Contemporary Culture

Photo: Dennis Wise/University of Washington
Photo: Dennis Wise/University of Washington

Contemporary Cultural Collections

The Contemporary Cultural Collections reflect living and dynamic cultures. The majority of the pieces housed here come from the Americas, Oceania, and Asia. 

The world-renowned collection is part of the Burke Museum Culture Department and includes more than 51,000 objects. These objects are master teachers for the apprentices that come to learn from them. Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, scholars, and community members visit and research the cultural collections housed here. 

a woman stands in front of an object while wearing a shirt that reads "strong, resilient, Indigenous"
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum

Building a future grounded in respect

Relationships maintained between communities and the Burke Museum preserve the ingenuity, creativity, science, and complex knowledge of these cultural resources. Community members are the experts in these areas, and we are the caretakers.

We are dedicated to actively involving communities in every aspect of our work—learning from communities and building a more ethical and collaborative future together.

Database

Search the Collection

Photographs of most cultural objects and over 5,000 photos from our archive collections are accessible in the Contemporary Culture Database.

Contemporary Culture Database

Collection Highlights

The collections’ focus is primarily on cultures of the Pacific Region, including particular strengths in Native American art and artifacts. 

The collections include the fifth largest collection of Northwest Coast objects in the U.S., the largest collection of Palauan storyboards in the world, one of the top-five Alaskan Arctic collections in the world, and the largest collection of utilitarian Mexican pottery in a public museum outside of Mexico.

The Northwest Coast collections include Chilkat weavings, bentwood boxes, mountain sheep horn bowls, spindle whorls, dance masks, drums, button blankets, and frontlets.

Highlight: 5th largest Northwest Coast cultural collection in the United States, with nearly 11,000 items.

The Burke’s Alaskan Arctic cultural collections includes basketry, bowls, kayaks, bone and ivory tools, and contemporary carvings.

Highlight: Among the top 5 Alaskan Arctic collections in the world.

The Plateau cultural collection includes beadwork, parfleches, basketry and fiber artifacts, bone and stone tools, and horse gear.

Collections from throughout Oceania include kava bowls, tapa cloth, storyboards and contemporary art, and stone tools.

Highlight: World’s largest collection of Palauan storyboards

The collection includes material from Central and South American collections.

Highlights: The Fred Hart pottery collection, largest collection of Mexican pottery in North American (including Mexico)

The Asian collections number over 11,000 objects from China, Tibet, Japan and Southeast Asia including Nuoso folk art, samurai armor, southeast Asian textiles, and Philippine weapons (outstanding due to their survival by going underground during the colonial occupation).

Highlights: Southeast Asian textiles and Philippine weapons

Over 8,700 baskets from around the world, including North America, the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, China and Japan.

The Native North American basketry collection numbers over 6,000, including basketry woven by known weavers such as Isabella Edenshaw, Jessie Webster, Beatrice Black, Primrose Adams and Lisa Telford.

Nearly 500 boats, from full-sized to models, including nearly 60 full-sized craft.

Analog videodisks of the Bill Holm and Robin Wright collections of 25,000 images of Northwest Coast art from 200 museums and private collections world-wide.

Videodisks are available for $75 plus tax and shipping. To purchase a copy, use the Holm/Wright videodisk order form (PDF). NOTE: In order to view the videodisk, you need an analog 12” disk player attached to a video screen. 

Photo collections include:

  • The Holm/Wright collection of 25,000 images of Northwest Coast art from 200 museums and private collections
  • The Nancy Harris collection of Northwest Coast silver jewelry images
  • The Adelaide de Menil photographs of Northwest Coast totem poles
  • Historical Northwest Coast photographs
  • The Kenneth Brown collection of historical photographs of encampments during the building of the Grand Coulee Dam in Eastern Washington
  • The John Elmore Maori photograph collection from Autearoa New Zealand
  • The G. Victor Hurley Philippine Islands images
  • The Edmund Schwinke photographs taken during the filming of Edward S. Curtis’ In the Land of the Headhunters, 1914 and Mick Gidley’s Schwinke photographs

University of Washington Courses

Students can also take classes in the Burke Museum Contemporary Culture Collections, engaging in cultural studies, curation, interpretation and independent research.

UW Anthropology

Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum

Questions & Answers

We’ve compiled answers to some of the most common questions we receive. Have another question that you need help with? Contact us

The Burke Museum moved to a brand new facility! In order to pack and prepare for opening in October 2019, the Culture collections are currently closed. We greatly appreciate the community's patience while we move our collections to their new home. Please visit the contemporary cultural database to search the collections.

Contemporary culture contacts during closure:

  • Holly Barker for research questions, donations and other needs
  • Bridget Johnson for questions about the Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Native Art

Contact us

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The Burke Museum actively encourages research on all of its collections. Interested researchers should contact us to obtain information on available collections, the research process and to schedule an appointment to discuss an individual research plan.

All researchers will be required to complete a Research Request Form (PDF) detailing their project and agree to all listed conditions of access. A one-page description of the proposed research must also be submitted along with the form. 

Resources:

Requests for borrowing objects for museum exhibits are considered on a case-by-case basis. We cannot lend objects to individuals.

For more information, please refer to our Culture Collections Loan Policy (PDF) and contact us.

Our staff is able to answer questions and provide information on a time-available basis. For more details about identification and how to prepare to have something identified, see the Burke Museum Object Identification Request page.

We are actively growing both our object and archival collections. If you wish to make a donation, please contact us.

Yes, the Burke Museum works closely with tribes throughout the U.S., meeting the letter and spirit of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation act (NAGPRA). The Burke also works with other communities and countries to repatriate ancestors and sensitive artifacts. Learn more about Burke Museum Repatriation.

Please review the information on the Copyright & Images page, which includes relevant forms and additional instructions then contact us to request an image.

We couldn’t do what we do without volunteers! Visit our Volunteer page for more information about Burke Museum volunteer opportunities and to view current openings.

Culture Team

Meet the people within the Burke Museum Culture team. 

Our Team

Have a question?

Contact Contemporary Culture

Photo: Sven Haakanson/Burke Museum
Photo: Sven Haakanson/Burke Museum

Additional Resources

We've compiled several online resources from outside of the Burke Museum that may also be of interest.

Land Acknowledgement

The Burke Museum stands on the lands of the Coast Salish Peoples, whose ancestors resided here since time immemorial. Many Indigenous peoples thrive in this place—alive and strong.

a woman smiles while admiring objects in the burke collection

Support Contemporary Culture

Your gift makes it possible! We couldn't do what we do without generous donor support for collections care, research and public outreach. 

Photo: Dennis Wise/University of Washington
Photo: Dennis Wise/University of Washington