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Art of Africa Opens at Thorne Gallery

Ceremonial mask by the Yaka People, Democratic Republic of Congo
Ceremonial mask by the Yaka People, Democratic Republic of Congo

KEENE, N.H., 8/13/10 - From carved serving bowls to ceremonial masks, art is interwoven into the African way of life, as shown in an exhibit to open Friday, September 3, through Sunday, October 31, at the Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery at Keene State College.

Art of Africa: Objects from the Collection of Warren Robbins depicts how life and art come together in African culture. The exhibit presents more than 60 objects including sculpture, textiles, beaded clothing, and jewelry, which broadly represent the creativity and diversity of artistic expression of nearly 30 cultures of sub-Saharan Africa. Accompanied by a video on African masks and dance, the exhibition illustrates the broader cultural context in which these art forms were created and used.

Robbins was founding director of the National Museum of African Art, now a branch of the Smithsonian Institution. He discovered African art while serving in the American Diplomatic Service in Germany and Austria from 1950 to 1960. Robbins visited an African art dealer’s shop near Hamburg, where the African objects immediately captured his interest and imagination. He returned to the United States with a small collection of 32 objects, the beginnings of a collection that later grew to include 5,000 pieces. Robbins opened the Museum of African Art on Capitol Hill, the first museum in the U.S. devoted exclusively to the rich, creative heritage of Africa. Its stated purpose was to “foster a deeper understanding of African culture, its history, its values, its creative tradition,” and its relevance to lives of contemporary Americans.

Originally collected by European explorers and ethnologists as academic specimens or curios, African sculpture had, by the end of the 19th century, begun to accumulate in European natural history museums and with dealers in antiques and the “exotic” arts. At the beginning of the 20th century, a handful of European artists in France and Germany were intrigued by the unique forms and styles of African art and began to draw creative inspiration from them. The aesthetic significance of African art became highly appreciated and respected in Europe and served as a catalyst for the artistic revolution that ushered in modern art around the world.

The Art of Africa exhibit will be the focus of the Friends of the Thorne’s annual education program for area school children, scheduled for October 18-29. To schedule a group tour during this time, contact Colleen Johnson by phone at 603-358-2731 or by e-mail at

Art of Africa is from the collection of the Robbins Center for Cross Cultural Communication and organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C. Educational materials for Art of Africa were funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The summer exhibit, Passionate Pursuits: Keene State College Alumni, Faculty, Staff, and Our Community Partner the Friends of the Thorne Share Their Creations and Collectibles, reopens Friday, September 3, through Thursday, September 30. This non-juried exhibit presents an opportunity to appreciate the talent of more than 23 residents who live in the Monadnock Region and are members of the KSC family and/or Friends of the Thorne. The exhibit includes many examples of painting, photography, graphic design, sculpture, and wood and textile art, as well as jewelry, carvings, and paper designs.

The gallery’s new hours are: Sunday to Wednesday, noon to 5 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, noon to 7 p.m.; and Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. It will be closed Monday, September 6, for Labor Day. The exhibits and education program are free and open to the public.

Located on Wyman Way on the Keene State campus, the gallery is accessible to people with disabilities. For information, call 603-358-2720 or visit”.

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