Polk Museum of Art Unveils New, Permanent Gallery for African and Oceanic Art

In early 2019, the Polk Museum of Art welcomed visitors to its original exhibition “Spirits: Ritual and Ceremonial African and Oceanic Art from the Dr. Alan and Linda Rich Collection,” a full-scale show that displayed one-of-kind, artisan-made ritual and ceremonial art objects collected from across Africa and Papua New Guinea and generously lent by Lakeland locals Dr. Alan and Linda Rich. Following the success of the 2019 exhibition and their experience working with the Museum to present the show, the Riches gifted their extensive collection to be displayed permanently in a dedicated gallery space at the Museum.

Over the course of four decades, the Riches traveled the world helping those in need. With his profession as an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon and hers as an occupational therapist trained to help Dr. Rich in clinics and in surgeries, the Riches worked together to transform the lives of many in need of critical eye care. Along the way, they acquired a collection of ritual and ceremonial objects that filled their home in Lakeland until Fall 2020 when the Riches donated their full African and Oceanic art collection to the Museum.

“Our hope is that it will inspire and educate,” the Riches said. “[We would love each] viewer to be inspired to travel to the countries represented; to become more knowledgeable about African and Oceanic art; to learn a creative craft or skill such as fiber art, jewelry making, woodworking, lost wax technique or metal tooling; to be encouraged to become private collectors and to appreciate the impact that non-Western art has had on Western art and design like the works of Picasso, Cezanne, Modigliani, and Braque.”

Importantly, the new “Spirits” gallery on the Museum’s first floor functions on two separate, but interwoven levels: it offers at once an examination of the spiritual objects themselves and their places within the cultures they come from and a story about the humanitarian work the Riches undertook in the process of acquiring the objects. The two histories are tied together intricately.

“The Riches have been tireless champions of the Polk Museum of Art for decades and, with their tremendous gift, they are supporting not only the Museum and its academic mission but also our community’s access to arts from across the globe,” Dr. H. Alexander Rich, executive director and chief curator of the Museum, said. “With our ‘Spirits’ gallery as a permanent space, we deepen our commitment to showing art and artifacts of diverse cultures, now with a multi-continent collection of African and Oceanic art that our visitors can revisit and learn more from each time they visit.”

“Spirits: African and Oceanic Art from the Dr. Alan and Linda Rich Collection” is available for viewing now. 

About the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College

The Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College is a not-for-profit, teaching museum that seeks to enhance lives through inspirational and engaging art experiences for all. It is the largest and only nationally accredited visual arts organization in Polk County and the only Smithsonian Affiliate art museum in Central Florida.

The facility is handicapped accessible and special needs assistance is available. Admission is free, thanks to our strategic partner, The Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation.

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