Pacific Artefacts is a little known treasure hiding deep in the heart of Vista. Although those outside of North County are unlikely to understand the deep, twisting suburban jungle which makes up that city, for those in the know you will see why this pacific island trading post could not be more ideally situated.
Once a year, Lesley Martin hosts a little dine & market at her home. The event this year took place in early June. A number of vendors who know Lesley set up shop and exhibit their wares, filling the house and the outside with impromptu booths featuring exotic wares. Pacific Artefacts is the ethnographic distributor and folk art trader established under Lesley, which specializes in Papua New Guinea artifacts. But during the evening of her open house, there is a merchant of African masks, a Miao clothing trader, a seller of Burmese boxes, and more besides. The spectacle of the event becomes a bit otherworldly when all the tribal merchandise is involved as the backdrop. Vista is somewhat of a jungle in any event, with numerous nurseries and a decidely botanical aspect, and Pacific Artefacts feels like it is in the eye of that storm. All of this comes together into an out of this world experience, particularly if you have any interest in ethnographica.
What Lesley has set up is more or less an international bazaar in the suburbia of Southern California. For those in the know, one or two astute buys may be purchased here. For anyone else, if you enjoy talks amongst the anthropological intelligentsia, you will probably find a number of the well-traveled, spotted with academic researchers and other devotees.
The items for sale are as incredible as the people attending. Most if not all of the objects being shown are genuine artifacts, and each vendor is somewhat of an expert on ethnographic art in one field or another. That means to the best of their ability they’ve tried to correctly document and identify their wares. For those with solely an aesthetic eye, there’s a number of wild and zany clothing, beads, necklaces and other items that are sure to catch your attention. Having recently seen an exhibition on masks from Sierra Leone and Liberia, I was able to recognize one mask as a Liberian Dan mask, from the collection of Geoffrey Logan. For me personally, African masks are rather fascinating, and as I’m starting to explore the subject I can see there’s a vast variety of lineages and styles which compose the subject. Although I’m not personally attracted to the aesthetic seen in the Dan masks, there were other interesting mask styles that I was drawn to. I thought a tan-amber hued mask, with small mouth, scarifications, and hooded eyes was quite quixotic and well-executed. The mask came from the Baule culture. The Baule are a member of the Akan people, who live across regions of both Ghana and the Ivory Coast. From what few categories of African masks that I’ve seen, I’ve felt the most affinity and appreciation for the craftsmanship and stylization of features seen in Sierra Leonese society masks.
Personal familiarity aside, most of the objects for sale here are alien enough to warrant fascination. Pacific Artefacts own considerable stockpile of Papua New Guinea masks and sculptures is a rather amazing collection in and of itself. Great wide-eyed masks with a protruding mouth reminiscent of a giant duck’s bill, these painted leviathans are visually impressive.
Whether one wishes to just peruse in solitude, or find some human interaction with fellow world travelers, this open house is just the thing. A small investigation of this little micro-cosm within a microcosm, this sequestered station of global tribal cultural art, is enough to reorient one’s sense of the world. Particularly if you are a resident of North County or San Diego. You are transported to a parallel place, both near and yet so very far away, where history of the lives of tribal folk, in art form, are standing in front of you, and some of the more discerning selections of that to boot. It’s a connection to a different realm, having an object made in some other part of the globe, without artifice. While there are a few of the more touristy items, by and large the collections at the open house have a decent, genuine selection of garments, objects or sculpture. Or masks! Or deeply frowning faces! Beaked nose masquerades stare hauntingly down at you from on high. Exquisite and unusual is the byword.
With the current world climate of globalization changing and even ending many tribal and folk culture’s way of life, the art and crafted objects they have traditionally produced for tens or hundreds of years is being lost. A coexistant relationship between the first world and the fourth world, the world of tribal peoples, needs to be established, to provide a structure that will allow these people to continue their traditional way of life, while having access to modern technology as they deem it worthwhile to interact with. Ultimately, the ability to respect those ways of life and traditional land of the surviving tribal and folk cultures in the world helps preserve both knowledge and diversity. The method I would think best is giving each tribal society a few assistants, either outsiders who are well versed in their ways and act as intermediaries, or younger tribespeople who have been exposed to technology and/or the modern urban way of existence, and have still elected to return home and live a traditional life. These people would have the knowledge and capacity to use a computer and other basic, useful appliances, and be outfitted with them. They could barter a few modern goods across, to distribute among the tribe, if it was seen by the tribe and the traditional elders as a useful thing. The intent is not to keep a tribal society locked to old traditions; if that’s the case, that society can easily be assimilated into urban society. The intent is for those tribal societies that actively wish to preserve their way of life, a path of preservation is given, where their minimum requirements and more are met, and they are provided with a contact to the modern world. This will hopefully allow tribal cultures to integrate into globalized society with their identity, history and knowledge intact.
I’m sorry for that tangent, but in fact it does have something to do with Pacific Artefacts and friends. They provide a cultural lens, an anthropological telescope, into the lives of tribal cultures from the world over. While there are problems with commercializing another people’s culture, as is the result with tourist art, a proper medium way allows for an exchange between worlds, for example that of Papua New Guinea and Vista, California. And possession of the art with an appreciation for the art results in an appreciation for that culture, and a window into their world.
For those seeking a little bit of the otherworldly in their life, and not minding a bit of a trek to get it, come to Pacific Artefacts.
Location: Pacific Artefacts
Contact: Lesley Martin
2256 ESPLENDIDO AVENUE VISTA, CA 92084