Sunday, January 17, 2010
When you first meet Dana Mitchell of Memphis, Tennessee, the last thing that will occur to you is that Dana is one of the most noteworthy collectors of African art on the planet. A few weeks ago, Dana gingerly began moving more than 250 pieces from his collection to The Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff for the exhibit, “Expressions of African Culture.” Sans a few finishing touches, the exhibit was ready for opening day when we visited on Friday. This is the first time many of the exhibited objects will be available for public viewing.
Dana Mitchell is a friendly and outgoing sort on the surface, the type of man who meets no strangers. You think of Dana more as the neighbor on the other side of a backyard fence than a world class collector. But underneath, he is a roiling creature of curiosity. His education was in anthropology and archeology. These disciplines and the branches springing forth from them remain his passion. From a practical standpoint, he is a master electrician and a licensed electrical contractor in three states.
Surrounded by masks from the collection, Dana is quick to tell you, “The exhibit is not about me, it’s about the art.” He says he has always been fascinated by primitive cultures, and since there are more primitive cultures in Africa than any other place on the globe, that’s where his efforts lie. Dana acquired his first object in 1978 and has been at it ever since. He still has every piece he’s bought, noting that he is a collector, not a dealer.
African art, he explains, is practical art. Every piece has some use — either utilitarian, such as head rests, stools, and thrones for royalty, or spiritual in the instance of masks and statuettes. “On the spiritual side, these objects were a manifestation of a people’s curiosity,” he said. “Many designs are the perceived earthly incarnation of spiritual beliefs. Art and artists were an integral part of the society.”
Spanning the Centuries: This is one of two galleries displaying Dana’s collection. Objects in the exhibit range in age from the 5th century BC through the 20th century. The exhibit at the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff is open through April 24, 2010.
African art did not go unnoticed by the likes of Picasso and Gauguin, according to Dana. “Many believe the roots of the cubist movement lie in the impressions African art made on Picasso, Braque, and Cezanne,” Dana says. “It’s easy to see the similarity. The exhibit lets people see the art and learn more about the glue of society.”
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But wait, there’s more. Get the gory details of the mask repair and a see another view of the exhibit. See it on our blog,
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind.
Most of the time, there is more to the Photo of the Week story than can be told in an essay. And most of the time there are more pictures to be seen. Presuming that some folk will enjoy being privy to this trove of information, I have created a blog, “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind,” where I am showing and telling “the rest of the story." There are also some blatantly commercial mentions of some of the things we do to earn our beans and taters. Click on the Weekly Grist logo and go to the blog. — J. D.