It was during the famous sales in London in 1979 and 1980 of the outstanding collection of James Hooper (1897-1971) that Murray Frum acquired his first Oceanic works of art. The Hooper collection stands out as one of the major historical sources for objects in the Frum Collection.
James Hooper was fascinated from childhood by “people from savage lands” and their customs, and he formed a small collection of “curios”. On his return from the First World War, Hooper continued to acquire ethnographic specimens. He quickly realized that “...most of the objects produced by primitive peoples are becoming increasingly difficult to acquire” (Hooper and Burland, The Art of Primitive Peoples, 1953, p. 11). He set out therefore to form a collection which has been described as the last of the great British collections of art from Africa, Oceania and the Americas (Waterfield and King, Provenance: Twelve Collectors of Ethnographic Art in England 1760-1990, p. 111).
Hooper was primarily interested in Polynesian art, but his collection also encompassed art from Melanesia and Micronesia, and finally African and Native American art. Whilst Hooper’s collection contained beautiful objects from all of these areas his favourite was always the art and culture of Polynesia (Phelps, Art and Artefacts of the Pacific, Africa and the Americas: the James Hooper Collection, 1976, p. 10).
Hooper only made three trips abroad in his life, and with a few exceptions he formed his entire collection in Britain, acquiring objects which had been brought back as souvenirs by explorers, missionaries and colonial officials. He acquired many works of major importance from provincial museums in the United Kingdom and from other collectors by exchange. Perhaps inspired by Harry Beasley, Hooper opened a private museum, “The Totems”, in 1957, which allowed the public to see his collection. As Stephen Phelps emphasizes, the creation of this museum was the culmination of James Hooper’s work, a place where he could share his time and knowledge with those who came to discover his remarkable collection.