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Museum News

Museum Mondays: new to the Logan, a Nok terracotta (and a quick survey)

April 29, 2013 at 12:04 am

A significant 2,500-year-old terracotta figure from the ancient Nok culture of central Nigeria is the latest object to go on exhibit at the Logan Museum of Anthropology.

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Howard and Eunice Gelb of St. Paul, Minn., donated the figure to the college in 2007. It became exhibit-ready only after a recent monetary gift to the Logan allowed fabrication of a custom mount for the piece, and we made space for it in the Cube, the museum’s first-floor gallery. The photos below show mount-maker Earl Lock working with Logan staff to prepare the custom mount and figure for exhibit.

Nok was an Iron Age culture, likely ancestors of the Yoruba people. According to recent research, Nok culture thrived between about 900 and 400 BCE—Nok terracotta figures are the earliest known sculptures in Africa outside of Egypt. Sculptors in clay usually form their pieces by adding clay and building up from a minimal base, but Nok sculptors apparently made theirs by carving clay from a large, hollowed block. Archaeologists think this is because the sculpting tradition is based on an earlier wood-carving tradition.

(More information about Nok terracotta figures can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.)

Nok figures are in high demand among collectors and as a result, many on the market are fakes—that’s the reason the Gelbs hired Mark Rasmussen of Rare Collections to examine it. Mark applies hi-tech imaging and chemical analysis to help authenticate objects, and he has researched and analyzed hundreds of Nok figures in museums and private collections. Part of his research included thermoluminescence testing of the clay used to make the figure. Testing placed it between 1,600 and 2,500 years old. Mark told Curator of Collections Nicolette Meister that the piece now in the Logan’s collection is authentic and is one of the finest examples he has studied.

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You can see the Logan’s Nok figure on Tuesday (April 30—tomorrow!) between 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. during the opening for the new student-curated exhibit, The Sacred Lives of Objects, detailed in last week’s Museum Mondays piece. Other new student exhibits opening on Tuesday include one by Carol Dooley’13, which explores the roles Beloit students have played in our nation’s conflicts since the Civil War. We’ll also have the latest installment of student-written poems inspired by Logan artifacts in Objects of Inspiration III, and at 4:30 p.m., Ashleigh Herrera’12 will introduce and demonstrate the Logan’s new QR code labels that she developed and installed as a part of her honors term project.

Finally, if you are a student, please take this brief survey by Sarah Conn’13 about programming you may have seen or would be interested in seeing at the Logan. If you are a faculty or staff member, please encourage the students you work with to take the survey, which should take about a minute to complete. We’re always looking for better ways to connect our students to their museum.

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