Director of African Art to Leave Smithsonian.(METROPOLITAN)

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Byline: Joanna Shaw-Eagle, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Roslyn A. Walker, director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art, announced yesterday that she will retire June 28 for health reasons.

Ms. Walker, 57, has led the museum since January 1997, when she succeeded the museum's first director, Sylvia H. Williams. An expert on Nigerian art, Ms. Walker started working at the museum in 1981 as a curator.

"In December, I went in for surgery to repair an abdominal aneurysm. I didn't accept how serious it was, but after a while your body catches up and says, 'Pay attention to me,'" Ms. Walker said. "I came back to work in February, and it was just too much for me. I was working all the time as director, and even the business travel to Europe was work. I haven't had a break for 25 years."

Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small, who praised Ms. Walker as possessing "an understanding of African art that few can equal," said an international search for a successor would begin immediately. Tom Lentz, director of the Smithsonian's International Art Museums Division, will serve as the museum's acting director and will lead the search. The museum has 49 staff members and a fiscal 2002 federal appropriation of $4.3 million.

Ms. Walker becomes the seventh director of a Smithsonian museum to leave in the past 21/2 years, according to Smithsonian representatives. Three others retired: Jim Demetrion of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Alan Fern of the National Portrait Gallery, and Milo Beach of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. …