Magazine article The New Yorker

Museum Next Door

Magazine article The New Yorker

Museum Next Door

Article excerpt

MUSEUM NEXT DOOR

Eric Edwards rarely lets his vast collection of African art leave home, but one morning recently he considered the two thousand or so pieces in his Bedford-Stuyvesant loft and chose fifteen candidates for furlough. He was en route to Celebrate Africa Month, an event that he founded in an effort to bridge the peoples of Africa and Brooklyn, and to showcase his obsession of the past forty-four years. The afternoon would feature drummers, xylophonists, dancing, speeches, and artifacts and art labelled "From the Eric Edwards Collection."

"This has gotta go, Mel," he told Mel Symonds, a friend who works for him as a gallery assistant. Symonds hoisted a Dogon maternity figure, and Edwards said, "She's a queen with a prince and princess on her lap." Next came an earth-toned painting of a woman nursing. "That's by Metu. He's one of the finest airbrush painters in the country."

Edwards had on black cargo pants and a gray shirt, and eyeglasses that kept trying to migrate down his nose. His hair and his goatee are heavy on the salt, light on the pepper. He wore a gold pendant of Nefertiti that he hasn't taken off since he bought it, in Egypt, in 1982. A thick ring--awarded after he'd spent nearly thirty years as an A. T. & T. executive--thunked against objects as he handled them. Out went a Bamileke meditation helmet (early nineteenth century). Out went an Ivory Coast ceremonial mask (early twentieth).

"My father emigrated from Barbados when he was seventeen," Edwards said. "He felt we needed to know where we came from, and to have pride in ourselves. He wanted us to be inoculated against racism by learning African history and culture." After college, Edwards worked in the music industry, producing seventies-era funk records by his brother, Boobie Knight. "I belonged to audiophile societies," he said, as Symonds dollied a granite carving of a Nubian royal toward a U-Haul van. "I noticed that the doctors and engineers in those societies had a lot of African art in their houses. I started collecting. The first piece I bought was in 1971: a Senufo maternity figure, for three hundred dollars, from a gallery downtown."

Edwards bought mostly through auctions and galleries, but as his interest deepened people gave him artifacts. …

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