Races of Mankind

Marianne Kinkel

University of Illinois Press, 2011


In the struggle to find out what makes people unique, artists of the twentieth century entered the field of physical anthropology. In 1930, Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History commissioned sculptor Malvina Hoffman to research and create sculptures of all races of mankind, of which there were believed to be more than 160.

Marianne Kinkel, an associate professor of fine arts at Washington State University, explores Hoffman’s journey to complete the Races of Mankind project.

Kinkel breaks this effort into reasonable, chronological pieces. Before Hoffman, several artists attempted to represent the races of the world through their sculpture, but it was Hoffman’s work that had the greatest impact. Little in art and science had been done when it came to understanding races and how ethnographic sculpture had become a popular niche.

The author looks at the steps Hoffman took in order to create a gallery appealing to the viewers, whether their interests were in art or science. She examines the sculptor’s journey around the world, and her commitment to creating works that were scientifically accurate as well as full of life. This was what Hoffman was praised for the most: her ability to put motion into her sculptures.

Hoffman’s exhibit remained in the museum for almost 40 years, and in the meantime she worked on other anthropological pieces incorporating her sculptures. Once genetics was introduced into the world of anthropology, Hoffman’s work as a study of races was challenged. The sculptures transitioned into solely being works of art when they were integrated in other displays like the one put up in Malcolm X College.

Kinkel presents the history and Hoffman’s processes in a readable fashion. The author’s choice of structuring the content chronologically provides the reader a framework for exploring this significant study.