Roger Brown Study Collection: Native American, Meso-American, African, and Oceanic works
Roger Brown and other artists at SAIC were encouraged by their teachers, Whitney Halstead, Ray Yoshida, and perhaps others, to explore the rich collections of non-Western and non-mainstream art at the Field Museum of Natural History. It was perhaps these experiences, as well as visits to Halstead’s and Yoshida’s home collections, that inspired Brown to collect work by Native American, Mexican and Meso-American, African, and Oceanic makers. Assembling and living with a panoply of visual things was essential to Brown’s working process, and he assembled objects and images from the far corners of the world of art making.
Brown was drawn to works by a range of Native American artists. He recalled that the among the first objects he collected were a Sioux beaded leather belt and beaded bags, which he acquired in 1968. As an artist engrossed with pattern, he was attracted to the vibrant designs in Seminole patchwork garments. Three Seminole patchwork shirts hang in the front hall closet; a Seminole woman’s skirt and cape and a Palmetto doll adorn walls in the den. Brown spent considerable time in the Southwest, particularly in New Mexico. He acquired several Navajo robes or blankets, including a second phase chief’s blanket in red, orange, black, and cream, and also had Navajo blankets in his New Buffalo, Michigan collection. He gathered ten Katchina dolls and a few (most likely Zuni) stone animal fetishes, also arranged in the den. Brown was particularly moved by what are presumably archaeological objects including a stone pipe, a few spearheads, and a Cherokee wolf effigy stone pipe from Bartow, Georgia, which he kept on a shelf near his bed. A range of pouches, ceramic objects, and baskets––presumably Native American––are arranged throughout the living room. RBSC staff is in the process of researching these objects. Brown’s collection at his home in La Conchita, California included 2 Apache Ga:an masks of unknown origin and a Hopi Tablita. His New Buffalo, Michigan collection includes Acoma ceramics and gourd rattles that are possibly Acoma.
Brown began acquiring African and Oceanic works––including masks, figural sculpture, paddles, and ceremonial objects––from the Australian dealer H.M. Lissauer, who traveled annually to Chicago, beginning in 1976, and continuing through the 1980s. Lissauer would show clients photos of objects, which they could then order and have shipped from Melbourne. Brown also bought African and Oceanic works from shops in Chicago and New York. The Collection includes Sepik River carvings of figures, birds, a suspension hook, yam masks, a Yirrkalla style aboriginal bark painting, and a Kerewa or Kerebo ancestor board. In 1989 Brown traveled with friends and colleagues to West Africa, where was particularly interested in the Dogon architecture. He acquired imposing masks, Dogon shutters or “doors,” and a painted metal trunk. The Collection is replete with masks from various African and Mexican makers. A Mande tribal hunter’s fetish shirt is an especially powerful object, placed high on the wall in the living/dining room. Among the many ceramic objects in the collection is a clay bowl filled with ceramic seated figures and objects from Ancient West Mexico, possibly Nayarit or Colima, and a Moche bottle.
The Study Collection reflects Brown’s essentially democratic conviction that works of art from many cultures and genres can be presented mingled together, in cross-cultural conversations. He created an environment devoid of academic and economic hierarchies, where objects he found to be powerful and interesting, can be appreciated as equal in value, on their own merits.