This book is a thoroughly researched and informative examination of non-western jewellery and body adornment from a wide range of Aboriginal Australian, Oceanic, Asian and African cultural groups. While the subject is vast, this is no generalised or lightweight piece intended for the coffee-table. In cross-referencing with the photographs I gained an understanding of how socio-political factors influence concepts in body ornamentation and jewellery design but, if you tire of the text and simply wish to look at photographs and captions, the objects themselves present plenty of clues as to their origins; it is still a learning experience.
Each chapter provides an outline of the political and other events which gave rise to the societies from which each type of jewellery and ornamentation was conceived, which leads to an explanation of the purpose and cultural significance of each item, including where, when, why, and from which materials the ornament was made, and how it was worn or used.
While authoritative, the text has a very easy-going, personal style. It includes, for example, small anecdotes such as accounts of how the author discovered the history of these objects after finding them, often misidentified, in shops and antique markets. This serves to remind us that even if these objects may seem unworldly, they remain very human, and are still within our reach.
For those who are not particularly interested in the history or social origins of this jewellery, the book is still a bountiful source of material for refreshing new ideas for modern jewellery design and even perhaps other forms of art. My attention was grabbed by the incredible range of, to me, totally novel designs and concepts for the use of ornamentation, most of which are inconceivable in western imaginations. I was struck by the exuberance and aggression of these pieces; who could imagine using an entire human skull both as a headrest and an item of jewellery? (p.76). Looking at the heavy silver earrings and bracelets sourced from cultures of inland China, I get the idea that the stuff seen worn on the streets in our `western' societies (i.e., threader earrings, earcuffs, and plug earrings) was conceived in regions far off from our own. Some of the objects in the book, even though they have originated in ancient cultures, seem strikingly modern, such as the outrageous gold earrings from India (p.328).
It is the photography that won me over. Every object is captured in crystal-clear, large, professional images and in some places it is almost tactile: I could almost feel the crumbling red ochre on the ceremonial chest ornaments from Papua New Guinea (pp.112-13). Compared to other books I have seen on jewellery, each shot reveals the finest detail and there are no shadows. The colour is knockout: I'd love to own the luscious feathered hatbands from Hawaii, and after seeing pictures such as these (pp.167-68), who wouldn't? The author has been generous with her inclusion of images - all in true-to-life colour, sometimes four to a page - and there has been no wastage of space (no excessive borders, no large white gaps). Mercifully, the captions sit on the same page or page-spread as the photo, which saves having to heave the bulk of the book to the back to read them. Also, the origin of each piece described in the book has been sourced, meaning that there are no `indeterminates' - very few items have a hanging question mark.
However, I feel my words alone are insufficient, and as I have noticed there are, so far, too few reviews on Amazon for this book, I've assembled a list of comments from more authoritative supporters which I gathered in my own search for reviews before I decided to buy the book:
(1) Review from Tribal Art (The premier journal on the arts of indigenous cultures around the world); Spring 2010, p. 118: "This book is truly a gem, not only for collectors, scholars, and dealers, but also for contemporary artists and designers, who will find a ready source of inspiration amid the wide array of surprisingly "modern" ornaments. Exquisitely produced with over seven hundred large-format photographs printed on high-quality paper, this work takes a serious yet accessible approach to the jewelry of tribal areas and cultures. All the illustrated artifacts are particularly well documented. Uniquely, the book begins its journey in Australia with eighty-five photos of Aboriginal ornaments. This is followed by 119 illustrated pieces from New Guinea and sixty-eight images covering the rest of Oceania. The objects presented come from the South Australian Museum in Adelaide and from the notable Daalder private collection. Truus and Joost Daalder began collecting jewelry in 1976, after settling in Adelaide. A passionate author, inveterate collector, and thorough researcher, Truus has devoted several years of travel and study to bringing this book to fruition. The photographs were taken by her son, Jeremy. Finally, the bibliography presented at the end of the book has been compiled with great care and thoroughness to allow the reader to continue the journey."
(2) "Gem of a book on Ethnic Art", by Diana Streak, in The Canberra Times of 17 April 2010. You can see this by going to "Reactions to the Book" at the Ethnic Art Press website.
(3) Review by Robin Hodgson (This review appeared in the March 2010 issue of UNA VOCE, Journal of the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia Inc.). The book is carefully discussed and Hodgson concludes: "This is a momentous and memorable book."
(4) Comment by Michael Hamson of Michael Hamson Oceanic Art: "In their wonderful new book on ethnic jewelry, Truus and Joost Daalder illustrate a nearly identical example ..." (See Hamson's Red Eye of the Sun: The Art of the Papuan Gulf, 2010, p. 176)
(5) Reaction from reader Anne Porteus of Sidewalk Tribal Gallery - African Art & & Ethnic Jewellery: "Essential reading for all lovers of traditional ethnic jewellery. It is a fantastic book Truus. I especially like the information provided about many pieces that I have not seen described in other ethnic jewellery and adornment books. Photography is really beautiful and your passion for the subject shines through in the presentation and information provided and illustrated in the images. It is a beautiful big book and worth every cent." (See Facebook, "Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment", 11 March 2010)
(6) Reaction from jewellery designer Faye Maramara of Paro Paro Decoratives and Accessories: "To those who truly appreciate `Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment': I have recently bought the 3.7 kg book and can proudly say that as a jewellery designer this will be my reference book to always refer to. Not only is the presentation exquisite, but the commentaries are incredibly informative in which the research would have been extensive and passionately sourced. Thank you Truus, Joost and Jeremy for a fabulous and very generous book of all your important findings." (See Facebook, "Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment", 14 April 2010)
(7) Reaction from tribal art dealer Nadji Benotmane of Wamena Gallery: "For all the collectors of ethnic jewelry and adornment this book is a real reference; for the ones who just love to know more about it, this is definitively the right book to add to your library." (See Facebook, "Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment", 18 April 2010)
(8) Reaction from reader Elizabeth Hermann: "My copy has arrived and I am thrilled with it. What a tremendous piece of work. Well researched and glorious pictures. Thank you Daalder family for what you have put together. Your book has pride of place in my sitting room where all who visit can admire it! Congratulations." (See Facebook, "Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment", 21 April 2010)
Even if you only intend to obtain one book which solidly deals with the subject of non-western, or `ethnic' jewellery and body adornment, this should be it. In all my years of scrounging I honestly haven't seen anything else which suitably compares in terms of breadth of subject or photographic standard on this subject.