Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Fowler Artifacts

In case you missed it: The LA Times ran a story about various African artifacts taken from various locations during the colonial period and now either being returned or - at least - under pressure to be returned.

Two museums in the Los Angeles area are included in the story. One is LACMA. The other is UCLA's Fowler Museum.

...Locally, UCLA’s Fowler Museum holds the largest number of them. Founded in 1963 as the Museum and Laboratories of Ethnic Arts and Technology by Chancellor Franklin Murphy (later chairman of Times Mirror Co., The Times’ former parent), the museum soon received an enormous gift of some 30,000 works from London’s Wellcome Trust, established by American-born British pharmaceutical entrepreneur Henry Wellcome (1853-1936). Murphy, a physician, was familiar with the drug tycoon’s haul. 

Wellcome was a voracious collector of scientific and archaeological artifacts and amassed more than a million objects during his lifetime. He acquired several Benin works before he died...

Fowler Museum Director Marla C. Berns, a scholar of African art, and museum curator Erica P. Jones are leading a seven-person team tracing provenance, or the history of ownership, of works in the enormous Wellcome gift. So far, midway through a 3½ year research initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation, six objects lead straight to the Benin palace attack.

An ivory tusk that adorned an altar commissioned by a mid-19th century oba, carved with elaborate figures, was bought at a 1931 London auction. According to Berns, the Foster and Son’s auction catalog described the tusk as “property of a Gentleman who was a member of the Benin expedition.” ...

The Fowler has a board of trustees... but it’s also under the purview of UCLA. The museum’s prominent collection is held by the UC Regents. Formal deaccession is a lengthy process...

Full story at

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