The African Collection

The Origins of the African Collection

By Colin (Dusty) Hind

Shortly after the Bermuda National Gallery opened its doors (30 years ago next month), it was decided that an exhibition of African art should be sought.

Conceived as both a national platform for local artists and an exhibition space for international works, it was quickly agreed that an exhibition honouring the cultural heritage of Bermuda’s African diaspora would be integral to BNG.

Advice was sought from BNG Trustee Colin (Dusty) Hind, an expert in African art who had begun collecting works from the continent 10 years earlier. He was asked to help secure a suitable exhibition and, later, a permanent collection of African art for the Bermuda National Gallery.

Here, Dusty Hind recounts the origins of the collection, which consists of 37 works, representing 22 peoples from 12 countries in sub-Saharan West Africa, ranging from ritual sculpture to masks, functional objects and textiles.

colin dusty hind bermuda national gallery
BNG Trustee Colin (Dusty) Hind stands next to a Kola Nut Bowl which he sourced from the Hemingway Gallery, NYC, for the Bermuda National Gallery’s permanent collection of African art. Photograph by Brandon Morrison.

In the summer of 1992, my wife Barbara and I contacted Susan Vogel, the Founding Director of the Museum for African Art in New York (now renamed The Africa Center). We visited with her and curator, Polly Nooter Roberts, at their offices on Broadway, opposite the new home of for the Museum being designed by Mya Lin, architect of the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington. The inaugural exhibit at the new premises was to be Secrecy, African Art that Conceals and Reveals.

Realizing that the show would present objects from all over Africa, rather than a single peoples or region, it was ideal as an exhibit for the Bermuda National Gallery after the New York presentation. Trustees Cyril Packwood and Dr. Charles Zuill joined me in presenting the idea to the whole Board of Trustees. Excitement grew and Secrecy, African Art that Conceals and Reveals was displayed at the Bermuda National Gallery (October 3 – December 31, 1993). BNG’s first exhibition of international works was a great success. In 1994, I was asked to do a small exhibit in the Ondaatje Wing of BNG to continue with the coverage of African Art: The Power and Glory: Masks from Black Africa (February 9 – May 6, 1996). This, too, was warmly received.

bermuda national gallery the african collection
A visitor explores The African Collection: Our People, Our Places, Our Stories which bring together the BNG’s permanent collection of African art in its entirety for the first time in 25 years. Photograph by Brandon Morrison.

The idea for a National Collection of African Art began with a phone call in 1995 from my friend Brian Gaisford, owner if the Hemingway African Gallery, New York. He had acquired about 25 objects from the estate of a well-known and well-respected African art dealer in New York called John J. Klejman, who represented collector Klause Perls for many years. Brian’s idea was for me to sell my small collection and purchase some of this collection which was high quality and had provenance. My thoughts went to the BNG and a possible opportunity to create a national collection of traditional African Art for Bermuda. It was a way for the Gallery to sustain its inclusion of and emphasis on, art from Africa. Again, I shared the concept with my fellow Trustees, Cyril Packwood and Dr. Chares Zuill. Their response was emphatic, “We must do this”.

Fundraising began, but Cyril, Charles and I were adamant that we wanted a grass-roots approach. Perhaps families and schools would like to participate. Twenty objects were chosen from the Kledgman Collection. Also three large pieces from inventory at the Hemingway Gallery, a big Dogan door, an imposing Kola Nut Bowl and a large and powerful Bwa Peoples Hawk mask. We arrived at a total price for the works and divided by the twenty-three. If a family wanted to donate a work in memory of a departed loved-one, the amount was $1,800; an individual donation was the same, $1,800. Twenty five years later, the names are still associated with the collection. What was glorious to us was that when we had enough donations, we realized that they were spread evenly between the black and white donors.

The BNG’s African Collection brings together 37 works, representing 22 peoples from 12 countries in sub-Saharan west Africa, which range from ritual sculpture to masks, functional objects and textiles. Photograph by Brandon Morrison.

Dr. Polly Nooter Roberts and her husband, Dr. Allan F. Roberts, were curating the exhibit and compiling the catalogue; but the show had taken on a life of its own. A generous long-time supporter of BNG, who preferred to be anonymous, called me and offered to loan ten pieces that were currently on loan to the High Museum in Atlanta. Other collectors donated or loaned additional works. Celebration: The African Collection opened on September 27 1996 with forty objects on proud display. It truly was a celebration.

Over the years since the BNG’s permanent collection of African art was compiled and presented, many of our exhibitions have included pieces from it. Art history was changed forever by the visit of Picasso to the ethnographic museum in the Palais du Trocadéro in 1906 when he encountered tribal African masks and figures for the first time, describing them as “magical objects, intercessors against everything” and a “purity of expression”. Gaugin, Brancusi, Lipchitz, Modigliani, Klee, Giacometti, Moore, de Kooning and Bermuda’s own Graham Foster and Bill “Mussie” Ming were all hugely influenced by the art of Africa. It is a great joy to see the collection reassembled again, a quarter of a century later.

The African Collection: Our People, Our Places, Our Stories is on display at the Bermuda National Gallery through to May.

The African Collection

A Passion for African Art

Colin (Dusty) Hind

Struck by a Senufo mask on display at the newly opened Rockefeller Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1983, Colin (Dusty) Hind has been collecting art from the African continent for 40 years.

A longtime BNG Trustee, Dusty brought the first exhibition of African art to the Bermuda National Gallery in 1993 and oversaw the purchase of BNG’s permanent collection of African art in 1996.

With a passion that extends beyond the four walls of the gallery, Dusty also runs a commercial gallery specializing in African art and has assembled a large personal collection of works from the continent, including 40 tribal masks.

We caught up with Dusty to discuss how a visit to the Met on a cold winter’s day changed the course of his life and ignited a lifelong passion for Africa and African art.   

BNG Colin (Dusty) Hind at the opening of The African Collection: Our People, Our Places, Our Stories at the Bermuda National Gallery, March 2022.
Photograph by Brandon Morrison.

BNG: When did you first visit Africa and how did the experience affect you?

DH: It was 1984. Barbara saw a poster at the Bermuda Library on Queen St. entitled ‘Come with me to Africa.’ It had been posted by Cyril Packwood, the Head Librarian, previously a professor at Chicago University. It promoted a group tour of Egypt through the African American Studies Programme. I called him and asked if we qualified as neither of us were African or American. His answer was classic… “Of course you can come – we’ll just call you our token Anglo-Saxons!” Three fabulous weeks all over Egypt ensued. Thirteen of us lead by Cyril and his wife Dorothy. Botswana and South Africa a year later. How did I feel? Like I was home.

Since starting the Crisson & Hind Gallery in 1999, my wife and I have visited over a dozen African countries and have returned to Zimbabwe many, many times. Africa has become an obsession.

A visitor examines the artworks on display in The African Collection: Our People, Our Places, Our Stories. Photograph by Brandon Morrison.

BNG: What was the first piece of African art that you bought?

DH: This is a starkly clear recollection. It was January 1983, a Saturday in New York. I went to see the new Rockefeller Wing at the Metropolitan Museum in the early afternoon, which was displaying a collection of predominantly African works. The wing had recently been opened and housed works from Nelson Rockefeller’s personal collection of tribal art, which had transferred to the Met a couple of years earlier after the closure of the Museum of Primitive Art NYC which Rockefeller had established in 1954.

I was struck by the caption on one of the first objects I encountered there, a ‘fire-spitter’ mask of the Senufo People, which described the materials as being made from as ‘wood, metal, pigment, blood and sacrificial materials’. I had an overwhelming sense of ignorance and yet the object exuded power and mystery.

I left the Rockefeller Wing, purchased a book on the collection, went to the café and read it cover to cover. Armed with the tiniest bit of knowledge, I returned to the Rockefeller Wing but was told that it would be closing shortly so I returned the next morning. I spent the whole day with the collection, except for a short break for lunch, until the same guard told me that that it was nearing 5:00pm and time to leave.

Later that evening, walked up Broadway to about 54th Street. It was almost midnight on a cold Sunday night and the street was empty, but the lights were on at the Wright Gallery. The owner was stocktaking. He let me in, only to discover that the place was packed with African Tribal Art. I purchased my first piece of African Art….a Baule mask that is still my favorite work in our collection, which has now grown to 40 masks.

A selection of masks from the Bermuda National Gallery’s permanent collection of African art. Photograph by Brandon Morrison.

BNG: How long have been collecting African art and how has your collection grown over the years?

DH: My wife Barbara and I have been collecting African Tribal Art for almost forty years. That’s half of my life. We ran out of space years ago. So, any additions require deep debate. Most Art collections consist of paintings, drawings, maps – two-dimensional art, hanging on the walls. Most African tribal art, however, consists of objects made of wood, terracotta, bronze or stone. It fills a volume. It requires a major re-think on living with art.

The paintings, sculptures and artifacts have become friends, lodgers, family members and windows that share occupancy with us; sometimes impinging on our space, demanding to be moved, needing a little pampering or surprising us with a new revelation….an angle we hadn’t seen before. Living with this art is a joy and a privilege.

The African Collection: Our People, Our Places, Our Stories is on display at the Bermuda National Gallery through to May.