This evening I came across an article by Gothamist highlighting New York-based filmmaker Mark Zemel’s documentary short, The Collector, which profiles Eric Edwards, a former AT&T executive and avid collector of African art. More notably, Edwards has amassed (over the span of 44 years) an attractive 1,600 piece collection of African Art, representing all 54 countries in Africa and, according to Edwards, has an estimated value of $10 million.
Along with his African art collection, Edwards has also built an extensive library, which in a 2013 interview with Whatz Up TV, he noted as “just as important as the collection itself because it tells the story of what these pieces represent…and how and why they are so important to us as a people.” In addition to his African art collection and personal library, Edwards has also developed a small-scale collection of baseball cards, antique clocks, and more than 40,000 LPs–all of which are housed in his Brooklyn (Clinton Hill) apartment.
Edwards, who began collecting in the 1970s, is a part of a long tradition of early black collectors such as Arthur Schomburg and pioneers in the Black Arts and Black Museum movements during the 1960s and 70s, including Dr. Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs and the Du Sable Museum of African American History in Chicago; The Katherine Dunham Museum in East St. Louis; the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit; and the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum in Los Angeles. Their response to racial inequality, blatant disregard and obscuring of black people’s contributions to history by major white cultural institutions was through knowledge production- instilling pride in black communities and sharing the wealth of African American and African history and culture with the public through the creation of museums, libraries, and private collections that, like Edwards, once began in homes, garages, attics and evolved into important black cultural institutions.
It is in that tradition that Edwards, with financial backing, hopes to safeguard his collection with the opening of The Cultural Museum of African Art in Brooklyn sometime in 2016.
Andrea A. Burns. From Storefront to Monument: Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013.