Helen Katz Neufeld (Class of 1953, 1931–1995) and her husband Mace Neufeld donated a sizeable portion of their African and Oceanic art collections to Bryn Mawr College between 1991 and 1997. The two collectors amassed the “Neufeld Family Foundation Collection of African and Pacific Art” over the course of 25 years, before dispersing it through auctions at Sotheby’s and at Loudmer in 1989, as well as through donation to Bryn Mawr College, where it would be available to students and scholars.*
The Neufeld’s gift to Bryn Mawr, administered through then-Director of Libraries James Tanis, remains the largest donation of African and Oceanic material to the Art & Artifacts collection. More than 250 objects represent numerous cultures from West and Central Africa and include ritual masks, minkisi power figures, and twin figures (with examples by Ogunwuyi Fakeye
); twelve objects, most from Papua New Guinea, comprise the Oceanic portion of the collection. Their gift also included an art library of well over 300 related books, some of which continue to be housed in Carpenter Library.
Most of the collection was purchased either at auction or through dealers and galleries, including Morton Dimondstein (Dimondstein Tribal Arts, Los Angeles), Marc Leo Felix (Congo Basin Art History Research Center and Congo Gallery, Brussels), and Gallery Schwarz-Weiss, Munich. Special Collections’ review of the acquisition and sales practices of these dealers and galleries is ongoing and thus far shows that they illustrate a complex legacy of appreciation and stewardship enabled by the inequities and power differentials associated with Western colonialism and imperialism in Africa.
Over 100 classes have visited Special Collections to consult and research objects from the Mace and Helen Katz Neufeld ‘53 Collection of African & Oceanic Art. Selections have been featured in more than 20 exhibitions, including 17 on campus and several organized by students, such as Backtalk: Exposures, Erasures, Elisions in the Bryn Mawr College African Art Collections, Exhibiting Africa: Ways of Seeing, Knowing, and Showing
, and Mirrors & Masks: Reflections and Constructions of the Self
An English major at Bryn Mawr, Helen Katz married Mace Neufeld the year after graduation. They moved to Los Angeles, where Mace went on to become a well-known film producer and Helen worked in television. Helen was also a textile designer, who became involved in many arts organizations. Most notably, she served a six- year term (1981-1987) as a commissioner of and donor to the Smithsonian Institute Museum of African Art. She was also a member of the National Council of the New York Folk Art Museum, a trustee of the Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum, a founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the president of the Los Angeles Filmex Society, and a founding member of the American Film Institute Associates. Additionally, she served as president of the Los Angeles Bryn Mawr Alumnae Association and president of the Seven Sisters College Conference.
*The Neufelds were guided in this distribution by the “instructions of the collector and art critic Edmond de Goncourt in the last [19th] century: ‘My wish is that...those things of art which have been the joy of my life, shall not be consigned to the cold tomb of the museum, but I require that they all be disbursed under the hammer of the auctioneer so that the pleasure which acquiring each one of them has given me, shall be given again in each case to some inheritor of my own tastes’” (Helen and Mace Neufeld, Sotheby’s Catalogue, 1989). With the preference that the pieces “be put in a place where they would be shared or used,” “they gave the remainder of the collection to Bryn Mawr as teaching material, together with their art library” (Donohue 1993).
Rick Echelmeyer. “About the College's artworks.” The Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin 88a, no. 3 (2009): 42.
Dieter, Barbara. “Class Note: ‘53 Helen Ruth Katz Neufeld.” The Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin 76, no. 4 (1995): 35.
Donohue, Victoria. “African, Pacific Art Subject of Collection.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 25, 1993.
Johnston, Tamara. “Another History, Another Context: Traveling through Bryn Mawr’s African Art Collections.” Mirabile Dictu: The Bryn Mawr College Library Newsletter 3 (1999): 7-8. https://repository.brynmawr.edu/mirabile/3/.
Neufeld, Mace and Helen Katz. “Preface.” In Important Tribal Art: The Helen and Mace Neufeld Collection of Tribal Art (New York: Sotheby’s, November 14, 1989).
Pusey, Grace. “Engaging ‘Backtalk’: Decolonizing Bryn Mawr’s African Art Collection.” Black at Bryn Mawr. February 25, 2015. https://blackatbrynmawr.blogs.brynmawr.edu/2015/02/25/engaging-backtalk-decolonizing-bryn-mawrs-african-art-collection