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105The New Congo Collection - University of Pennsylvania 1913

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  • Rand African Art
    May 2, 2005
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      Hello all,


      One of my favorite areas of research over the past year has been the early explorations and collecting expeditions of Frobenius and Torday (separate expeditions) that were done in Africa, mostly the Congo and surrounding regions, in the late 19th and early 20th Century (1890-1910 time frame).


      Reading about the early expeditions has helped to answer a lot of the how, when, and why questions that I have, but it has also opened up a whole new series of  questions.


      A couple of my favorite books that I have read, or ones that I am currently reading, that go into detail about these early collecting expeditions by Torday, Frobenius and others are:


      The Scramble for Art in Central Africa [Paperback] by Schildkrout, Enid; Keim


      Tribal Art Traffic: A Chronicle of Taste, Trade and Desire in Colonial and Post-Colonial Times


      Out of Our Minds: Reason and Madness in the Exploration of Central Africa


      Emil Torday and the Art of the Congo, 1900-1909


      On the trail of the Bushongo;: An account of a remarkable & hitherto unknown African people by Emil Torday


      Late last year I also came across a museum journal from the University of Pennsylvania from March of 1913 that announces The New Congo Collection.


      From the journal:

      During the summer of 1912 the Museum acquired by purchase a collection of

      about two thousand specimens consisting of weapons, utensils, ornaments,

      clothing and images from a number of African tribes living in the Congo

      basin.  This collection was, for the most part, obtained from the natives by

      the well-known German traveler, Frobenius.   


      Though for a time it was exhibited in the central hall of the Museum no

      opportunity was found to give it adequate space owing to the overcrowded

      condition of the Museum. In order, however, to afford visitors an opportunity

      of seeing such an   important collection,  it was for a time installed

      temporarily on tables in a way which served at least to show what a variety of

      artistic activities and  what a rich  culture  the native Congo peoples possess. 



      Visitors  had  an  opportunity   of   admiring the wonderful carved wooden

      boxes and cups, the elaborately wrought iron-work,  the  curious variety of

      knives,  swords and spears,  the delicately decorated calabashes and the

      cloths, woven from native fibre, and embroidered in a variety of patterns.   

      In no other class of objects perhaps are the arts of savage peoples and the

      refinement of feeling which savages often display in the decoration even of

      articles of ordinary use, better illustrated than in the collections from the



      Mr. E. Torday has lived for nine years among these Congo tribes, is familiar

      with their habits and has studied their ethnology. He was instrumental in

      procuring from the natives the wonderful Bushongo collection in the British

      Museum. Mr. Torday is now engaged at this Museum in cataloguing the

      Congo collections and the following article and photographs by him are of

      special interest in connection with these African exhibits.


      I have recreated the article including all of the photos. I thought the write up that Torday did for the museum was interesting, and it gives you an interesting perspective of the cultures and their daily lives from his perspective in the early 1900s as well as showing you a few items from the museums collection.


      For those who are up to reading the text it may be easier to print out the article and the photos. I�ve created it in a way that it should be easily printable, it�s about 38 pages in total.


      For those who aren�t up to reading the whole thing, there are about 38 interesting photos on the page to look at that were taken by Torday in the period between 1900 and 1909 while he lived in the Congo.


      I hope you enjoy the article as much as I did.


      The article can be found on the Educational Resources section of my website, or by accessing the direct link below:



      or by clicking here: