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  Museum of Art
World-class African art collection donated to U-M

Ann Arbor businessman, philanthropist, art collector and U-M Museum of Art (UMMA) supporter Helmut F. Stern has donated his
90-piece African art collection to the museum.
A standing figure of Songye culture (Photo courtesy Museum Of Art)

Regarded by experts as one of the most significant collections of Central African art, it features outstanding objects from many cultures, with a primary focus on art of the Congo. Many of Stern's pieces will be highlighted once the museum expansion is complete in 2008.

"Helmut's heartfelt passion and sustained commitment to UMMA is deeply moving," says James Steward, museum director. "The collection's particular strength in the art of one region is especially appropriate to a University museum, where it will serve a profoundly important research purpose as well as provide much visual pleasure for our visitors."

Originally from Hanover, Germany, Stern attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., from 1939-42, and has since made his home in Ann Arbor. He is president of Arcanum Corp., and from 1946-83 was general manager and president of Industrial Tectonics, Inc.

He has been active with U-M as a strategic adviser, volunteer and supporter of the arts, humanities, public health, public policy and the sciences. Currently, Stern is a member of President Mary Sue Coleman's President's Advisory Group, the Health System Advisory Group, and the Cardiology National Advisory Board. He also is campaign chair for the Kellogg Eye Center.

"Helmut Stern has shown his generosity to U-M over many years and in a myriad of ways," Coleman says. "He has been a wonderful volunteer; charitable with his time and his support, as well as an astute and trusted counselor who sees the big picture and takes the long view."

Stern began collecting modern European and American art in the 1950s, and then became intrigued with Asian and African art. In the 1980s, under the guidance of then-UMMA director Evan Maurer, Stern focused on the art of the Congo region as he acquired works from art dealers across the United States and Europe.

During the years, Stern has given numerous works of art to UMMA and provided the museum with funds for key art acquisitions. Previous Stern gifts to UMMA include a significant collection of Japanese paintings, masterworks by Swiss artist Paul Klee and English master J. M. W. Turner, and several individual African works.

The Stern collection of African art given to UMMA has been studied broadly and was presented in a major exhibition and accompanying catalogue at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1999 titled "Spirits Embodied: Art of the Congo—Selections from the Helmut F. Stern Collection."

In recent years, UMMA has increased its acquisitions and exhibits of African art. The museum recently presented "Art of the Lega: Meaning and Metaphor in Central Africa," an exhibition of art from the Democratic Republic of Congo organized by the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. The museum has organized a series of three installations of African art from private collections in Michigan. The third installation is on view through May 8.

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