This remarkable mask by the renowned African American artist Sargent Claude Johnson (1888–1967) is part of the Museum’s John Alexander mask collection. The collection, donated to the Museum in 1946, consists of about 150 masks from Africa, China, Japan, Central and North America, and Europe. Dr. Alexander (1891–1954) was a renowned physician at the U-M Hospital, where he was head of thoracic surgery and a pioneer in the treatment of tuberculosis. Beyond the individual objects in the collection, the Alexander Collection as a whole provides interesting insights on the role of individuals in the history of anthropological collecting and the formation of anthropology museums.
This is the only mask by a named contemporary artist in the collection. Sargent Johnson worked in the San Francisco area, producing works in a variety of mediums: ceramic, wood, copper, stone, porcelain, and paper. He also painted several large murals in the Bay Area as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project. His interests in African art are evident in this mask, which is one of several copper masks he is known to have made beginning in the 1930s.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.