Opening Reception: Liberia, 1931-33: The Collections of Alfred J. Tulk – FUAM

September 13, 2018 @ 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Bellarmine Hall, Great Hall and Bellarmine Hall Galleries
1073 N Benson Rd
Fairfield, CT 06824
Lauren Williams

Liberia, 1931-33: The Collections of Alfred J. Tulk will be on view at the Fairfield University Art Museum from September 14 – December 14, 2018; an Opening Reception will take place on Thursday, September 13, from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Fairfield University Art Museum, Bellarmine Hall. The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public.

In 1931, Connecticut artist Alfred J. Tulk and his wife Ethel traveled to rural Liberia, where they spent a year living and working at the American Methodist mission station in Ganta. During his time in Liberia, Tulk assembled a small but important collection of masks, statues, and other objects of daily use and material culture, including jewelry and serving spoons. He also made a series of charcoal portrait drawings and oil paintings that featured local subjects from the region around Ganta. This exhibition brings a number of pieces from Tulk’s now-dispersed collection together with some of his own artwork as well as artifacts from his travels, including photographs, selected correspondence, and a copy of his original handwritten field diary. By situating the objects Tulk collected within the cultural context of their origin and use—ranging from daily activities to specialized ritual functions—the exhibition offers a unique lens onto the cultures of northeastern Liberia during the early decades of the 20th century. Because Tulk brought back a mix of both “authentic” and “tourist” art, the exhibition also explores the issue of commodification and the art market amid the changing socio-economic landscape of rural Liberia, as West African artists not only responded to the increasing Western interest in African art objects, but also incorporated new materials such as aluminum into “traditional” aesthetic forms.

Born in London in 1899, Tulk studied art at Oberlin Art College and then Yale University, where he earned his B.A. in 1923. He is best known for his public mural paintings, stained glass windows, and mosaics, many of which he completed during his tenure at the Rambusch Decorating Company in New York City. Between 1925 and 1954, he painted over 300 large murals for theatres, churches, hotels, restaurants, and private homes in the United States.

The exhibition is curated by Dr. Christopher B. Steiner, Lucy C. McDannel ‘22 Professor of Art History and Anthropology at Connecticut College, and includes loans from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology of Harvard University, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the collection of Louis T. Wells, and other private collections.

Image: Koranic Writing Board (Mandingo, Liberia). Pigment on wood. Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University.