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Wednesday August 20th 2014

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Take a Trip to Africa

By Jennie McKeon

George Stewart and his wife, Julie Breckinridge haven’t even finished packing up their home in Alberta, Ala. for their move to Pensacola and yet a portion of their art collection has already made it safely to the Pensacola Museum of Art.

“We’re tickled that the museum liked our stuff,” said Breckinridge as she was packing up her home. “What a compliment to have PMA take us in.”

The Stewart Collection of African Art, now on display at the museum is an extensive exhibition made up of pieces that Stewart and Breckinridge collected over the years on their worldwide travels.

Breckinridge grew up appreciating art. Her mother was an artist and when her father got a job in Nigeria, her parents started to collect African art, which Breckinridge soon began to love.

“Before, I collected mostly Impressionists,” she said.

When it came to finding someone to share her love of art, Breckinridge lucked out.

“Fortunately, I married a man who shares my interests,” she said with a laugh.

Collecting art from around the world since the mid-1980s, Stewart and Breckinridge have acquired quite a mass of art.

“We had about 200 pieces and eventually whittled it down to 110,” Stewart said.

Just like her parents, Breckinridge and Stewart are a well-traveled couple and never miss the chance to pick up a piece of original art.

“We went to Guatemala and collected masks before they were popular,” Stewart said.

Unlike a souvenir t-shirt or shot glass, a piece of art can be a keepsake to pass along.

“There’s a special value in that art has a lifelong element of pleasure to it,” Stewart said.

While living in Arlington, Texas, Stewart and his wife made their first exhibit with their souvenirs from across the globe.

“It was in our home. We had a huge room with 20-ft. ceilings,” Stewart said. “It worked out really well. It enhances the value of the piece when you can share it with other people.”

The African art that’s on display at the PMA includes eighteenth and nineteenth century tribal pieces from the Ivory Coast and Central Africa. There are also two pieces from Antiquity. The collection boasts wooden statues, masks, bronze figures, lost-wax castings, stools and clay urns.

“My favorites are the agricultural fertility pieces for the planting celebrations,” Breckinridge said. “Those kinds of celebrations are still in effect today. I like the looking-forward attitude. If we don’t have food, we don’t eat.”

Walking through the exhibit gives you a sense of the region and culture where each work originated.

“Most of the African art is functional and has some utility to it,” explained Stewart. “It means an awful lot to the people that made it and shows an appreciation for how they lived and what they believed in. Some of the pieces even come from extinct cultures.”

Stewart hopes that by visiting the exhibit, people will get a sense of how all cultures are connected.

“Everybody needs to realize they play a significant role in other cultures,” he said.

Since many of the pieces originated before the twentieth century, there is a lot to be said of the skills required to create the art.

“There’s one piece that was carved with pop tops,” said Breckinridge. “It’s still fabulously done. I admire their ingenuity.”

While Stewart and Breckinridge have been busy packing, they haven’t had the chance to see the exhibit inside the museum.

“I delivered some other pieces the other day, but it wasn’t done,” Stewart said of the exhibit. “I’m excited to see what it looks like.”

Once they are fully moved in to their new home, they’ll have plenty of time to see the exhibit since it will be up until March 2. In the meantime, they’re getting excited about their new surroundings.

“We’ve spent a small fortune going to the Caribbean,” Stewart said. “I’m looking forward to a move towards the beach.”

Breckinridge said she’s also looking forward to having a restaurant within a five-minute distance. Just from her encounters with the PMA, she’s excited to become a part of the community.

“Everybody has been so welcoming,” she said. “We have always gravitated to Pensacola. How fortunate are we to move to a place that has such vision. It says a lot of the open-mindedness of Pensacola.”

Stewart and Breckinridge hope to expand the open minds of the community with their collection.

“We hope to introduce people to something fresh and new—something they haven’t seen before,” Breckinridge said. “That’s the main goal.”

THE STEWART COLLECTION OF AFRICAN ART
WHEN: 10 a.m. Tuesday-Friday 12 p.m. Saturday. Exhibit showing until March 2.
WHERE: Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $5 for adults, $2 for students. Free admission on Tuesdays
DETAILS: 432-6247 or pensacolamuseumofart.org

OPENING RECEPTION (FOR INVITED GUESTS AND PMA MEMBERS ONLY)
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12
WHERE: Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S. Jefferson St.
DETAILS: 432-6247 or pensacolamuseumofart.org