A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
By Pat Sherman UNION-TRIBUNE
COMMUNITY NEWS WRITER
"A cobweb is something that symbolizes the otherworld," said Wilhelmina Wilkie-Smith, co-owner of the Sana Art Foundation. "They're very fragile."
Several pieces of African and Oceanic art on display at the foundation's gallery in Escondido include arachnids' handiwork. Artists typically attach webbing to a work with a dab of mud, said Wilkie-Smith. A representation of a human head from Melanesia contains wood, boar tusks, bark cloth, spider webs and clay.
Wilkie-Smith and her husband, Edward Smith, established the foundation in 1996 to educate people on indigenous, non-Western art and the importance of cultural diversity. The foundation moved into its gallery at 131 S. Orange St. over summer.
Most items in the collection have been shipped more than 10,000 miles to help the couple dispel notions of Africa as a mysterious, "dark continent." The collection includes a set of 19th-century Zulu puppets, each with jointed wooden legs and festooned with beads of glass and seed. The figures, connected by a fiber thread, were dangled from the toes of older tribesmen to entertain children.
These and more than 300 items in the Sana Art Foundation collection are from the Prynnsberg Estate and Museum in Clocolan, a town in the Free State, South Africa. Built in 1864 by diamond investor Charles Newberry, the estate included shaded pools, gardens, marble nymphs, a tree plantation and a game preserve for imported black wildebeest. When the estate was sold in 1996, the Smiths bought the entire collection of African art just before a Sotheby's public auction that drew about 8,000 people.
"Friends of ours were the heirs to the estate," said Wilkie-Smith, who grew up in Johannesburg. "We went by to look at the house, not realizing there was a little museum there.
"We have that entire collection intact," she said.
Wilkie-Smith and her husband are both former board members of the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. Earlier this month, the couple traveled to Tanzania to scale Kilimanjaro. While there, they bought a variety of musical instruments for the foundation from a village near the Rufiji River.
"We found some authentic, lovely pieces like bells and rattles, some made of wood and some made of hand-forged iron," Wilkie-Smith said. "Even if we're doing something else, we always visit a village and ... see if we can find a piece."
As part of the foundation's education mission, the Smiths lent pieces of their collection to San Diego State University's School of Art, Design and Art History for a curatorial practices seminar. During the course, students created an exhibit tilted "Asking for Eyes: The Visual Voice of Southeast Africa."
The gallery includes a resource library with more than 200 books on non-Western art where students can research African, Oceanic and pre-Columbian American art.
"We'll have world music, story-telling and programs during Black History Month," Wilkie-Smith said.
Before forming the art foundation, the Smiths owned a gallery in Solana Beach. During Black History Month, students would visit the gallery for assistance, she said.
"They (typically) have to study a tribe and do a mask, and I'd be flooded by students coming in who weren't able to find any literature in the library," Wilkie-Smith said.
At the foundation, student groups receive hands-on education, she said. Tours are offered by appointment.
"Students go through a training process of how to handle art," she said. "As opposed to just studying it in books, they get to look at and touch the object and smell the object."
The foundation will auction select items to raise funds for its mission and to make room for further acquisitions from 5 to 8 p.m. tomorrow. A preview is planned for noon to 5 p.m.
For more information, call (760) 737-2903 or visit www.edsmithart.com.
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