption threatened to destroy the artwork. Upon the women’s return to the United States in 1930, Caroline’s paintings were exhibited in notable museums such as the American Museum of Natural History in New York. After 1935, the paintings were crated away, not to be seen until 2004, when they were discovered at UC Berkeley’s Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology by NANPA photographer Michele Westmorland. Continue reading