The exhibit is comprised of about 100 African gold pieces on loan from the complete collection that is approximately 800 African gold pieces and is housed permanently at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
“It is a sampling of the different aspects of the collection,” said Chelsea Dacus, assistant curator for the MFAU.
Dacus and several other staff members from the museum and a special group of art handlers were in Beeville on Sept. 7, to assemble the one-of-a-kind collection.
The majority of the collection is from the Akan people in Ghana.
As visitors walk around the exhibit and read captions, they will realize that the shiny gold pieces have a much deeper meaning than just aesthetically pleasing.
“They (Akan people) have a strong visual representation culture, so almost everything has a meaning,” Dacus said.
The Akan used certain animals and objects to represent certain things. Many of the figures had proverbs that went with them that meant certain things to the culture.
One such example is a man seated at a table across from a standing man rubbing his stomach. The proverb that goes with the figure says “The food is more the man who owns it and not for the man who is hungry.” According to the caption for the statue, the proverb is not about sharing but rather the “food is a metaphor for chieftaincy, which belongs only to the rightful owner or heir to the position. In Ghana, as elsewhere, many people desire to be chief; this motif discourages illegitimate claims to succession.”
Many other examples of the objects having proverbial meanings can be seen as visitors walk through the rooms and examine the various pieces.
Dacus explained that the pieces are mostly from the 19th and 20 century, but some are older. Ak`an kings have a custom that, when they come into power, they sell off the previous king’s gold pieces and use that money to make new pieces that are entirely unique to them.
The entire Glassell Collection is the largest collection of Akan gold outside of Ghana and that is part of the reason that the Houston Museum chose to have portions of the collection travel.
“We just hope we can share the wisdom of other cultures and the great artistry,” Dacus said.
The partial exhibit has also traveled to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., and even to The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Russia.
This is only the second time the collection has made a stop in a Texas museum outside of Houston.
Tracy Saucier, director for the Barnhart Foundation and Beeville Art Museum (BAM), said the Beeville museum has been working on getting this exhibit for four years. The late curator for the Houston museum was interested in the educational programs that BAM offered and thought the gold exhibit would be a good teaching exhibit, but both museums had to wait until the timing was right.
Saucier is excited to have the African gold exhibit finally here in Beeville.
“It is a culture we have not yet touched on,” she said.
It will be one of the more unique exhibits the museum has hosted, and Saucier wants both the students and residents of the community to realize there is more to art than just paintings. She said increased attendance to BAM because of the exhibit “is just a bonus.”
Crystal Farris, education director for the BAM, is especially excited about being able to expose the students of the community to such an exhibit.
“I think they (the students) are going to love it,” she said. “It (the exhibit) has an abundant amount of information to pass along.”
Due to the educational partnership the museum has with the Beeville school district, many of the students will see the exhibit through a school class while it is here. Along with the tour, the students will have a hands-on art lesson taught by Farris that relates to the exhibit.
To prepare not only for the educational tours but also the general public, the docents of the museum are going through a special two-hour training course to learn about the exhibit so they can pass along that knowledge to everyone that comes through the doors.
The exhibit will be on display at the BAM from Sept. 17 through January 2012. As with all exhibits at the museum, this one is free and open to the public during museum operating hours. However, security will be provided around the clock.
In celebration of the new exhibit, the museum will hold an open reception on Saturday from noon until 2 p.m. The reception will feature a performance and storytelling by a West African drum master and storyteller.