A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
Lester Saffier African art in the desert
L.A. artist donates to COD its first permanent art collection
College of the Desert professor Ron Evans looks over some of the African art work that is being donated to the college.
K Kaufmann The Desert Sun March 17, 2007 found at thedesertsun.com
Safier was looking for a home for his collection of African art - more than 80 masks, statues and ceremonial artifacts from the 19th and early 20th centuries. After talking with Evans, he decided on COD.
"He wanted to pick a person, a teacher who was enthusiastic," Evans recalled. "He told me I was the first one that he really felt had earned it."
The pieces, valued at more than $250,000, will be the first permanent art collection donated to the school.
"It's the most significant art, in value to the students and in actual worth, we've ever received," said COD President Maria Sheehan, speaking at the board of trustees meeting Friday, where Evans officially announced the donation.
"We can (use it) for outreach to high school students and the community at large. We can be the centerpiece," Sheehan said.
Safier was not available for comment Friday.
The collection will be unveiled with a full-scale exhibit sometime in the fall, said Lisa Soccio, director of the Walter N. Marks Center for the Arts at COD.
After that, "we'll always have at least a few pieces on display in the front area of the Marks Center," Soccio said. "That way, we could maintain the life of the collection and have it be an ongoing point of interest."
When not on display, the collection will be stored in a shop set for completion in 2008. It will remain with Safier until that space is ready, Evans said.
While Evans doesn't like to blow his own horn, his students are glad to do it for him. He's been teaching sculpture and ceramics at COD for more than 30 years - and is a graduate of the school.
"He's enthusiastic. He really wants you to learn," said Jeanette Hays of Palm Desert, showing off an African-themed mask and small rhinoceros she made in Evans' class - her first foray into sculpture.
"He's very kind, and he really enjoys teaching," said Lone Ewing, also of Palm Desert, who's been studying with Evans for two years.
What excites Evans most about the art collection is the possibilities it presents for teaching.
"It is inspirational," he said. "I see all of this helping our students with a different side of culture and diversity. It fits all the way across our entire curriculum."
Safier's gift also could attract more major collections to COD, Evans said.
"It's for the culture of the entire Coachella Valley," he said. "Now we're rolling."
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