National Museum of African Art

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National Museum of African Art
The National Museum of African Art is a museum that is part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.. Located on the National Mall, the museum specializes in African art and culture. It was established as a private museum in 1964, and officially became a part of the Smithsonian Institution in August 1979. The museum's main entrance is situated off the gardens in front of the Smithsonian Castle on Independence Avenue Southwest. Like the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the National Museum of African Art is an underground museum. It connects directly to the Sackler Gallery via a subterranean passageway. This site is often confused with the Museum for African Art in New York City. Artwork in the museum comes from all parts of Africa, but most of it is from the region south of the Sahara. Represented countries include Mali, Cameroon, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Ghana, and Morocco, among others. Most of the items in the collection are sculptures, masks, furniture, and musical instruments made from wood.

The roots of the museum date back to a chance purchase of a $15 carving of the Yoruba people by Warren M. Robbins in Hamburg, Germany in the early 1960s. Robbins purchased another 32 pieces of African art a year later, and brought his collection with him when he returned to the United States, putting them on display at his home in Washington, D.C. After a newspaper article was published about his collection, visitors started appearing at the door and were welcomed in to view the works. In 1963, Robbins purchased half of a home at 316-18 A Street Northeast that had been the residence of abolitionist Frederick Douglass from 1871 to 1877. When it opened in May 1964, it was the first museum in the United States dedicated to African art exclusively. In succeeding years, Robbins raised money to acquire the remaining half of the Douglass house, naming it the Museum of African Art. As the collection grew, he purchased adjoining residences, with his museum ultimately including nine townhouses, 16 garages and two carriage houses. In 1979, Congress agreed to have the Smithsonian Institution assume management of the collection. Robbins served as the museum's first director, remaining in the position until 1983 when he was named founding director emeritus and a Smithsonian senior scholar, and replaced as director by Sylvia H. Williams. The museum relocated from its Capitol Hill townhouse to the National Mall on September 1987, and was renamed the National Museum of African Art.

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