African Art Finds a Home at Bucyrus Campus
The walls can talk at St. Ann Center’s Bucyrus Campus. Thanks to a generous donor featured in the October-December Seasons of Life newsletter, a collection of African artwork on permanent display at the campus tells breathtaking stories that reflect our new neighborhood’s rich heritage and culture.
The Republic of Congo is over 7,000 miles from Milwaukee’s near north side. But you only need travel as far as St. Ann Center’s new Bucyrus Campus to experience a close brush with breathtaking African artwork.
Fourteen original oil paintings by seven Congolese artists were donated to St. Ann Center by Estherly Allen, a Milwaukee artist and art teacher now living in Prescott, Arizona. “I’m so excited that they’re going to a place where they’ll be embraced, preserved and talked about,” Estherly says.
Estherly happened upon the pieces several years ago at a rummage sale at Lincoln Center of the Arts, a Milwaukee middle school. “I saw something rolled up in a corner that looked like canvases,” she recalls. “I bought 17 paintings for ten dollars. When, I got them home and took a look, I was astounded!”
The paintings range from landscapes of the expansive West African savanna to village scenes alive with daily activities. One canvas, measuring 2 x 7 feet, depicts a bustling marketplace. Fascinated by her artistic windfall, Estherly started a quest to find out the history behind it.
After deciphering each artist’s signature, “I called everywhere from Harlem to UC Berkeley—and kept running into dead ends,” she says. “Finally, I found my answer from a helpful librarian at the Smithsonian Museums.”
All the artists were traced to the Poto-Poto School of Art in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo. Founded in 1951 and still in operation, the school recruits students of all ages, backgrounds and artistic abilities and encourages them to explore their creativity by painting the world around them. How the art got from Brazzaville to Milwaukee remains a mystery.
Estherly learned about the Bucyrus Campus and its plans for African decor through her friend and fellow artist Evelyn Patricia Terry, a St. Ann Center supporter. “It thrills me to think of Milwaukee children and adults looking at these paintings and feeling a connection, understanding and pride in the rich heritage of Africa,” Estherly says, adding she hopes they inspire a new generation of artists in St. Ann Center classrooms.
Eager to see her hidden treasures on display, Estherly plans to visit the Bucyrus Campus next year. Meantime, she couldn’t be more happy. “These paintings have traveled the world,” she says. “And they’ve found the perfect home.”
Read all the inspiring stories in our Oct.-Dec. Seasons of Life newsletter.