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<b>Old Guys Rule</b><br>Surfing great Rory Russell at last summer's Legends Surf Classic competition, part of the annual Duke's Oceanfest taking place in August<br>Photo by Dana Edmunds
Vol. 14, no. 4
August/September 2011


The Collector 

Story by Julia Steele

Photos by Dana Edmunds

"The Polynesians," says Mark Blackburn, "had one of the most remarkable cultures in history." This face belongs to a Maori poutokomanawa, or post figure; the image of a powerful ancestor, it was carved on the ridge pole of a chief's house and honored as a central figure in the dwelling.
In 1971 a teenager named Mark Blackburn
boarded a Pan Am flight in Los Angeles bound for the South Pacific. He was young but already a rock star of the coin-collecting world, a savvy kid who’d bought and sold his way out of his family’s meager fortunes and into renown. At 18 he dished out a chunk of his hard-won cash for a round-the-world ticket and headed for the airport. First stop: Tahiti.


Blackburn was a man under the influence from the moment he arrived. The purity of the landscape, the potency of the people, the intricacy of the culture: He loved it all. Next came New Zealand, and in the museums, looking at the graceful and elaborate lines in Maori art, Blackburn was captivated further. He continued on his journey, carrying memories of the islands with him, and when not long after he was in a flea market in Germany and he saw a Maori hei-tiki carving, he bought it—the first acquisition in what has become the finest private collection of Polynesian art in the world.