Headhunt Revisited is a documentary film about Art as a catalyst for exploration and authenticity. In the 1920’s Caroline Mytinger graced the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal – a fair-haired gamine of a model whose beauty and talents promised a life of refined American society. A talented portrait painter, she eschewed a predictable path, charting a course for the headhunters of Melanesia and establishing herself as one of the most fascinating yet unknown talents in American history.
Headhunt Revisited retraces the improbable journey of Caroline and her friend Margaret Warner, who crossed the Pacific on a quest to find and paint portraits of unspoiled civilizations of Melanesia. From 1926-1930 they embarked on an exploration of a remote world fraught with danger. Mosquitoes engorged with blood had to be snipped off with scissors; cockroaches the size of hummingbirds chewed on their toes; and a volcanic eruption threatened the very existence of the artwork. Nevertheless, they persisted, carrying with them a growing collection of portraits, supplies for new works of art, and just enough money to ship their bodies home if needed. After four years, Caroline returned with a wealth of ethnographic details including 25 oil paintings, more than 40 sketches, and journal entries that became the notes for two books on her travels.
As an artist, an explorer, and a woman, Caroline was already far ahead of her time. And while the norms of western society in her day would have allowed, and even encouraged, a view of Melanesian indigenous society as uncivilized and backward, Caroline – ever the vanguard – saw through the stereotype. She painted her subjects on their own terms, with pride and dignity, and her work is one of the first color interpretations of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islanders during the 20th century.
Eighty years later, Caroline’s adventure inspired two contemporary artists. In 2005 photographer Michele Westmorland set out to learn how Melanesian culture had evolved since Caroline’s journey. Remarkably, she discovered four descendants of Caroline’s subjects. Through Headhunt Revisited Michele – armed with a camera and pictures of Caroline’s artwork – has joined important dialogue among Melanesians about their past, change, adaptation, religion, and culture.
Michele then introduced Caroline’s work to Jeffry Feeger, a renowned contemporary Papua New Guinean portrait artist. Jeffry immediately saw a unique depiction of Melanesians, painted in color and with a true representation of humanity that he states, “can’t be seen anywhere else.” To honor her work, Jeffry produced a series of his own paintings with similarities to Caroline’s artwork that capture “what it means to be a modern-day Papua New Guinean.” His artwork and voice brings the legacy and story of Caroline Mytinger full circle.
Headhunt Revisited is a timely story of an exceptional woman, a talented artist, and a respectful ally of indigenous peoples whose work continues to inspire artists in her native America and in her beloved Melanesia. It has been crafted by a small team of professionals who believe that our current socio-political climate wants for a hero of Caroline’s caliber. Post-production of the film is based in Seattle, WA, where one of Caroline’s last exhibitions was shown in 1935 at the Seattle Art Museum. This film is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.