Last month, I wrote about African art and its ever increasing popularity in the American art scene. The LSUA University Gallery will present viewers in Central Louisiana an opportunity to see some of this art up close and personal. Our upcoming show will feature pieces from the collections of Arnold Aubert Vernon and Alexandria resident, Peggy (Mrs. Harry) Brian. The show will open on Tuesday, November 22nd, with a reception from 5:00pm to 7:00pm.
Arnold Vernon grew up in Alexandria and graduated from Bolton High School and LSU. His career as a commercial banker has taken him throughout the world. Vernon has collected art wherever his travels have taken him, amassing a large collection of non-Western art pieces. He currently lives in southern California. Several years ago, Mr. Vernon donated a portion of his collection to LSUA. It was first exhibited at the AMoA in 2010 as part of LSUA’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Following that show, the art pieces were brought to the campus and installed in our permanent collection. Several African pieces are among the donated collection.
Peggy Brian and her late husband, Dr. Harry Brian, have long been Central Louisiana arts patrons. Dr. Brian was not only an outstanding physician but a fine musician as well. For many years, he played cello in the Rapides Symphony Orchestra. Peggy continues to be active in the arts. The Brian Collection of African art contains many fine examples of native art and crafts, primarily from Kenya. The Brian’s daughter, Mimi Brian Vance, served in the diplomatic corps for several years, taking her to Kenya, where much of their art was acquired.
A visit to the Brian home opens up a world of African art for all to see. The beauty of this is that the art is functional and has become an integral part of the décor of the house. And, after all, that is what art should be about. Not just for display purposes, art should reflect society and the world in which it exists. Both music and the visual arts have found a welcome shelter within the walls of “Chateau Brian.” It is a joy to wander about and study the various pieces, some ritualistic and serious, others whimsical. Peggy Brian lives within this wonderful world of the arts and is most generous in her sharing of it. She has graciously loaned the University Gallery some excellent pieces of African art that you will not want to miss seeing.
The Vernon pieces in our permanent collection are primarily Shona sculpture from what is now Zimbabwe. Artists were carving stones more than 2,000 years ago in the area known as Great Zimbabwe. Shona sculpture underwent a revival in the mid-19th century. Shona art reflects the people’s belief in animism, that every object has a spirit. This life spirit determines what the stone will become and it is the artist’s responsibility to release the spirit from the stone. Shona sculpture defines the unity between the two worlds, spiritual and physical.
The art of Kenya, found in the Brian Collection, often focuses on animals. Certain ones are considered sacred as, for example, the giraffe. The Kisii people of Kenya believe that the giraffe is sacred because of its great height, enabling the animal to see above day to day life into the future. Giraffes are welcome near the villages for their ability to see both good and bad omens. They are carved from both wood and soapstone. Some outstanding examples of fabric and textile art will also be on exhibit.
This exhibit is being held in conjunction with a guest presentation by Mimi Brian Vance on Wednesday. Mimi Vance has done extensive research and developed a program to aid parents in communicating with pre-speech infants through the use of sign language. She will speak on her methods of teaching sign language and offer her books for sale.
Our exhibit on African art is the first of the University Gallery’s shows for this academic year. The line-up of guest and student shows promises to bring some unique art to the Gallery and we are excited to be able to present our shows to the community. With the opening of the new IMPAC building on campus, the arts facilities are the best that money can buy. Resulting work will show this in a tangible form. We invite the community to attend the upcoming and all shows presented on our campus this year. For more information, please contact (318) 473-6449.