The African Art collection spans about 2,500 years and showcases historically significant works in a variety of materials that display the talent and extraordinary craftsmanship of Africa’s artists, past and present.
The Nelson-Atkins began collecting African art in 1958 with the acquisition of two 17th-century cast brass objects from the Benin Kingdom in Nigeria. In 1965, the museum purchased a well-documented 19th-century Asante royal stool decorated with sheet silver hammered with decorative motifs. While the collection grew slowly until 1983, subsequent years saw more aggressive acquisitions that added about 40 important works.
Although the African collection has steadily been built by gifts from local donors, major donations of more than 120 works from the Helzberg and Tranin families have substantially transformed and strengthened its overall quality.
Today the collection exceeds 400 objects and boasts several historically important works rendered in a variety of materials such as wood, brass, bead, terracotta, ivory and natural fibers. Represented are sculptures, ceramics, textiles, headdresses and bodily ornaments from more than 30 of the continent’s artistic cultures from western, central and southern Africa.
The African collection is displayed in the Bloch Building in Gallery L9. Videos and photographs introduce African culture and add context, showing visitors how objects are used in ceremonies or everyday life.