The strength of the African collection lies in The Stanley Collection of African Art, which entered the museum through bequests from Claude (“Max”) and Elizabeth (“Betty”) Stanley in 1986 and 1990. It consists primarily of wooden masks and figures that are highly representative of a canonical style sought out by American and European African art collectors during most of the 20th century. Max and Betty Stanley developed their African art collection through consultation with Christopher D. Roy, University of Iowa art history professor and art museum curator, who used the collection to teach African art history for over 40 years. He also placed the Stanley Collection at the center of attention for numerous conferences, exhibitions, and outreach projects, including Art & Life in Africa, an online resource for learning about African art on the cycle of life. Christopher Roy’s role as a collection adviser to the Stanleys also drew on his own training with Roy Sieber, who introduced Roy to the Stanleys. With support from Sieber and Roy, the Stanleys developed a collection that would directly complement teaching goals for Roy’s introductory survey of African art history, which was organized by culture area. In addition to the high artistic quality of objects within The Stanley Collection of African art, the strength of the collection lies in its representative capacity. With superb examples from culture areas known as the Western Sudan, Guinea Coast, Equatorial Forest, Southern Savanna, and East Africa, the collection supported one of the most well-attended courses in the School of Art and Art History for many years.

The museum hired Victoria Rovine as its first full-time curator of African art in 1995. She swiftly developed the museum’s collection of African textiles, with examples from Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Morocco. In 2009, curator David M. Riep was instrumental in shoring up the museum’s South African collection, which includes arts of dress and personal adornment in Xhosa, Thembu, Mfengu, and South Sotho styles. Over the last five years, the African collection has grown to include a significant pottery collection, as well as a complete, Ait Khabbash-style bridal ensemble from southeast Morocco. With historical objects as a strong foundation for the African collection, the museum is currently pursuing work by contemporary artists in Africa and African Diaspora. Recent acquisitions include works by Taiye Idahor (b. 1984) and Abdoulaye Konaté (b. 1953).

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Collection Highlights

Mask of a human face with scarification patterns and an intricate textured hairstyle.

Female face mask (mwana pwo)

Chokwe style; Angola or Democratic Republic of the Congo
Wooden mask, divided into three main sections: an oval face with two very large round eyes, a diamond-shaped mouth, and a vertical hook which represents the bill of a hornbill, a rectangle decorated with two horizontal zig-zag lines, and a crescent moon shape with two more concentric circles.

Plank mask

Winiama style; Burkina Faso
Large piece of bright yellow cotton cloth which features columns containing a variety of repeating symbols in black called adinkra that each hold their own distinct historic and philosophical meanings for the Asante people.

Adinkra cloth

Asante style; Ghana
Elegant rounded vessel which narrows towards the top, angles out at the opening, and has engraved, arched lines two-thirds of the way up the body.

Storage vessel

Lobi style; Burkina Faso or Côte d'Ivoire
Garment with wide square sleeves. It has a navy base with detailed red patterns on the sleeves, around the neck, and on front bottom. Small yellow and blue diamonds are scattered throughout.

Man's gown

Bamileke style; Cameroon
Large earthenware pot with a stout base and sides that angle slighly inward as they reach the top then flare out again creating a rim around the opening.


Songye style; Democratic Republic of the Congo
Wide beaded collar that forms most of a circle. The beading is intricate, and arranged colored bands from the smallest to largest: blue, pink, blue, white, blue, pink, blue with five pairs of white dots at regular intervals.

Woman's collar (ingqosha)

Mfengu style; South Africa
Long rectange of woven fabric with patterns of lines and zig-zag shapes in shiny gold and navy threads.


Igbira style; Nigeria
Necklace of large amber beads with red tassels on each end. The beads decrease in size at either end of the necklace and there are two metal chains connecting the sides.


Ait Khabbash style; Morocco
Dark brown, rounded vessel with a short round base and small circular opening at the top.

Storage vessel (jidaga)

Bamana style; Mali
Colorful beaded apron with diamonds of bright colors and sets of shell beads that create a fringe along the bottom.

Woman's beaded apron

Bana guili style; Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, or Chad
Shiny black pot with two round, bulbous section, the bottom of which is larger, separated by a narrow cylinder and with a narrow cylinder at the top.


Tutsi style; Uganda
Black fabric tunic with rectangular panels featuring intricate patterns of stitching in yellow, red, orange, and white.

Man's tunic

Wodaabe or Bororo style; Niger
A dark, wooden mask with two large, curved horns that extend upwards and slightly outwards. The face includes a broad nose, large circular eyes, and an open mouth with five large, pointed teeth.

Horned mask

Igbo style; Nigeria
A detailed artwork of a red coral structure with intricate white blossoms, set against a dark background. The coral branches out in various directions, creating an asymmetrical yet balanced visual effect.


Taiye Idahor