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The Collection, the Collector and Myself

Tookalook Native Arts is honored to present this exhibition of art from Papua New Guinea’s Sepik River Valley. Varying in age from early to mid 20th century, the exhibit is comprised of selected works from a single collection amassed by Mr. Bruce D. Lawes, in Papua New Guinea, between 1955 and 1969.

From 1969 to 1974, Mr. & Mrs. W. Nicholson, of the United States, went on to purchase the collection (Fig. 5 excepted) from Mr. Lawes. Mrs. Nicholson owned the collection for close to thirty years, keeping it in remarkable condition.

The collection was subsequently acquired by Tookalook Native Arts in 2003.

In a catalog entitled NEW GUINEA ART, The Bruce Lawes Collection (copyright Bruce Lawes, 1976), Mr. Lawes described his experiences in Papua New Guinea. At the risk of further indebtedness, I have recopied this paragraph below.

“My fascination and respect for New Guinea art forms has continuously grown since witnessing my first ‘’sing-sing’’ (elaborate ceremonial during which drums are played and dancers perform in headdress made from bird-of-paradise feathers) as a Native Affairs Patrol Officer on New Ireland in 1947, but it was not until I was living at Maprik in the middle of the Abelam in 1955, when I met Dr. Alfred Buhler, then curator of the Basle Museum, that I began to collect for myself. Sharing my fascination with art loving friends in Australia soon launched me into commercial collecting, through which I supplied museums, dealers and collectors all over the world. In the twenty-odd years since my meeting Dr. Buhler, who was then embroiled in sorting, labeling and packing some 4,000 Abelam art pieces while his friend, Rende Gardi bustled about cranking out his excellent photographs with a Hasselblad, I have become more fascinated by the charming strength of “primitive” art, particularly that which comes from Papua New Guinea.”

Bruce D. Lawes, 1976

I come to tribal art through a passionate curiosity that has endured since I was a child. Captivated by the exoticism of Tarzan, raised by the wolves, and the Indians, rather than the cowboys, I always marveled at the essence of the tribal man. Nevertheless, images of totems, masks and headdresses were replaced, at the forefront of my mind, by a personal culture demanding achievement in a world other than of my dreams. To this end, I entered the world of business and proceeded to build several businesses, all of which were ultimately disposed of to allow a return to my initial passion. In an interesting twist of fate, with the advent of the Internet, the catalyst for this return to spirit was technological. When I first heard of the Internet in the early 90s, I turned to a friend and expressed my desire to present Native Arts in this medium. This early expression of desire culminated in the launching of, an online tribal art gallery, and opening of Tookalook Native Arts, a Montreal (Canada) based private gallery, in 1999.

Marc Assayag, 2003

Ancestor Figure, Yentschemangua
Village, East Sepik , 31”
Ancestor Figure, Yentschemangua
Village, East Sepik , 31”


Photography: Marc Assayag
Website: Marc Assayag, Stephen Lazarus, Mary Lou Beauharnois and David Driver
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