Albert Buell Lewis Collection

The Field Museum has the largest ethnographic collection from New Guinea and island Melanesia in the United States.

Approximately 12,000 of these items were purchased locally in the Pacific by Albert B. Lewis (1867-1940), then Assistant Curator of Melanesian Ethnology, during the Joseph N. Field South Pacific Expedition from 1909 to 1913.

Lewis had been trained professionally by the renowned anthropologist Franz Boas.  He received his Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University in 1906.

When he got to Melanesia three years later, he achieved the distinction of being the first American anthropologist to conduct long-term research in Melanesia (his expedition happened nearly twenty years before Margaret Mead's more famous sojourn to Manus in the late 1920s).

Through four arduous years, Lewis experienced many hardships to carry out his field investigations:  frequent bouts of malaria, a nearly fatal attack of blackwater fever, constant problems with transportation, and a continual scarcity of suitable crates and packing material for shipping his collection home.

Despite these troubles, Lewis assembled a collection containing thousands of objects that represents every major part of Melanesia then explored.

This collection is the largest ever obtained from Melanesia by a single field collector.

For further information about this collection, please see:

Robert L. Welsch (1998). An American Anthropologist in Melanesia: A. B. Lewis and the Joseph N. Field Expedition, 1909-1913 (2 vols.). Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

Pugh family portrait of A. B. Lewis

David and Betty Pugh)

Albert Buell Lewis in New Guinea

(© The Field Museum)