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African Collection

Detail: Child Taken by Mermaid by Melania Mazinyani

The African continent is defined by a spectrum of cultural diversity that constitutes a mosaic of human expression. The Spencer’s collection of more than 2,000 works of African art and material culture celebrates these many artistic practices and traditions, from ancient Egyptian sculpture, to West African metalwork, to contemporary painting.

African art came to the Museum through a variety of channels, including Sallie Casey Thayer’s founding gift in 1917. A significant portion of the collection was also collected by people affiliated with the University. Alumnus Claude D. Brown assembled more than 400 works of art while working as an engineer in Central Africa in the early 1900s, which he donated to the University in 1915. Subsequent additions have come from KU students, faculty, and affiliates who lived, worked, and conducted research in Africa, as well as from passionate collectors. More recently, Museum purchases have expanded this collection in ways that insert Africa into global dialogues about art, environment, culture, and social change. This combination ensures that visitors can experience the diversity and ingenuity of traditional art alongside the creativity and passion emerging from the vast continent today.