Peter Macnair's Biography
Peter Macnair was Curator of Anthropology at the Royal British Columbia Museum for more than 30 years, 25 of these as chief ethnologist. Under his guidance the acclaimed exhibits on the First Peoples of British Columbia were designed and installed. Macnair involved aboriginal people closely in the design and manufacture of these exhibits with the result that many people brought more than their knowledge and expertise to their work. For example, Chief Jonathan Hunt permitted the museum to construct his gukwdzi or big house, with all his private privileges and prerogatives, inside as a living exhibit inside the museum. The award-winning exhibits attract over one million visitors a year and are as immediate today as they were when they opened in 1977.
As curator he directed programs in research, interpretation, collections management, photographic services, public programming and, over two decades, he supervised the work of eight First Nations carvers. His area of expertise is the coastal peoples of the North Pacific from northern California to Alaska, in particular the potlatch and traditional life of the Kwakwaka'wakw and the material culture of the Haida, especially carving in argillite and precious metals.
In the early 1990s Macnair consulted with the staff of the American Museum of Natural History as they prepared the major traveling exhibition Chiefly Feasts, the Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch. The exhibit featured the work of anthropologist Franz Boas and his collaborator George Hunt of Fort Rupert on Vancouver Island.
During research for the Chiefly Feasts exhibit Macnair discovered original field notes relating to the Kwakwaka'wakw collections in the American Museum of Natural History. Previously unrecognized, these important ethnographic records formed the basis of the successful exhibit labels and catalogue descriptions.
Macnair is sought after throughout the United States and Canada as a leading expert on the material culture and the ethnographic record of the Pacific Northwest. He serves on acquisitions committees for several museums and for two decades was an expert examiner for the Cultural Property Review Board. He lectures to both scholarly and lay audiences, and acts as a resource person for field study programs in British Columbia, Alaska and Washington state.
Macnair left the Royal British Columbia Museum in March 1997 and joined the firm of Stewart Macnair Inc. as a partner. From July 1997 until the present he has been Guest Curator, with Chief Robert Joseph, for the exhibition Down From the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the Northwest Coast and is co-author of the associated publication. In 1999, with Jay Stewart he curated To the Totem Forests: Emily Carr and Contemporaries Interpret Coastal Villages, the associated catalogue and website.
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