Tuesday, January 17, 2012

African Art Collection to Land at Brooklyn Museum

William Siegmann's love of travel turned into a stint in the Peace Corps and led him to Liberia where he developed a passion for African art. Now, some of the pieces he collected will go to museums around the country, including the Brooklyn Museum, where Mr. Siegmann once worked.
Mr. Siegmann, who died this past November, was born in Minneapolis in 1943. That he developed a passion for collecting and travel is not surprising. His father, a doctor, was an avid stamp and coin collector and his mother, a nurse, enjoyed travel. Mr. Siegmann's brother, Arthur, recalls that his brother became hooked on travel after a trip to Finland during high school.
In 1965, Mr. Siegmann joined the Peace Corps and went to work in Liberia. He fell in love with the country's culture and people and made art from Liberia and Sierra Leone the focus of his work.
"He lived and breathed Liberia," said his brother, Arthur Siegmann.
Mr. Siegmann would continue to visit and work in Liberia throughout his life, earning two Fulbright fellowships to study in the country. He was a professor at Cuttington University in Monrovia, Liberia, and started its Africana Museum. Later, he worked to oversee the renovation of the National Museum of Liberia. Beginning in 1997 and lasting for two decades, Mr. Siegmann worked as a curator for the Brooklyn Museum and helped to acquire some 1,600 pieces for its African and Pacific collections.
He especially liked masks and had an extensive, valuable collection of items used in initiation rituals for young women. He collected statues, carved stone, wood objects and metal figures. His collection spread throughout his Brooklyn apartment—his bedroom was a wall of carved masks—and overflowed into a warehouse space. He loved jewelry, textiles, games and everyday items like spoons and bowls, which he gifted to family members and used in his own kitchen.
The bulk of his collection, valued at some $750,000, will go to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which is working to develop a traveling exhibit of his collection. The Brooklyn Museum and Atlanta's High Museum of Art, among others, will also receive pieces.
Like most collectors, there's never just one passion. Mr. Siegmann's family says that he also loved cooking and food. He was his family's historian and curator of the family Christmas ornaments. He enjoyed music and attended the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village.
In the last few weeks, Arthur Siegmann says that the outpouring of photos and memories from his brother's work in Liberia has been overwhelming.
"He has had a service in Liberia, Minneapolis and New York. I don't know too many people who have multiple services including one in Liberia," said Arthur Siegmann. "A lot of people we know, but others are coming out of the woodwork. People loved and respected him and the great work he had done to promote the art and people of Liberia and Sierra Leone."

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