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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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High profile: Roz Walker

Curator Roz Walker is tickled to show Dallas Museum of Art visitors wonderful things from Africa they might not otherwise get to see

03:43 PM CDT on Saturday, June 12, 2004

By STEVE QUINN / found at The Dallas Morning News

Dallas Museum of Art BuildingIt's 9:45 a.m. and the phone rings in Roz Walker's office. It's Sotheby's calling from New York about the Nigerian sculpture to be auctioned that morning.

She has waited nearly five months to bid on this piece, by Olowe of Ise from the turn of the 20th century, on behalf of the Dallas Museum of Art. She'll have to hold on another 30 minutes before the auction house gets to her choice, known simply as Lot No. 60.

Roz Walker - Dallas Museum of Arts
Allison V. Smith / DMN
"What I saw was a whole different world of art than I could ever have seen just reading books," Dr. Walker says of her first trip to Nigeria, where she first experienced African art in its native cultural environment. Dr. Walker is pictured with a 19th century standing male figure, or nkisi nkondi, by the Yombe people of the Lower Congo region of Africa.

So she summons museum director Dr. Jack Lane and deputy director Bonnie Pitman out of a meeting and to her office, which has enough room for two chairs across from her desk.

The phone rings again a few minutes after 10. In another few minutes, the bidding begins at $80,000, and Dr. Walker starts vying for the prize.

"It was quick in that the bidding was rapid-paced," she says. "It was almost like an out-of-body experience. I'm sitting there and there were pauses.

"You had to make a quick decision and be thoughtful at the same time. We weren't bidding every time. You come in when you want to stay in the game."

Dr. Walker gets the final word: $470,000.

Bibliography: Olowe of Ise by Roslyn A. Walker, 150 pages, Publisher: Smithsonian Books (October, 1998)

Olowe of Ise bowl sold to Dallas Museum of Art

Yoruba-Bowl-Sothebys- Olowe of Ise- 470.000 $She won and secured Olowe's sculpture of a bowl supported by a kneeling woman. It's her first acquisition since joining the museum last fall as senior curator for the arts of Africa, the Pacific and the Americas.

Landing the coveted sculpture not only validated the hire Dr. Lane and Ms. Pitman made eight months ago, but it also punctuated a return from a retirement that Dr. Walker never really planned or wanted.

It was a chance viewing of the museum's Web site at an aunt's urging that led her to consider moving for the Dallas job.

But it was her credentials – 21 years with the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art and curator work in Nigeria – that told the directors she was ideal for it.

Roslyn Adele Walker

Birthdate and place: July 26, 1944, Memphis, Tenn.
Occupation: Senior curator, the arts of Africa, the Pacific and the Americas, at the Dallas Museum of Art
I'm most relaxed when: (I'm probably most relaxed when I am doing nothing, only that rarely happens, so let's skip this one.)
Most memorable art-related trip(s): Fieldwork in Nigeria in the 1970s; the Goldet auction in Paris (2001)
Favorite sculptures: The Kneeling Female Figure with Bowl by Olowe of Ise (new acquisition); the Yombe nkisi nkondi (standing male figure); Sarawak pair of mythical animals, all at the DMA
If I wasn't a curator, I'd be: Doing something in the arts or public relations
Favorite place to visit: My secret. But I enjoy visiting lots of new areas of the Dallas metroplex
Favorite Dallas restaurant: I have two – Abacus and Dream Cafι
Favorite food to cook: Moin moin, a Nigerian bean dish

Her mission: Give the museum's African art collection breadth and depth; illustrate the art's aesthetic and anthropological value; use the art as a vehicle to connect with the community.

"When you make this kind of hire, you look for everything – directing a museum, working with collectors, mounting exhibitions, scholarly catalogs – and sometimes you expect to compromise," Dr. Lane says.

"In this case we didn't."

An urge to draw

She was born Roslyn Adele Walker in Memphis, Tenn., the younger of two girls and the third generation of Roslyns.

Her father, a pharmacist, died as the result of a car accident when she was 6; her mother died eight years later of cancer.

So the two Walker girls, Roz and her sister, Patricia, left Memphis to live with their aunt, Jim Etta Lee, in Baton Rouge, La.

As a child she was called "Del," so there would be no confusion between her and her mother. As an adult, she became Roz. In academia, she is Dr. Walker.

No matter what she's called, friends and family have seen her passion for art that began with a little girl who couldn't resist the urge to draw.

She would draw anything, really, but her favorite subjects were ballerinas, reflective of her ballet and tap dance lessons.

(Today, she still walks through the museum with that delicate grace, light bounce and erect posture found in dancers.)

The young girl loved days when her mother brought home rolls of butcher paper from the local grocery store. When that ran out, there were always envelopes, which she turned inside out and used to continuing drawing.

Some days, nothing with a clean surface was off-limits, her sister says.

"I remember, she would go to school and she would have a tablet with big lines and the dashes that teachers used to teach you how to write big letters," Patricia Walker says.

"She'd take the tablet, and the first page would be for ABCs. The second page would have ABCs, but the rest would be for drawings.

"But there was one day when my mother had the living room painted. We looked up and Roz had done this mural with crayons."

Like most little girls growing up in the pre-Barbie era, she and her friends also enjoyed dressing up paper dolls – with one exception.

"She would make her own dolls," recalls childhood friend Juanita Robinson Carter, who grew up four blocks from young Roz.

"You know what? They were better than ones we bought. That's why it wasn't just her artistic sense I was always in awe of, it was her sense of adventure."

That sense of adventure meant trips to museums, which enhanced Roz's love for art and fostered a blossoming curiosity – still strong today – to know more about the person and place behind the displays.

As a child, she went on museum visits in Memphis, as well as St. Louis during summertime trips to see relatives.

As a teen in Baton Rouge, she devoted Sundays to church and the museum.

In Baton Rouge, Roz attended Southern University Laboratory High School, a school that many children of Southern University faculty and staff attended. (Her uncle was an athletic director there.) And the artwork she left behind remains memorable more than 40 years later.

"She would take a simple thought or object and do something with it others could not," recalls J.D. Smith, her art teacher at Southern.

"She would put some lyrical marks in her work, as if things are moving about on the page, not something static."

In to Africa

Dr. Walker graduated from high school in 1962 and embarked on a journey in African art research and curator work that has since afforded her stops in universities, art academies and museums worldwide.

She started by enrolling in the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia, where she had daily access to catalogs and books of African art.

The university had no art history program, so she earned a bachelor of science degree in secondary education in 1966.

Three years later, she earned a master's degree in art history at Indiana University.

After a one-year stint at the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus gallery, Dr. Walker decided it was time to travel and immerse herself further in the art and its history she had studied.

In 1970, she took the first of five trips to Nigeria, this one to work temporarily with the country's Department of Antiquities, essentially Nigeria's Smithsonian.

After spending two years taking doctoral study courses at the University of Indiana, she returned to Nigeria in 1972.

She did summertime field research reviewing the art of masquerades in the town of Abeokuta.

These seasonal parades with men wearing painted wood masks with intricate carvings were called the egungun, "the masquerade that made ancestors visible."

"What I saw was a whole different world of art than I could ever have seen just reading books," Dr. Walker says.

"I not only saw masquerades and the masks for the first time, but the interaction between the spectators and the masqueraders was wonderful. There was a cheering of these masked images."

She went back again in December 1972, thinking Nigeria would be her home indefinitely after taking a job as curator with the University of Ibadan and getting married three months later.

However in 1975, she returned home, got a divorce and resumed her doctoral studies while working as curator of ethnographic art at Illinois State University

She remained in Illinois for six years before moving on to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art.

There, she assembled – either by herself or in collaboration – 11 original exhibits, including the works of Olowe of Ise.

The message she and collaborators Roy Sieber, Philip Ravenhill and Andrea Nicholls wished to convey: that African art is just not an anthropological study, but also a study in aesthetics.

Nor does African art have to be anonymous, a common misconception among those visiting museums, curators and directors say.

"Olowe proves that African art is not anonymous. People didn't ask the right questions – 'Who made this?' " Dr. Walker says.

"It shows that people are different in some ways, but also very similar in some ways, that the values are not so different. We want a good, healthy life and want to be remembered when we are gone."

A plan to slow down

In late fall of 2001, Dr. Walker was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm, which was eventually surgically repaired. Six months later, she retired from the Smithsonian and took on a less-hectic pace as a consultant.

She also resumed drawing, an activity set aside for nearly 30 years while she immersed herself in academia and curator work.

But a summer class at Tugaloo Art Colony in Mississippi changed that.

"I think I was intimidated by the idea of trying to be creative in that way because I was surrounded by so much great art," she says.

"I've had other creative outlets like entertaining, cooking and writing, but I missed this. Every now and I then I get out the pad and draw."

Today, there is a balance that had been missing.

She's seeing her aunt – the one who first suggested she consider Dallas – more; she's drawing again; she's deeply involved in the art world; and on May 14, she put her thumbprint on the museum's collection by getting the Olowe statue.

"The museum has great opportunities to connect and reconnect to the African-American community while educating everybody on its contribution. I came at the right time. I couldn't have planned it better."

 

 

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African art books

The Tribal Arts of Africa

The Tribal Arts of Africa
Author: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart

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read also : Start ] Virtual Museum ] African-Americans SF ] Chicago-ceramics ] Newark Museum ] Cleveland arms ] de Young-SF ] Museum of fine arts Boston ] Brooklyn Museum ] New Orleans Museum ] Detroit Institute DIA ] SAMA Artistry ] Museum for African Art ] Barbier-Mueller ] Cleveland ] [ Dallas-Museum-of-Arts ] Indianapolis ] Columbia-Urhobo ] NMAA Art-Treasures ] Baltimore-museum ] Dapper postcolonial ] Fine-arts-Houston ] Menil-Houston-Texas ] Louvres-Islamic art ] Minneapolis ] Metropolitan ] Israel Museum Jerusalem ] Orlando-Museum ] Cincinnati art museum ] Philadelphia-Museum ] Polk-Museum-of-Art ] african culture Portland ] Smithsonian-Washington ] SMA fathers New Jersey ] Tervueren ] UMKC-Belger Arts ] Whitman-New-Jersey ] West-Valley-Arizona ] Kunstkamera-Petersburg ] Ethnology-Vienna ] Irma-Stern-Museum ] Appleton museum Ocala ] UCLA-Fowler ] Benin Museum ] Weltkulture ] DuSable Museum ] Cuba museum ] fineartshouston ] Bowers museum ] Museu Afro Brazil ] airport art ] Nelson Atkins ] Zora Neale ] branly museum ] Longyear museum ] Douglas society Denver ] Denver art museum ] Centre Black African Civilization ] charles wright ] Seattle Art Museum ] Samuel Dorsky ] High museum Atlanta ]

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