Rose Corser & Marquesan Art

Rose Corser and her late husband, Frank, sailed their yacht from California to Nuku Hiva in 1972 to study Marquesan art and culture for a master's degree Rose had in the works. It was a great subject to study, since the islands are justly famous for both their unique culture and their long history of extraordinary art and handicrafts.

More than any other South Pacific islanders, the ancient Marquesans were masters at carving tikis from stone and wooden war clubs and spears from local hardwoods, adorning the latter with the same intricate geometric designs used in their tattoos (which covered most of their bodies) and on the tapa cloth they made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree. Their carving skill was evident even in everyday items such as bowls, axes, pestles, and fishhooks.

The old crafts have been preserved to a remarkable degree, especially carvings made of stone, wood, and bone. The Cathédrale de Notre-Dame des Marquises and the Monument de Herman Melville in Taiohae both are terrific examples.

You will come across artisans carving away in their shops in both Taiohae on Nuku Hiva and Atuona on Hiva Oa, and many villages have centres artisanal (artisan centers) where the crafts are for sale, especially when cruise ships are in port. The best items are often sold in Papeete, however, especially during the Heiva Nui festival in July and at special Marquesan art exhibitions.

Rose and Frank Corser went back to the United States after their 1972 voyage, but they returned for good in 1979. Rose never finished her master's degree, but she founded the marvelous Taetae Tupuna He'e Tai ★★★ (tel. 92.03.82 or 91.03.00), also known as Rose Corser's Boutique and Museum of Marquesan Culture, just downhill from the Keikahanui Nuku Hiva Pearl Lodge in Taiohae. Not only is it the best place to buy Marquesan art, but it's also a terrific museum. Here you will see artifacts dating from the Polynesian settlement period of about A.D. 150 to the 1800s. Many of the ancient pieces are on loan from Marquesan families, who have owned them since the dawn of Polynesian time. The carvings, tapa-cloth paintings, grain-seed necklaces, and kumu hei (a local lei made of fragrant plants) and other items on sale are all unique pieces of art, not handicrafts. Indeed, Rose's museum is a required stop on your visit to the Marquesas Islands.

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