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My Art Collection: Carol White


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Art Collector: Carol White.

Her work: A fine artist who has worked in various mediums, including furniture, acrylics, oils, pastels, clay, jewelry, etc. These days White is focused on creating paper quilts. She's also an art teacher at IPS #51 (James Russell Lowell Elementary).

Her play: White spends most of her free time creating jewelry, some of which is sold at the Indiana State Museum. "It starts out as me making something that I like, but people then see it and love it," she says.

Collection CliffsNotes: A collection of African masks, statutes and paintings. Some of her favorite pieces include a wooden statute of an African warrior by J.A. Fakeye; two framed Kuba cloths; a series of paintings on small, wooden canvases purchased in an artist colony in Havana, Cuba; and a couple of authentic wooden masks from the Ivory Coast in Africa.

Decade she began collecting: 1980s.

Something she'll never have in her art collection: "There's nothing that I wouldn't have in my collection. I don't limit myself, I guess, because I love the idea of people creating things."

Carol White's art collection represents her various international travels. - PERRY REICHANADTER
  • Perry Reichanadter
  • Carol White's art collection represents her various international travels.

Carol White has traveled the world ... for art.

She's been to West Africa, to the French-speaking Cote d'Ivoire region (known as the Ivory Coast) where she's purchased authentic African masks.

She's been to Cuba twice and mingled with Afro-Cuban artists in an alley in Havana. It was in El Callejon de Hamel (or Hamel's Alley), which features rows of colorful artist's shops, where she bought several small paintings of women on wooden canvases.

"I fell in love with (those paintings)," says White. "We had a limit on what we could spend and had to have special permission to take anything out of the country."

She's also made stops in Paris to soak up the rich artistic community, and she's travelled throughout the United States searching for and gathering in art.

But White doesn't seek just any art.

"My deep interest is in African art, especially African masks," says White, who has been collecting since the 1980s. "For me, it turns out that I don't just look at (a mask) as an object, it's the expressions that draw me in. The masks symbolize what's behind it and what the expressions say to me. I'm interested in the variety of ways that people express themselves using masks, and as humans how we wear masks in our daily lives to shield our emotions."

White purchased this piece in a Havana alley in Callejon De Hamel during one of her trips to Cuba. - PERRY REICHANADTER
  • Perry Reichanadter
  • White purchased this piece in a Havana alley in Callejon De Hamel during one of her trips to Cuba.

White's love for African art goes back to an African-American art history class she took at IUPUI. "The information I was learning about the artists and their work is what changed me," she says. That love deepened through her professional art career and with just about every job she's had.

A visual artist herself, White has held positions at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, and the Indiana State Museum.

In fact, it was during her stint as a work-study student in 1983 in the home of Harrison Eiteljorg (founder of the Eiteljorg Museum) when she developed a deep connection for African masks.

"I worked in the basement of Harrison Eitlejorg's home, where I helped catalogue all of the masks and other African art objects," says White. "I saw (the collection) before any of it went on display. That was the start of the whole series of pieces and symbolism of masks for me."

Walk into White's home and there's African art everywhere. It's on the walls in the living and dining rooms, in the hallways, and leading down the basement steps. It's on shelves, on tabletops and even part of the furniture.

Created by A. Fakeye, this sculpture from Nigeria was a must-have for White's collection. - PERRY REICHANADTER
  • Perry Reichanadter
  • Created by A. Fakeye, this sculpture from Nigeria was a must-have for White's collection.

With so much art to take in, you'd think it would be difficult to spot pieces that stand out. It's not. On a small table in between the living and dining rooms is a wooden statue of an African warrior that stands 24 inches tall. It's one of White's favorite pieces, actually one of her top "finds."

"I don't remember how much it cost, but when I saw it I immediately had a connection to it and wrote somebody a check," says White, who pegged the piece to be by famed Nigerian sculptor Limidi Fakeye.

Although the signature under the bottom of the sculpture reads J.A. Fakeye, White is almost certain it was created by Limidi. She had watched him work on a commissioned sculpture at the IMA before his death and had become a serious student of his work.

"I just can't see that anyone could have copied his style so perfectly. The markings (the pipe, the crisscross pattern) are very clearly that style," says White, who graduated from Herron School of Art with a degree in fine art and arts education. "But it was the bottom of it that got my attention. I've done woodworking before, and I know the skill that it takes to get the same depth and detailing throughout a piece."

Although she's not 100 percent sure of its authenticity, White is proud to have the statue in her collection. "I feel like I have (an authentic Limidi)," she says. "It has all of the markings that an original would have."

Near the wooden statute are two framed pieces of fabric called Kuba cloth, which White bought from a dealer who sold authentic African objects in Indianapolis.

"I knew that they were very unique and I wanted them," says White. "I knew what they were because we had some at the IMA."

A lover of textiles, White says she's always been fascinated by Kuba cloth because of how one is created. The Kuba people of the Congo weave the leaves from a raffia tree together to make pieces of fabric, which is dyed using mud and/or indigo. "Because of how they're made, no two Kuba cloths are the same," she explains.

Traditionally, the cloths are used as mats to sit on but White displays them like paintings.

"They have a graphic design to them, which is why I framed them," she says.

Textiles have made their way into other areas of White's home. She's reupholstered her living room couch in African-style fabrics, along with her dining room chairs, which rest underneath a large wooden table that White designed and made.

"I wanted everything to have the same kind of feeling," she says about her decor.

Another piece that draws you into White's collection is Speaker, a painting by artist Paul Wandless. The piece is an oil on stretch canvas (mounted to a board) of a large African mask flanked by two smaller masks. She purchased the painting during a silent auction because it fit with her love of masks and because of the artist. White says she and Wandless met at Herron School of Art, where he taught. She also owns another Wandless piece: a clay mask featuring red lips and a yellow headpiece.

"I traded him something for the (clay) mask," says White, who went through a creative period where masks were a common theme in her own work.

Along with paintings and textiles, an extensive assortment of masks comprise White's collection, many of them are from Coite D'Ivoire (the Ivory Coast). - PERRY REICHANADTER
  • Perry Reichanadter
  • Along with paintings and textiles, an extensive assortment of masks comprise White's collection, many of them are from Coite D'Ivoire (the Ivory Coast).

In all, White says she has about 40 masks in her collection. Two of her most prized possessions came from her trip to the Cote d'Ivoire region in West Africa. The dark wood masks hold court on a wall between her living and dining rooms.

The appeal of those masks were, of course, their expressions, but also their authenticity as real African masks, which White says she can tell based on the signs of wear.

"If they are authentic, there will be a shiny surface around the edges on the inside of the mask. That's how you can tell if they have been used," says White.

All of her masks, however, are not African in origin. There are some from Mexico and even one created in White's own likeness. The clay mask, circa 1983, was created by making a mold of White's face -- a process that involved pouring plaster over it and waiting until that hardened. The mask was used for a school project related to faces, she explains. It remains perched on a shelf in her dining room area.

Although most of White's collection is filled with authentic pieces, there are some replicas in the mix.

"I prefer originals, but I'm not a complete snob," she says. "There are some pieces that I have that are replicas, and I have some tourist pieces. But if I'm buying from an artist, I'm going to buy an original."


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