Skip to main content
Incubator Gallery

Cultures of the Sea: Art of the Ancient Americas

FROM THE COLLECTION

THROUGH 2020
Nazca (Peru), Collar, 200–600 CE. Shell, 15 x 18 inches (38.1 x 45.7 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Dukes, 1973.78.1. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

About

Nazca (Peru), Fisherman effigy vessel, 200 BCE – 300 CE. Ceramic with red, black, orange and white slip paints; 7 1/2 x 4 15/16 x 5 11/16 inches (19.1 x 12.5 x 14.4 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. The Paul A. and Virginia Clifford Collection, 1973.1.456. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.
Nazca (Peru), Fisherman effigy vessel, 200 BCE – 300 CE. Ceramic with red, black, orange and white slip paints; 7 1/2 x 4 15/16 x 5 11/16 inches (19.1 x 12.5 x 14.4 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. The Paul A. and Virginia Clifford Collection, 1973.1.456. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

For ancient cultures on the Central and South American coasts, the ocean was both a source of livelihood and a way of life: It provided food, precious materials and divine inspiration in regions with often-severe environmental conditions. Cultures of the Sea: Art of the Ancient Americas brings together works of art from 100 BCE to the present that illustrate how the ocean shaped the cultural legacies of these civilizations. This exhibition features ceramics, textiles and carvings, many on view for the first time, from the Nasher Museum’s permanent collection.

Cultures of the Sea highlights the unique yet interconnected ways in which these cultures navigated, depicted and celebrated the ocean as a practical and spiritual resource. Organized thematically, these objects demonstrate the importance of the sea in ritual and burial practices, which prominently featured offerings with sea imagery and motifs, including crabs, shells and waves. This exhibition creates a new narrative about the lives of ancient seafaring Americans, revealing traditions that are very much alive throughout this region today.

The exhibition was organized by seven undergraduate students in the Curatorial Practicum: Exhibition Development and Design course in the Museum Theory & Practice Concentration, taught by Julia McHugh, Ph.D., Trent A. Carmichael Curator of Academic Initiatives at the Nasher Museum.

This project is supported by the Sunny Rosenberg Endowment Fund and the Sandra A. Urie and Katherine Urie Thorpe Fund. Support from Duke University is provided by the Office of the Provost; Wired! Digital Art History lab; the Department of Computer Science; Duke Radiology; and the Duke Lemur Center.

Finial: Village with sentinals 360 degree view

ABOVE: Nazca (Peru), Finial: Village with sentinals, 100 BCE – 500 CE. Carved sea wolf ivory, 2 1/4 x 1 x 1 1/8 inches (5.7 x 2.5 x 2.9 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. The Paul A. and Virginia Clifford Collection, 1973.1.467. 360° view by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

Double vessel 360 degree view

ABOVE: Chancay (Peru), Double vessel, 1000–1470 CE. Ceramic, 10 inches (25.4 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Howard B. Greene, 1980.117.1. 360° view by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

Footed globular bottle 360 degree view

ABOVE: Lambayeque (Peru), Footed globular bottle, 900 – 1200 CE. Blackware, 8 x 6 x 4 inches (20.3 x 15.2 x 10.2 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Gift of Alan R. Kesselman, 1982.18.2. 360° view by Peter Paul Geoffrion

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

The health and safety of our community is our top priority. In accordance with Duke University, the museum is closed to visitors until further notice. The café and store are closed. Find updates and the latest information on Duke’s Coronavirus Response website.