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The Glassell Collections of African, Indonesian & Pre-Columbian Gold

Houston philanthropist Alfred C. Glassell, Jr., had a passion for collecting, a fascination with gold art objects, and a desire to share them with the world. Like the cultures that fashioned these treasures, he valued gold not for its intrinsic value but for its spiritual meaning. The extensive collections of African, Indonesian, and Pre-Columbian gold that he gave the MFAH are a remarkable legacy. Among the highlights are a golden staff created by the Akan peoples of Ghana, a rare burial mask from Java, and jewelry made by the Moché culture of Peru.

Poporo Representing a Female Shaman Holding Gourd-Form Poporos

10 1/8 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr.

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, & the Americas

Arts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean
The Glassell Collections of African, Indonesian & Pre-Columbian Gold

The greatest artworks of the Quimbaya culture were gold poporos, containers that held powdered mineral lime to be chewed with coca leaves in order to induce trances. This shaman poporo possesses a calm expression with eyes narrowed in trance.

A seated pose was considered one of authority, reserved for shamans and rulers. Quimbaya artwork is unique in depicting women in positions of power. This female shaman holds a gourd-form poporo in each hand. Some poporos took the shape of gourds, which may have had associations with fertility.

From 1 to 1600 AD, the Quimbaya culture flourished in the Andes Mountain valleys of present-day northwestern Colombia. They excelled in lost-wax casting, a process by which an object was first sculpted in wax and a ceramic mold was made. The wax was then melted and drained, and hot liquid gold was poured into the mold. Once cool, the mold was cut away. The resulting cast-gold object was polished to a satin sheen. Quimbaya gold work is known for its beautiful surfaces and use of alloys.