A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
Two major donations of African art to Colgate’s Longyear Museum of Anthropology continue to provide interesting objects for exhibitions and fuel research opportunities for students.
Colgate art professor Carol Ann Lorenz, assisted by several students, spent two summers of 9-to-5 days cataloging 2,700 African art objects that had been donated in May 2002. Just a year earlier, another major gift of 111 pieces had been received.
The gifts helped make the African art collection at the Longyear Museum the largest and most comprehensive repository of such art in central New York.
Lorenz curated two exhibitions in the Longyear Museum showcasing some of the donated pieces. She’s now taking her show on the road, albeit just across campus initially, to the larger Picker Art Gallery.
The exhibition – “African Personal Art and Adornment” – runs from Sept. 19 to Nov. 7. Lorenz will talk about the pieces at a special gallery reception at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23.
The Picker show focuses on objects that served as treasured items but were created to be handled and used. The pieces – combs, staffs, toys, housewares, jewelry, and furniture – belonged to people from all walks of life, from farmers and weavers to chiefs and kings.
Most of the items are made from wood, with those belonging to society’s elite being more elaborate or made with precious materials such as ivory, brass, or glass beads.
The pieces date from the 11th century to the mid-20th century. Lorenz explained that the older objects were so well-preserved because they were stored in dry caves in Mali in sub-Saharan Africa.
The exhibition includes several wooden heddle pulleys, beautifully carved pieces that guide the thread used in small looms. Weavers produce long, narrow strips of cloth that are later sewn together to create blankets and clothing.
Lorenz has several heddle pulleys adorned with animal or human forms. They are primarily from the Baule and Guro peoples of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, also known as the Ivory Coast, in west Africa.
Also on display will be fly whisks, another example of the functional merging with the aesthetic. One piece is elaborately adorned with small beads with triangular designs that constitute the sign of the leopard.
“The blue and white leopard pelt design is an indication of royalty,” said Lorenz.
• A reception and gallery talk about the "African Personal Art and Adornment" exhibition will be at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, 2006 at the Picker Art Gallery. It is free and open to the public. The exhibition runs until Nov. 7.
Some of her favorite pieces in the exhibition are the cosmetics boxes from the Kuba people of central Africa.
She explained that the boxes have intricate carvings in unique geometric patterns that were inspired by textiles made by women. The Kuba are masterful at integrating the interlacing patterns into their everyday lives.
“Not one of them is the same. They utilize different angles and shapes; the patterns are infinite,” said Lorenz.
Most of the pieces in the exhibition are from the donations received by the
Longyear Museum the past few years.
In 2001, the museum received an anonymous gift consisting primarily of African pottery, as well as furniture, currency, beadwork, jewelry, and weaponry.
The following year, a second donation was received from the estate of Herman Copen, who died Jan. 6, 2002, a few weeks before his 94th birthday. It included nearly 2,700 masks, figures, and other artworks ranging from large architectural sculptures to small personal ornaments.
Copen, who grew up in Coney Island, N.Y., worked in the family business before retiring in Hamden, Conn. A prolific painter, he had never traveled to Africa but was an active collector of African art from the 1960s to the 1990s. He had no ties to Colgate, but had wanted to make sure that his collection would be used in schools and colleges as part of the teaching experience.
The gift has provided numerous research opportunities for Lorenz and her students. Lorenz spent the summer of 2002 working with student assistants Lindsey Slenger ’04 and April-Lyn Caouette ‘03 on unpacking and sorting the pieces. Lorenz had to devise a way to store and catalog the objects and to create a database for them.
Work continued through the academic year, and the next summer Slenger and Katrina Pape ’04 continued cataloging the pieces with Lorenz. During the past academic year, Lorenz worked with Kareem Khubchandani ‘04, Amirah Shahid ‘05, and Samer Shehadeh ’05 to finish the cataloging process for the Copen gift as well as the Longyear’s entire African art collection.
In 2003, each student in Lorenz's African art class researched two or three pieces. Their work resulted in an exhibition – “Animals and their Meanings in African Art -- at the Longyear, and more students are now researching objects for a future exhibition entitled “African Art in Clay.”
As for Lorenz’s exhibition at the Picker, it will go on the road and be displayed in the near future at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica and then the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia.
It appears that the hard work by Lorenz and her students will ensure that
the gifts made to Colgate will keep on giving to both the university and to
cultural venues throughout central New York.
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13 Oak Drive
Hamilton, NY 13346
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