Featured Acquisition

African Art at the FIA

The African Art collection at the FIA was established by a gift of more than 50 objects from Justice G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams in the 1970s. Williams was Michigan’s 41st governor, elected in 1948, serving six two-year terms in office. He later acted as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under President John F. Kennedy, and in 1970, he was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court, being named Chief Justice in 1983. During his time as Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, he traveled to Africa, where he collected artworks, later donating his collection to the Detroit Institute of Arts, Oakland University, and the FIA.  

Over the years, the FIA has continued to grow and refine the collection, acquiring important gifts and purchases to fill in cultural and geographical gaps.  As a result of exhibitions featuring African art, eight works were added to the collection recently. In 2019, Engaging African Art highlighted African artworks from the collection of Dr. Robert Horn with objects from more than 60 African cultures. Dr. Horn generously donated three works from this exhibition to the FIA: a comb from the Luba people, with its handle depicting a female figure from the torso up; a carved spoon in the shape of a female body without arms from the Zulu people of South Africa; and an exquisitely carved striated Kifwebe mask from the Songye people, personifying local control of mystic power among the Congo River basin. Other recent gifts inspired by this exhibition include two objects: an Nganga healing gourd and Kwere peoples’ maternity figure, generously donated by African art dealer Reynold Kerr and archaeologist Marlene Linville.  

In addition to gifts, several recent purchases were added to the collection through the 2018 exhibition, Art of Collecting, which also included African art. An Ashanti prestige stool, Makonde nyangwa pipe, and a Pende chief’s headdress were all acquired from this exhibition. These recent gifts and purchases are now on view in the Willson Galleries devoted to the arts of Africa.

Zulu Peoples, South Africa. Spoon, n.d. Wood. 17 1/8 inches. Gift of Dr. Robert Horn, 2019.7


Harvey K. Littleton, American, 1922 - 2013. Sliced Form, 1987. Blown and drawn glass, cut and polished. 251/2 × 6 × 3 inches. Museum purchase with funds donated by Jack and Stephanie A. Neal, 2019.1
Albert G. Richards, American, 1917–2008. Iris - German, ca. 1990–2000. Radiograph on paper. 14 × 11 inches. Gift of Dr. Seymour and Barbara K. Adelson, 2019.2 
Albert G. Richards, American, 1917–2008. Jack in the Pulpit, 1996. Radiograph on paper. 14 × 11 inches. Gift of Dr. Seymour and Barbara K. Adelson, 2019.3Albert G. Richards, American, 1917–2008. Lily - Solar, 1996. Radiograph on paper. 14 × 11 inches. Gift of Dr. Seymour and Barbara K. Adelson, 2019.4 
Luba people, Democratic Republic of Congo. Comb, n.d. Wood. 8 inches. Gift of Dr. Robert Horn, 2019.5Songye peoples, Democratic Republic of Congo. Kifwebe Mask, n.d. Wood 131/2 inches Gift of Dr. Robert Horn, 2019.6
Zulu peoples, South Africa Spoon, n.d. Wood 171/8 inches Gift of Dr. Robert Horn, 2019.7Kwere Peoples, Tanzania. Nganga’s Healing Gourd, n.d. Gourd, rope, wood. 73/4 inches. Gift of Marlene and Reynold Kerr, 2019.8
Kwere Peoples, Tanzania Maternity Figure, n.d. Wood 241/2 inches Gift of Marlene and Reynold Kerr, 2019.9 Shepard Fairey, American, born 1970. Flint Eye Alert Globe, 2017. Screenprint on paper. 24 × 18 inches. Gift of Elisabeth Saab and Chad Hansen, 2019.10 
Abraham Anghik Ruben, Canadian, born 1951 Bear, 2006 Soapstone 23/4 inches Gift of Samantha and Kerstin in memory of their beloved uncle, Thomas Calhoun, 2019.11  Dee Knott, American, 1943–2013. Untitled (shipwreck), n.d. Watercolor on paper. 8 × 12 inches. Anonymous gift 2019.12 
Desiree Kelly, American. Shields, n.d. Oil and spray paint on traffic sign. 35 × 35 inches. Museum purchase with funds from the Collection Endowment, 2019.13