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

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Does it need Evaluation?

When Gary Welton's travel studies class goes to Rwanda and Tanzania this summer, he'll have to find a guide to lead the way.

For years, the Lake Worth Christian School teacher used the same guide on trips to Africa: Royal Marcher, a former big game hunter turned photo safari leader.


But Marcher died in 2003 at 79, leaving the Boynton Beach school without a guide in Africa but with a precious gift by which to remember him: his entire collection of African art.

Steve Mitchell/The Post
Lake Worth Christian School's travel studies teacher Gary Welton shows off a roomful of African art bequeathed to the school by the late African safari guide Royal Marcher.

Safari leader leaves school his African art

found at Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The collection, bequeathed in Marcher's will, arrived a year ago but was retrieved from storage last month so that appraisers could examine the more than 500 pieces, including oil paintings, tribal artifacts, jewelry and carvings.

The gift wasn't a total surprise, said Welton, a social studies and Bible teacher who sponsors the travel studies program, but the size of it was a bit of a shock.

"He had talked about it with us," Welton said of Marcher, an American who lived half the year in Nairobi, Kenya, and half the year in Los Angeles. "But we had no idea how extensive the collection was."

Among the pieces are ritual masks, weaponry and elaborate wood carvings, as well as everyday items used by the Masai and Samburu tribes of East Africa.

Welton said he will keep some pieces for his classroom, like a Masai drum, an ebony carving and a lion's tooth. "Visual things are what grab the kids' attention," he said.

The school is considering selling the balance of the collection at auction to raise money for the travel studies program.

An after-school honors course for high school students, the program teaches teenagers about areas of the world and then takes them there.

Since 1984, Welton's students have visited such exotic spots as Tibet, Egypt, Peru and Antarctica. In 1990, Welton met Marcher, who had served as a guide for philanthropist David Rinker, a longtime supporter of Lake Worth Christian School.

The following year, Marcher led Welton and his students on their first trip to Africa — exploring Kenya and other areas of East Africa.

This week, Welton begins travel studies classes on Rwanda and Tanzania. It's a popular course, Welton said. Each year, more students apply to the program than he can accept.

"It's such a cool opportunity," said 17-year-old Jessica Hackl, who is one of 16 students going on this summer's trip. "When else could I do this?"

It will be the third travel studies trip for Hackl, who last year went to Australia and the year before to the Galapagos Islands. She's expecting Africa to be an entirely different experience.

"I think that will be the biggest culture shock," Hackl said. "I hope it makes me feel more appreciative of what I've got."

Welton said he prefers to take students to developing countries because "it tells them a lot about what is important in life."

But traveling to far-flung locations can be expensive. The two-week trip to Tanzania and Rwanda, where students will go on a gorilla safari, costs $5,000 a person.

Hackl said she is responsible for raising 10 percent of the trip's cost by baby-sitting and working in her mother's real estate office. Her mom has pledged to cover the rest.

But some students' families simply can't afford it, so they never apply. That's where the auction of Marcher's art collection might be able to help, Welton said.

The school this year is establishing a travel studies endowment that would pay for student scholarships. Proceeds from an art auction would feed that fund.

Michael Nicholas, a partner in Appraisers International in West Palm Beach, has examined the collection and is preparing to do research to determine its value.

"It's a multifaceted collection with a lot of nice older pieces, and a lot of more contemporary pieces as well," Nicholas said.

Some of the older items — mostly masks and weaponry — appear to be from the 19th century through the early 20th century, he said. Some of those will likely be sent to New York for evaluation by Christie's auction house, he said.

"Overall, it probably has some real value," Nicholas said of the collection. "But we want to get a second opinion from someone with a specialization in African art."

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