Dr Frank Rickwood was an Australian professor and geologist who made a significant contribution to the international oil industry. In the 1950s he moved from teaching at the University of Sydney to joining British Petroleum (BP), where he travelled the world in search of oil deposits. One of his more significant discoveries was in the South Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea, a country he first explored during the 1950s.
As he travelled to remote parts of the island with a small team of carriers, he mapped uncharted territory as he visited villages where the people had never seen a white man before. He eventually developed close relationships with the people he encountered, which led to his acquisition of indigenous objects that he eventually developed into an extensive art collection, which featured pieces from North and South America, Africa and Europe. Over the years he displayed his art at his properties in his native Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Some of that art made its way to Barbados when Rickwood purchased Colleton Great House in St Peter in the early 1990s, where he spent the last 19 years of his life.
Now, the Barbados Museum and Historical Society is seeking to acquire that collection of art.
According to a release from the Museum, “of particular interest is the unique group of Melanesian art from Papua New Guinea and some interesting pieces from neighbouring Irian Jaya. The collection also comprises some African art. The work is of exceptional quality and we believe it will complement our existing African collections and our [currently] modest holdings of Oceanic artifacts.”
The museum sees several long-term benefits in terms of “research, education and tourism”. It says, “this collection will greatly facilitate extensive programming on cross-cultural indigenous island cultures and colonization, which will establish the museum as a central Caribbean site for research in that area, allowing for direct academic connections with Africa, the Pacific and disaporic communities in small island developing states.”
Regarding education, it believes the collection will broaden the horizons of children from primary to tertiary level, as well as stimulate the island’s cultural tourism product “since this collection of tribal art is unprecedented in any Caribbean cultural institution, and it could also be loaned for a variety of regional and international events”.
The collection has been valued at US$835,000, but the beneficiaries are willing to allow the museum to acquire it for US$550,000.
With that in mind, the museum is currently looking for “the support and partnership of philanthropic individuals and organizations” to assist them in obtaining the artwork, since “nothing of a similar nature or calibre exists in this region, which will allow Caribbean people to have access to both old and new knowledge, to develop tolerance and appreciation for diversity in cultures and people, and to be able to share this with pride and pleasure with the rest of the world”.
The Barbados Museum and Historical Society has 18 months to purchase the collection, which is presently in storage at Colleton Great House.