An encounter across the distances: a virtual journey to engage Marie Watt’s Blanket Stories

•September 1, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Sometimes, an exhibition has the power to open minds and hearts, even through the virtual connection of the Internet. Today, I encountered one such exhibition, Blanket Stories: Transportation Object, Generous Ones, Trek, a sculptural installation by Marie Watt for the Haub Family Galleries at the Tacoma Art Museum. I encourage you to follow the link and engage one or more of these glimpses into the lives of those who participated in the project, and into the artist’s vision.

Jeanne Figueira Grossetti


Power and Presence

•April 9, 2011 • 2 Comments

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend an evening with an enthusiastic group of docents at the Cleveland Museum of Art as we explored together works in the sub-Saharan Africa Gallery. For the docents, and for other visitors to this blog, I offer this small collection of resources from my presentation on the topic (plus a wonderful resource I encountered today).

Please check back from time to time, as the list will continue to grow. And thank you for your visit!

All the best,

“Let me explain to him the whispers of the teachings.”
–Lega saying (Source: University of Michigan Museum of Art)


Resources from the Cleveland Museum of Art

Collection Online: Department of African Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Thumbnails lead to larger images and information about objects in the sub-Saharan African collection. By adding a search filter, the results can be narrowed by ethnic group, type of work, etc.

Masks and Masquerade (Film on YouTube)
The Cleveland Museum of Art, from original footage by Amanda Carlson
This short film, also on the Cleveland Museum of Art web site (Online Tour section), shows a masquerade performance by women of the Ejagham people of Nigeria, one of whom is wearing a headdress very similar to the skin-covered headdress in the CMA collection.

South of the Sahara: Selected Works of African Art
Constantine Petridis (author)
Cleveland: The Cleveland Museum of Art (2003)
Illuminating catalog of select works that are on display in the sub-Saharan gallery. This book includes introduction to geographic areas and concepts; large color images and discussion of selected works, and many field photographs to provide cultural context.

~Note: A helpful review of South of the Sahara can be found online in African Studies Review 48.1 (2005) 202-204

A World of Great Art: African Art
Cleveland: The Cleveland Museum of Art (2002)
This short book is a very useful introduction to African Art for educators.

Other Resources on African Art and Culture

African Mosaic
National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution
A resource encountered since my April 6 presentation, this exciting web site includes images and discussion of both historic and contemporary African art, with additional resources.

Art and Oracle: African Art and Rituals of Divination
Metropolitan Museum of Art
A vast web site that augments the exhibition Art and Oracle (2000), this is a comprehensive and excellent resource for images and information about divination in Sub-Saharan Africa. Among the resources are 50 images with explanatory text; a map, glossary, and bibliography; and several dynamic essays.

Benin: Royal Art of Africa from the Museum Fur Volkerkunde, Vienna (African art)
Armand Duchateau (Author)
Houston: Museum of Fine Arts; Munich: Prestel, 1994
Informative and beautiful catalog of an exhibition of royal art from Benin that came to The Cleveland Museum of Art in the 1990s; includes information about the technology of lost-wax brasscasting as practiced by Benin artists.

“Divination in Sub-Saharan Africa” (Art and Oracle)
John Pemberton III (author)
This essay, which begins on page 10 of Art and Oracle (, illuminates divination practices of several sub-Saharan African peoples. Of special note, the complex system of Ifa divination, practiced by the Yoruba, is explained well.

“Power Figure (Nkisi) [Kongo peoples Democratic Republic of Congo] (1979.206.127).”
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
Image and discussion of an nkisi power figure in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with interesting discussion of the form and function of these figures in their cultural context.

Iyare: Splendor and Tension in Benin’s Palace Theatre
Kathy Curnow (Curator)
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
This online exhibition catalog contains dozens of object images and field photographs, as well as in-depth discussion of ancient and contemporary Benin art and culture; includes resources for educators.

“Likeness and Nearness: The Intentionality of the Head in Baule Art”
Philip Ravenhill (author)
African Arts Vol. 33, No. 2 (Summer, 2000), pp. 60-71+92
JSTOR location:
A fascinating and compelling argument that both concept and perception are involved in the exaggerated proportions of the head relative to the rest of the body in Baule art, and possibly in much other African figurative art as well.

“Prince Twins Seven Seven”
Porter Faculty Gallery, Porter College, University of California at Santa Cruz
This online exhibition announcement includes concise information about the contemporary Nigerian artist Twins Seven Seven, along with two images of his work.

“Senufo Arts and Poro Initiation in Northern Cote d’Ivoire”
Susan Elizabeth Gagliardi
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
Concise, illuminating discussion of Senufo arts and Poro associations of Northern Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Fasso, with images and links to related resources.

Sub-Saharan Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art
Ken Kelsey and Gail Davitt (Preparers)
Dallas Museum of Art, 2000
This educator’s resource from the Dallas Museum’s Education staff includes a table of contents, numerous resources for teachers and tour leaders, and docent check lists. Several works of art are featured on single-page activity sheets with a sketch of the object, basic information, and questions for discussion.

Yoruba Art and Culture
Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology
An educator’s resource from the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, this pdf file includes a table of contents and numerous resources on Yoruba art and culture.

Yoruba : Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought
Henry John Drewal and John Pemberton, 3rd with Rowland Abiodun (authors); Allen Wardwell (editor)
New York: Center for African Art in Association with H.N. Abrams, 1989
This book, which accompanied a major exhibition of the art of the Yoruba people, provides important insight into the art and culture of a large ethnic group in Africa and a tradition that spread broadly in the Americas. The book is out of print, but available through booksellers and libraries.


“African Art in the Collection of Jacques Lipchitz”
African Arts, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Summer 1970), pp. 48-51
Available through JSTOR
This brief article discusses the relationship between the works of African art in Lipchitz’ personal collection and his own creative work. Includes illustrations from the collection, and relevant quotes from Lipchitz.

“African Influences in Modern Art”
Denice Murrell (Author)
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Helibrunn Timeline of Art History
This article explores the emergence of African art as a powerful influence on European avant-garde artists in the development of modern art.

Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums
Carol Duncan (Author)
London and New York: Routledge, 1995
An examination of the museum space; chapter 1: “The Art Museum of Ritual” is particularly relevant to a discussion of the art museum as a ritual context for works of art, including the ritual art of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Each in Their Own Voice: African-American Artists in Cleveland 1970-2005
Cleveland: Cleveland State University Art Gallery, 2009
D. Anthony Mahone’s photograph Possession, which was included in the 2009 exhibition, is reprinted in this catalog, along with information about the artist. [A small version of the image, along with an audio interview with the artist, is available through Cleveland Memory at]

Ingenuity Fest (Cleveland)
Web site for Cleveland’s annual community festival of art and technology, which encourges exploration and participation – performance – by artists and audience.

Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space
Brian O’Doherty (Author), Thomas McEvilley (Introduction)
Berkeley: University of California, 1999
A fascinating examination of the gallery space as “a unique chamber of aesthetics,” and of the processes that take place in that chamber.

“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)”
The Museum of Modern Art: The Collection
This online collection entry provides information about the 1907 painting by Picasso, including publication excerpts that discuss the African imagery in the painting and Picasso’s influences.

Robin Latkovich: Experimental Aesthetician
Web site for Cleveland installation artist discussed during April 6 presentation, whose work engages with concepts including: the ephemeral nature of art, human presence in place, and the sublime – concepts which we may also encounter in the art of Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Topsy Turvy Sculpture by Alison Saar”
Arizona State University Art Museum/ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts
Information about the artist and a 2002 exhibition of her work at the ASU Art Museum

War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin
Carlos M.N. Eire (Author)
Cambridge, New York, New Rochelle, Melbourne, Sydney: Cambridge University Press, 1986
The author argues that 16th century reformers, particularly Calvin, saw traditional Christian practices in Europe as a form of idolatry. He suggests that by stressing scripture-based theology and a metaphysics that drew firm boundaries between spirit and matter, the Calvinist reformers began to emphasize an uncompromisingly spiritual form of worship (and a transcendent deity), and that this laid the foundations for social unrest.


“What is Puja?”
Puja: Expressions of Hindu Devotion
Smithsonian Museum, 1997
Part of a larger web resource for educators, this explanation of the Hindu practice of puja as “the act of showing reverence to a god, a spirit, or another aspect of the divine through invocations, prayers, songs, and rituals” allows for cross-cultural comparison and contrast with ritual practices of Sub-Saharan Africa.


The Ritual Process
Victor Turner (Author)
New York: Aldine, 1969
One of the primary writers on the subject of ritual, Victor Turner, observed that liminality – a threshold state of experience that punctuates each human life and every culture – is one of the primary conditions “in which are frequently generated myths, symbols, rituals… and works of art.” This classic work explores ritual in communities around the world, including Africa and America.

“Field School” ~ Summer 2009

•August 12, 2009 • 2 Comments

For three weeks this summer, I had the pleasure of working with a dedicated group of student artist-archaeologists (ages 9 to 12) enrolled in my “Dig This!” summer camp at the Fine Arts Association in Willoughby, Ohio. These seven young people invented civilizations, mapped them, and designed writing systems for them…  excavated and analyzed artifacts… and created art in a variety of media.

Working individually and in small groups, these four girls and three boys brought an abundance of imagination, creativity, and dedication to their work. As I shared what I understand about art and archaeology with them, they revealed to me their unique talents as artists and investigators.  I am very grateful to them, and to Nisha Ramnath, who joined the team as a volunteer assistant and quickly became a valued co-teacher.

Students enrolled in "Dig This!" summer camp carefully remove soil layer-by-layer to expose buried clues. In archaeology, context is everything. The relationships among artifacts, ecofacts, features and structures tells the story of people's lives.

Students enrolled in "Dig This!" summer camp carefully remove soil one layer at a time, to expose buried clues.

In archaeology, context is everything. The relationship among clues – artifacts, ecofacts and features – tells the stories of people’s lives. In this “field school,” students learned to carefully follow procedures and take detailed notes, because once a site has been excavated, the original context is lost forever.

Teaching about the human experience through the discipline of archaeology can be a powerful method for engaging students with our shared past, while deepening their experience of the present and strengthening their vision for the future.

There are excellent resources for teachers who want to introduce the practices and insights of archaeology to their students. Several of these can be found under “Links: Online Culture Resources,” to the right. I wholeheartedly recommend these, particularly Archaeology for Educators, an excellent primer from the Society for American Archaeology, and Time Team America (from PBS), which is relevant, well-produced and full of cutting-edge science.

More to come…

Jeanne Figueira Grossetti

First reflections

•July 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

One of the first “aha” moments in my educational life came during the second or third grade, at the Pacific Grove (California) Museum, when I looked into a display case at a basket made by a Native American artisan. I remember wondering who had created it, how it could have been woven so tightly, how it had been used, and how it came to the museum. These questions, and my initial excitement in articulating them, continue to inspire me as a teacher, researcher and curator of works of art and craft. I delight in sharing this enthusiasm with others – students, colleagues, and visitors to art spaces.

To this end, I have developed courses which blend presentation (of images, objects, and ideas), discussion, and hands-on activities (writing, creating art,  excavating artifacts, and preparing exhibitions), to actively engage students with the arts and cultures of our world. Several of these courses have included field trips to the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. During a visit to the art museum, one of my students (who was age 12 at the time) told me that “the best way to understand a culture is through its art.”

Read more…

Jeanne Figueira Grossetti