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205 Characteristics of the Museum Reference Collection This appendix explains the rationale for establishing a reference collection of molas from museum collections, how this was achieved, and what can be learned from a detailed examination of molas collected between 1906 and 2007. The criteria used to select molas to study and the characteristics to examine are outlined. Museum collections provide evidence of not only the evolution of mola blouses but also the continuities and discontinuities of style, technique, iconography, and color preferences. Development of a mola database provides a means to compare mola characteristics over the last one hundred years and to gain an understanding of the rate of change in a form of non-Western indigenous dress. Mola blouses, but far more commonly mola panels, are found in many museums as a result of the attention given by scholars to the study of Kuna culture. Museum collections perpetuate a disconnect between the study of the complete dress ensemble worn by Kuna women and mola panels, which are only a small part of the dress.1 By focusing on the study of complete mola blouses, additional information about garment style, the fabric used for the yoke and sleeves, and any applied decoration provides further material evidence for dating assessments. Some indicators of age may also be possible by identifying events portrayed in words or images on the mola panels and relating them to known historical events, such as elections or the national census . The meaning of specific motifs incorporated into molas was not considered in depth, since their meaning has been the subject of extensive anthropological research since the 1920s.2 establishing a mola reference collection The approach taken to tracking changes in the design, materials, and workmanship of Kuna molas commenced with the establishment of a reference collection of a representative sample across the study period, the early twentieth century to the early twenty-first century, from museum collections.3 It became evident in discussions with curators and other ethnographic museum staff that many mola collections had scant provenance information apart from the date acquired by the museum (in most cases by donation).4 The molas may have been made many years prior to the date they were donated or purchased by the museums. This lack of reliable provenance information is not unique to Kuna collections; however, it produces significant difficulties for historical studies because there is little supplementary material available to assist in dating and sourcing the molas. This fact presents challenges for museum curators and collectors and adds to difficulties in placing molas in their cultural contexts. By studying artifacts with known collection dates, the research provides guidance for assessing molas that have no documentation. Sourcing artifacts to populate the reference collection involved detailed research since there was no individual collection that met the following selection criteria: •  Reliable provenance was required, particularly the date of collection, for a representative sample over the last one appendix b 206 Introduction Appendix B hundred years in order to determine a chronology of mola development. •  Complete Kuna blouses were given priority in the sample because more information could be elicited from them, and since mola panels are sewn in pairs, the complete blouse would ensure that the two molas studied were part of a pair. Some museum collections of mola panels do include pairs or catalogue them together; others have individual panels that may have been obtained as a pair but have since been separated by the collector or during the museum registration process. •  It is known that the Kuna Indians have been producing and selling molas specifically for the tourist trade since the 1960s, possibly earlier. Wherever possible, items were selected that showed evidence of use, since made-for-trade molas may not reflect contemporary mola styles or quality. •  Distribution, wherever possible, of a comparable numbers of molas from each decade was sought. •  Wherever possible, more than one source was selected for each decade, either from the same museum or from other museums. The purpose of this was to minimize possible collector bias, created by the collector’s aesthetic preferences , the place of collection, the relationship with the supplier , and so on. It was hypothesized that collectors commissioned by a museum or working for a museum would have collection strategies different from that of Western visitors or residents of the Panama Canal Zone, two of the major collector backgrounds. Similarly, missionaries and anthropologists who lived with the Kuna people for extended periods would also have different selection biases. •  Molas that...


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