Man Explains How He Assembled the Largest African Artifacts Collection In America
Reported by Ashley Naples
Eric Edwards is an African art /artifacts collector and the Executive Director and Founder of the Cultural Museum of African Art Eric Edwards Collection — an entity he hopes to open with the community’s financial support in 2016.
Edwards has been collecting African artifacts for over 44 years. The 2,400 artifacts in his possession encompass the history of all 54 African countries. The ages of these items cover a period of over 4,000 years.
The collection consists of many “one of a kind” unique items such as the most important palace drum. Some of the artifacts are 7-feet tall, with hundreds of individual and unique Yoruba Ibeji twin figures (The Yoruba have the highest number of natural birth twins in the world!) from Nigeria. Other artifacts include an extraordinary beaded helmut of the Bamileke people of the Cameroons — the most beautiful in the world and belonged to the King.
One of the drums from Edward’s collection, an extremely rare Bata drum, currently sits in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Edwards has assembled one of the largest, oldest and significant privately owned collections of African artifacts in the U.S.
His efforts to build the Cultural Museum of African Art Eric Edwards Collection are largely motivated by people of African descent knowing their history and also for educating all ethnicities in order to enhance mutual respect, which leads to true equality.
Edwards says he hopes people of the Diaspora will become more involved and actively aware of the possession of Africa’s artifacts by museums, auction houses, and galleries nationally and internationally, and to motivate them to know their culture.
In discussing his commitments, Edward says: “I am committed to presenting, preserving and interpreting African ‘Arts’ and honoring the cultures that produced them. I am also committed to encouraging all people of all races to join this effort to better know the emerging economies of Africa through its art.”
Check out our interview with him below:
Q: What was the inspiration behind your decision to collect African artifacts?
A: The inspiration for my collecting African artifacts started with my love of Africa and its magnificent history in science, medicine, agriculture, architecture, metallurgy, etc. This was instilled in myself, my brother Milton (now an artist, and musician), and my sister Myrna ( an educator) as very young children by my father James. He knew that this was history that we wouldn’t be taught in the New York City public school system. He had learned this history in Barbados, British West Indies from Quakers who felt that he needed to know his history of origin. He emigrated to the US at the age of 17 years old. He felt by our knowing our history that it would be an inoculation in us against racism, or our feeling that we could be lesser than anybody else; while my dear mother Eleanor in her divine wisdom made sure that we never thought we were better than anyone else! My father wasn’t an art collector, but a dental technician, welder, and taxicab driver concurrently, so that my mother could be a stay-at-home mom. He never could have forsaw the path that I have taken, with the culmination of my African art collection, in his wildest dreams.
Q: Please explain the process you endured while retrieving, collecting, and/or restoring African artifacts.
A: My professional career started while attending college, at AT&T in 1967 as a technician. I rapidly moved through the ranks to the title of Network Designer, and later as Technical Consultant on the Fortune 100 Accounts, and as a Sales Consultant Manager, with later careers at US Robotics, 3Com Corporation, a startup EmergeCore Neworks, and Sine Nomine Associates IBM Consultants and Developers. I was also an audiophile, and a lover of music, having belonged to two prestigious audiophile societies in the tri-state region. It was while attending these monthly meetings that I began to see African art in the homes of several members (whom were typically doctors, engineers, psychiatrists, etc. and also of non-African descent). They shared with me how they acquired their pieces in auctions and galleries, etc. From that point, I started going to auctions and galleries nationwide, and started purchasing African Art. I travelled the US because of my technical assignments, but all off hours were spent in gallery and museum browsing. I studied and went to Africa with Dr. Ben Yochanon. I later developed personal relationships with African Royal families, which is where some of this magical art comes from. I hope to bring their representatives to meet the public when the museum opens. I also have a significant number of African dealers who travel to the US once or twice per year to bring me rare unique items that they know may interest me, as well as pieces from personal collections. I even have pieces that I purchased from museums early on.
Q: What advice can you offer Black Americans who want to come closer to their African roots?
A: My advice is for each African American to purchase an item of African art that was made in Africa. It doesn’t have to be expensive, or a collectible; however, it is so important for them to learn what is the significance of that piece, what was its purpose? Why was it made? What people or ethnic group? What country? Is it an initiation piece? Is it ancestral? Is it from a male or female secret society? By doing just that, you will learn so much more about yourself, and your heritage. For other ethnicities, or races, you will learn so much more about people of color and the Diaspora, which will lead to mutual appreciation, respect, and understanding.
Q: In your opinion, what are the top three (3) things every Black American should know about their cultural ties to Africa?
A: Here are three things Black Americans should know about their cultural ties to Africa: 1 – Where they come from in Africa, derived through a DNA test (the museum will offer this as a future service free after its opening). 2 – They should know some of the great things that were first introduced in Africa by their ancestors (e.g. architecture, agriculture, metallurgy, carvings, etc.)3 – Find out what were the African value systems for excellence, family care, knowledge, etc.
Q: Where can people learn more information about you and the Cultural Museum of African Art?
A: Visit the website: www.cmaaeec.com. and view some of the interviews about the museum: http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/brooklyn-man-to-build-african-art-museum-with-personal-collection-477605443609
Q:Can you share one story illustrating how your connection to Africa has improved your life?
A: My connection to Africa for me is ongoing because of the wonderful experiences that I have everyday in living with the artifacts, and with the ancestral spirits that are contained within them. By this knowledge I have become a much better person, and observer of life and ancestry, which has endowed me with a huge self-belief in myself and our people as far as our capabilities and sense of accomplishment, and in knowing that I can accomplish whatever I will, or achieve the highest heights, providing I do the work required, and strive for excellence – “That is the teachings of the ancestors through the art.” My life has been exemplified through accomplishment.
Q: How can people contact you with additional questions?
A: Via phone at 718-399-9053 and via email email@example.com.