February 8th - August 9th

African Brilliance: A Diplomat’s Sixty Years of Collecting

Kuba people, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Textile, 20th century

Kuba people, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Textile, 20th century, raffia, 59 1/4 x 26 inches. Gift of Allen Davis, E434900-0, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution.


African Brilliance Online Catalogue - Explore the extensive online catalogue with text entries, high resolution 360° images, and contextual videos

African Brilliance Virtual Tour - An interactive virtual tour with installation images, pictures of selected works, videos for guided viewing, and related art-making activities.

African Brilliance Gallery Talk - William Dewey, co-curator and Associate Professor of Art History (from Monday, April 20, 2020)

Lecture - The Missionary as Collector: Dr. George W. Harley in Liberia, 1925–1960 - Christopher B. Steiner, Lucy C. McDannel '22 Professor of Art History and Anthropology and Director of the Museum Studies Program, Connecticut College

African Brilliance: A Diplomat’s Sixty Years of Collecting presents a wide-ranging selection of African art from the notable collection amassed by Ambassador Allen Davis. His long career with the U.S. State Department afforded him the opportunity to build an outstanding collection representing many of the key cultures of East, Central, and West Africa. The exhibition features eighty-three objects by twentieth-century African artists from a variety of cultures across the continent, including the Dan people of Liberia, the Mossi and Lobi peoples of Burkina Faso, the Dogon and Bamana peoples of Mali, the Akan peoples of Ghana, and the Kuba peoples of Democratic Republic of the Congo, among others. The works include carved and decorated wooden sculptures, natural fiber and beaded textiles, metalwork, and ceramic pots that represent household, community, and ritual practices.

African Brilliance is organized by the Palmer Museum of Art and curated by William Dewey, associate professor of art history at Penn State, as well as Janet Purdy, doctoral candidate in art history at Penn State and Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow in African Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, and Mary Jo Arnoldi, curator emerita of African ethnology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. It will feature work collected by Davis from the Palmer's permanent collection, the private collection of Allen and Barbara Davis, the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of African Art, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the North Carolina Museum of Art.

An online catalogue accompanies the exhibition and features essays by Dewey, Purdy, and Arnoldi, as well as interviews with Davis and members of the Penn State community who have had firsthand experience with the types of objects presented in the exhibition. The catalogue is the first digital undertaking of its kind for the Palmer Museum and has been funded by a Strategic Initiative Seed Grant from Penn State's Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost. 

Explore other activities related to African Brilliance as welll as content from other Palmer exhibitions on our Virtual Museum Resources page.