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The Glassell Collections of African, Indonesian & Pre-Columbian Gold

Houston philanthropist Alfred C. Glassell, Jr., had a passion for collecting, a fascination with gold art objects, and a desire to share them with the world. Like the cultures that fashioned these treasures, he valued gold not for its intrinsic value but for its spiritual meaning. The extensive collections of African, Indonesian, and Pre-Columbian gold that he gave the MFAH are a remarkable legacy. Among the highlights are a golden staff created by the Akan peoples of Ghana, a rare burial mask from Java, and jewelry made by the Moché culture of Peru.

Ghana or Togo
Early 20th century

6 3/4 x 7 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr.

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, & the Americas

Arts of Africa
The Glassell Collections of African, Indonesian & Pre-Columbian Gold

This crown represents a blending of cultures. It is European in style and depicts native African animals: an elephant and a duiker, a type of small antelope. The design relates a famous proverb about the importance of intelligence. "Although the elephant is the biggest animal in the forest, it is the wise little duiker that rules the forest."

For centuries, the chiefs and court members of the Akan peoples have worn a variety of creative headdresses, often adopting European-style crowns and helmets. This crown is fashioned from gold sheet. Such crowns of pure gold are extremely rare.

The fern leaves on this crown relay the message "The chief does not fear insults," because the Akan words for fern and insult are similar. Ferns are also thought to grow even in difficult circumstances and under harsh conditions, so they are seen as a symbol of endurance and success over adversity.