William Siegmann’s cultural legacy shown in exhibitions at IU Art Museum, Mathers Museum

William Siegmann photo of Sande_societyblog

In 1985, these young girls were initiated into the Sande Society in Liberia.

Guest post courtesy of IU Newsroom intern Emily Davis:

Indiana University alumnus William Siegmann (1943-2011) was a leading expert on the art and culture of the African countries Liberia and Sierra Leone. A photographer, collector, and overall connoisseur of art, his work transcended traditional aesthetic values and reflected his vast knowledge of the cultures in which he studied.


A dance masquerader from Glaro performed at the National Museum of Liberia in the 1980s.

This week is the last chance to see more than 70 objects collected by Siegmann in the exhibition “Visions From the Forests: The Art of Liberia and Sierra Leone” at the Indiana University Art Museum. The masks, figures and art objects from more than a dozen ethnic groups provide a comprehensive overview of the region’s traditional art forms. The major traveling exhibition, which was organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, remains on display until May 10.

In addition, “Photography from the Forest: Images by William Siegmann” continues at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures through Dec. 20. The exhibition features 17 photographs that were taken in Liberia over the course of two decades. The images provide a window into everyday customs and different aspects of life in Liberia.

Legacy of an alumnus

“The exhibition is not just about sharing the work of Bill Siegmann, but also honoring his legacy,” said Judith Kirk, assistant director at the Mathers Museum. “He was a leading expert on the arts of Liberia and Sierra Leone, but also shared that knowledge and mentored future generations of scholars.”

William Siegmann

William Siegmann in the 1970s

During his lifetime, Siegmann served as curator at the Africana and National Museums in Liberia, the Museum of the Society of African Art in New Jersey, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Siegmann worked towards a master’s degree in African history and art history at IU from 1969 to 1974. As an alumnus, he donated hundreds of collected objects to the Mathers Museum and the Indiana University Art Museum, solidifying his life-long connection to the university. He also was instrumental in the development of the Indiana University Liberian Collections through his generous donations of archival materials and thousands of photographs.

His legacy to IU and to museums across the country was marked not only by his long-term engagement with the Liberian people but also by his commitment to providing exposure of different types of art and culture to people across the world.

“Visions From the Forests” includes over 70 masks.

To see the exhibitions

Visions From the Forests: The Art of Liberia and Sierra Leone” is on display at the Indiana University Art Museum through Sunday, May 10. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. The show features masks, jewelry and other objects from West Africa.

Photography from the Forest: Images by William Siegmann” is on exhibit at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures  through Dec. 20. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 p.m. to to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Summer institute at the Mathers Museum

In other news at the Mathers Museum, the international summer institute “Museums at the Crossroads: Local Encounters, Global Knowledge” will be held May 14 to 21. The weeklong event will bring together museum professionals; scholars of social and cultural theory and museum practice; and Indiana University Bloomington professors, graduate students and staff. Visiting scholars will present four lectures that will be free and open to the public.

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