You’ve heard of the famed NCAA March Madness. The art world has adopted a similar format, creating an ‘Art Madness’ tournament that pits art against art, from museums across the country, in a winner-take-all contest, determined by you, the voter. Vote at #artmadness on Tuesday, March 22.

The Denison Museum’s entry, “General Douglas McArthur,” is a seven-foot-tall nuchu figure created by the Kuna, an indigenous people of Panama and Columbia.

In 1942, when small pox (or scarlet fever) began ravaging the islands, the Kuna thought that the cause for the disease was activity by the United States military on their islands, which included the clearing of many large trees to make way for an airfield. The Kuna thought the fever was a form of revenge on the people for the destruction of these natural dwelling places for island spirits. They needed, they thought, a powerful figure to appease them. The 7-ft tall General MacArthur was created, in the hopes that he would attract the restless spirits and become their new home.

Denison Museum has an extensive collection of cultural heritage objects from the Kuna people of the San Blas Islands of Panama. These objects largely were donated to the museum by Dr. Clyde Keeler ’23, a geneticist who studied albinism among the Kuna people in the 1950s. While there, he worked with the Kuna to document their culture, including recording oral histories, creating drawings of traditional tales, and gathering religious and other cultural objects.

The museum’s Kuna collection includes a number of nuchkana (sg. nuchu), carved wooden anthropomorphic figures intended to create a link between tribal shamans and spirits. The nuchukana served as protectors and helpers to the Kuna people and, after carving, became part of the natural landscape of the islands. Each nuchu has a story, even if we no longer know the tale.

March 17, 2016