The University of Pittsburgh’s African Heritage Classroom Committee has received a donation of eight important African artifacts from Ralph Proctor, a Pitt alumnus and professor at the Community College of Allegheny County who is a nationally recognized collector of African art.
Why donate? More like why not said Proctor, who has been associated with the room since its very beginning and just though it would be a good idea.
“I know that sometimes they don’t have a sufficient number of items to display, and since I’ve been very fortunate to be able to collect hundreds of these items, I thought it would be a good way for more people to see African art, and to honor the work of those people who have spent so many years doing the work.”
As far as his reknowned personal collection goes, he said it didn’t really take off until he started doing the “Black Horizons Show” on WQED. In his first year as the Host/Producer, he decided he wanted to do an African art exhibition.
“And so I tried to borrow pieces of African art, I had none of my own, from people that others told me had African art, and it turned out that all of those people had only tourist African art, ‘airport art’ as we call it, and it did not represent the art form. So I decided the next time I did a show, I was going to do it from my own collection. And I thought, well once I have 50, then that would be good enough. When I got 50, that led to 100, then that led to 200, and eventually I think I got up to somewhere around 1000 pieces.”
In addition, Proctor, who is also the Community College of Allegheny County’s chief diversity officer, announced that he will make an annual donation of African art to the African Heritage Classroom Committee in honor of Pitt history professor Glasco. This year, that donation will be a Benin bronze casting of a head of a queen mother.
Proctor said his donated pieces simply represent a wide range of African artifacts that people generally don’t get to see.
“I wanted people to be able to look at the beauty of African art, understand the meaning of African art, and each one has its own significance; each one has a name, each one has a specific use in the culture.”
Some of the pieces donated by Proctor on Feb. 6 include
• A Bundu mask of the Sande secret society, the Mende People, Sierra Leone. This mask was worn by women who were members of the secret society that guided girls in their transition to womanhood.
• A Makonde helmet mask, made of wood and human hair, from Tanzania.
• A wooden spirit mate statue, representing the soul of a royal spirit mate who dwells in the parallel spirit world.
• A ceremonial mask from the Dan people, Ivory Coast.
• A Royal Kente cloth from the Ashanti People, Ghana. This men’s garment was worn exclusively by members of the royal court.
• A priest’s divination board, Yoruba People, Nigeria.
The African Heritage Room is one of Pitt’s 29 Nationality Rooms, all of which are housed in the Cathedral of Learning. Designed to represent an Ashanti courtyard in Ghana, the African Heritage Classroom was dedicated in 1989.