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The de Young has exhibited Oceanic art since it opened in 1895. M. H. de Young and museum supporters purchased works from the California International Midwinter Exposition that still form the core of the Oceanic collection. The strength of this charter collection lay in small groups of objects, including important New Zealand Maori woodcarvings from meetinghouses of the late 19th century, as well as in singular works of importance, such as a rare Micronesian figurative weather charm.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, San Franciscans such as Harriet Newton Dimond traveled in the Pacific and donated additional Oceanic works from such island groups as New Ireland, New Britain, and the Admiralty Islands. In 1930 the de Young received more than 70 works, including Trobriand Island carvings and Indonesian textiles, from Charles Templeton Crocker, who cruised around the South Pacific and the world on his yacht, Zaca.
Through the recent generosity of Helen and Robert Kuhn, Georgia Sales, and George and Marie Hecksher, the de Young can now boast a nationally important collection of Indonesian carvings, particularly architectural fragments from the 19th and 20th centuries. Contemporary artwork maintains an integral place in the Oceanic art collection at the de Young; 20th-century pieces include rare paintings by Australian Aboriginal artists created in the beginning years of the Aboriginal art movement and gifted to the Fine Arts Museums by the Gantner Myer Aboriginal Art Collection in 2002.