Ron Watson: Lover, connoisseur, inveterate collector and dealer in Sepik Art

February 1, 2008 at 11:52 pm (Fiction) ()

Dunstan McMillan, near the bar in the club, was talking to Ron Watson and a tall young woman. Ron was a regular visitor to Angoram and was often accompanied by a woman assistant but rarely the same one. Ron came from Denver, Colorado and over the years he had done quite well shipping Sepik carvings to the States, where he had a ready market.

He was a healthy man in his early forties and an inveterate patroller in pursuing rare pieces of carved art. Ron was in many ways your typical enterprising Yank, but he was also socially charming and on occasions the life of the party.

He had some contacts with the University of Colorado at Boulder in the Department of Cultural Anthropology. This is where he recruited his assistants from, who were good-looking, young, educated women. The current one was Susan Flynn, a graduate student in her late twenties and at least a runner up in any beauty contest you may think of. Their duties included cataloguing, classifying and documenting the collected pieces. In the course of these duties all seemed happy enough to share Ron’s bed. 

Ron had a wife in Denver but this did not seem to inhibit his trips to PNG with his various assistants. Ron’s personal life had all the hallmarks, in Bill Clayton’s words, of “a freewheeling situation.” Bill once asked Ron how he managed to get all these good-looking women to come to PNG with him.

Ron was quite ready to explain: “Well Bill, I’ll tell you. I put a notice up in the Department of Anthropology, Colorado University alone these lines:

 A collector of significant cultural and anthropological artifacts in the Sepik District of New Guinea, an area made famous by the work of Dr Margaret Mead, seeks the assistance of a student or graduate of anthropology to classify and document acquired items. This would be for a period of two months. Interested applicants please leave your name with Dr Edward Glover.        Ron Watson 

“Ed is an old friend and a lecturer in anthropology. He helps with the culling of the applicants, and you would be surprised at how many apply. First of all, the men are eliminated, then the innocent and unattractive. We end up with three or four likely ones and I take each out for a meal and if I particularly get on with one of them, she gets the job.” 

Susan and Ron were staying with Bill Clayton prior to going on a collecting trip up the Karawari River.

Ron Watson continued his artifact buying trips to the Sepik, though perhaps not as regularly as in his younger years. On the trips that he did make more often than not he was accompanied by his wife, Barbara. The bevy of young women, who were his companions of the past, faded away.

Susan Flynn became a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Primitive Art in New York.

Excerpt from Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk



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