Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Ainu and the Antique Store: Minnesota Edition

After 12 months of research in Hokkaido, I returned to California in 2014 to finish my dissertation. It was a large and intimidating project, and I worked off the stress by surfing antique shops throughout SoCal. All those years ago, I wrote a post about a pair of Ainu nipopo dolls that I stumbled across in an Orange antique shop. It reminded me of the travel economy and the emergence of these dolls as a staple of the tourist trade.

Old habits die hard. Not too long ago, I was doing some antique shopping in Hopkins, Minnesota. I came across some great Japanese stereoviews which I picked up, in addition to Meiji-era maps that were likely inserts in Western travelogues. But imagine my surprise when I spotted this woman out of the corner of my eye. She was standing on a shelf too high for me to reach. When we finally brought her down from her long-time resting place, her tag merely read “ethnic doll.” I decided that she would join her Orange County friends. When I brought her up to the register, the clerk examined her closely and explained to me how this was likely a wooden figure of Norwegian or Swedish origin, pointing out the details that led her to a conclusion: the rough hewn surface, the patterns in the clothing, and finally, the facial features. She looked at me with suspicion when I explained that it was a doll from Japan, from the indigenous people in the north called the Ainu. I can’t say I blame her skepticism… What would an Ainu nipopo be doing in a Minnesota antique shop, anyway? Considering the Scandavian roots of those that settled this region, a Swedish or Norwegian doll would be much easier to accept. But in some ways, she may not have been too far off the mark. The Ainu did not begin carving bears or nipopo dolls for tourist consumption until they fell into hard economic times in the 1920s. The practice may have been inspired by the works being created in Scandanavia. It is an interesting linked history.

She lives in my office now and gives me cause to talk about my work with students. It never ceases to amaze me how a small doll can tell so much about this history.

Presentation at Art Historians of the Twin Cities Symposium

art_history_symposiumI am thrilled to present some of the work I’ve been doing on Japanese artist Kondō Kōichiro at the Art Historians of the Twin Cities symposium this April 2nd (Saturday). I’ll be exploring the work of Kondō Kōichiro, who traveled to Hokkaido in 1917 and depicted the Ainu in the village of Shiraoi in manga caricatures published the same year in the Yomiuri Newspaper. Kondō’s work gives us an interesting look at the role of tourism in these indigenous communities, and from the perspective of a tourist, his visual representations are quite different from any “ethnographic” work being done in the area! Although the project originally derives from the 4th chapter of my dissertation, I will be working out some new ideas and approaches to his material that I developed after coming to St. Olaf College. It is like revisiting an old friend! If you are in the area, please feel free to join us to hear about what Art Historians in the Twin Cities are up to! There are a lot of exciting papers, and it is a great opportunity to hear about the research of many local art historians.

Date: April 2nd, 2016

Time: 10am – 3pm

Location: St. Catherine’s University, Visual Arts Building, Room 102, 2004 Randolph Avenue, St. Paul, MN

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