Recent Acquisitions: Arts of Kenya

Mijikenda peoples, Kenya. Stool, 20th century (collected 1977). Wood. IU Art Museum 2014.266

A remarkable collection of over two hundred examples of the traditional arts of Kenya was recently acquired by the Indiana University Art Museum, making it the premier art museum in the country for research on traditional Kenyan visual arts.

The objects were field-collected in Kenya between 1973 and 1979 by Los Angeles collector and dealer Ernie Wolfe III. The collection is particularly strong in the arts of pastoral peoples, especially the Turkana and the Maasai, but it includes objects for everyday and special occasions from all over Kenya. About half of the collection consists of jewelry—bracelets, armlets, necklaces, earrings, labrets—and garments of hide, beads, ivory, and metal. Containers for food, drink, and personal items made of wood, calabash, hide, basketry are also well represented, as are stools and headrests. Walking sticks, shields, weapons, and tools round out the collection. A similar collection could not be assembled today because many of the objects are no longer being made or used.

Pokot peoples, Kenya. Headrest. 20th century (collected 1978). Wood, leather, glass beads, IU Art Museum 2014.247

As Ernie Wolfe considered a permanent home for this collection, his long friendship with Roy Sieber, who taught African art history at Indiana University from 1962 until his death in 2001, made Wolfe think of the IU Art Museum. Indeed, the collector has noted that Roy Sieber encouraged him to keep careful documentation of objects as he acquired them, and, as a result, each of the Kenyan objects has come to us with information about when and where it was acquired as well as how it was used.

Acquisition of this collection was made possible by the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Fund, which supports the arts of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Native and Pre-Columbian Americas at the IU Art Museum, with generous assistance from the IU Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President. Additional objects in the collection made of ivory, which can no longer be sold in the U.S., were given to the IU Art Museum by the Wolfe family in honor of Roy Sieber.

First shown in 1979 at the National Museum of African Art, this remarkable collection of the arts of Kenya will be on view in the IU Art Museum’s Special Exhibitions Gallery in spring 2016. Plans are also currently underway for a website to make images of the objects and information about them available worldwide.

Diane Pelrine
Raymond and Laura Wielgus Curator of the Arts of Africa, the South Pacific,
and the Americas. 

From the IU Art Museum to Sotheby’s: A Conversation with Aimee Pflieger

FullSizeRender (1)Aimee Pflieger is an Indiana University success story. After completing both a BA in Art History in 1999 and an MA in modern American art in 2001 at Indiana University, Aimee has been moving up in the world of art. During her college years she got a start working at the IU Art Museum as a Fess Graduate Assistant in the Works on Paper Department. After her time at IU, Aimee worked in galleries in Chicago and Philadelphia before beginning a significant tenure at Freeman’s Auction House. In 2015, Aimee was hired by Sotheby’s in New York, where she currently works as a Specialist in the Photographs Department. You might have even seen her on Antiques Roadshow when in April of 2015 she appraised the highest-valued photographs in the history of the show. Aimee was kind enough to take some time out of her busy day to discuss her current role at Sotheby’s and her time at IU and the IU Art Museum:

Indiana University Art Museum: What was your degree at IU, and what areas of study/topics were your focus?

Aimee Pflieger: I pursued a Master’s degree in art history, with a specialization in the history of photography. I also took a good deal of coursework in German, studio art, photojournalism, religious studies, and literature.

IUAM: Why did you attend IU? What drew you to IU and Bloomington?

AP: I had always heard about how fantastic IUB was for fine arts–music, theater, studio art, and more. As I was researching college options, I began to read more about the art history department at IUB and was impressed by the instructors and facilities and I knew that it would be a good choice for me. It turned out to be a better fit than I could have imagined, as I quickly learned how great it was to have a world-class, encyclopedic art museum on campus, as well as the wonderful Fine Arts Library a few paces from my dorm room.

IUAM: What was your first experience at the IU Art Museum?

AP: I visited the museum as a freshman in an art history survey class, and Ed Maxedon, the curator of education, gave us a tour of the museum highlights. His enthusiasm was infectious and he really made the collections come alive. It was at that time that I started looking into opportunities to work there in some capacity during my studies.

IUAM: Tell me about your time working at the IU Art Museum?

AP: I was very fortunate to have received the Fess Graduate Assistantship as a graduate student, which afforded me the opportunity to work with the works on paper area. Nan Brewer, the curator of works on paper, really went out of her way to mentor me, and I learned a great deal from her. I spent many hours cataloging photographs by Art Sinsabaugh, whose archives are held at the museum. I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the fact that I was able to see an artist’s entire body of work in one place until later in my career, when I realized how unique that situation truly was.

IUAM: What is your current position at Sotheby’s?

AP: I am a Specialist in the Photographs Department.

IUAM: How did you land the job?

AP: I saw the opening advertised on their website, and simply applied! It is a rare for an opening in that department to become available, so I knew I would have to jump at the opportunity. There was a series of interviews with the department to make sure that I was a good fit for the team, both in terms of my expertise but also my personality, since it’s a small, close-knit department.

IUAM: What is a typical day in your role at Sotheby’s?

AP: My workdays never look the same! Some of my responsibilities include visiting or speaking with potential consignors regarding their photographs and providing auction estimates for the works in their collections. I also advise buyers interested in particular lots in upcoming sales, since they may have questions about provenance or condition of an artwork. I assist with client appraisals for insurance purposes. Sometimes I spend time researching in our library and writing essays for our catalogues.

IUAM: How did your education at IU help prepare you for your role at Sotheby’s?

AP: Having access to such a wide range of coursework with world-renowned scholars was a boon to my career. After all, the history of art is really not just about art appreciation, but is composed of many different fields of study, such as language, religion, politics, and history.

IUAM: How did your experience at the IU Art Museum help you prepare for your job at Sotheby’s?

AP: During my fellowship I learned the basics of cataloging, doing condition reports, and handling artwork properly. That hands-on experience was invaluable.