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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