Arts + Culture

Fowler Museum at UCLA receives collection of African art valued at more than $14 million

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In honor of the launch of the Fowler Museum at UCLA's 50th anniversary celebration, collectors Jay T. and Deborah R. Last of Beverly Hills, Calif., have donated 92 stunning wood and ivory figures, masks, tools and spoons made by the Lega people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
 
The combined value of the objects is more than $14 million. This recent donation completes the Lasts' extraordinary promised gift to the Fowler Museum of a total of 318 Lega works of art.
 
The Lasts, longtime supporters of the Fowler, have made many significant gifts of African art, helped fund the construction of the Fowler's building on the UCLA campus and recently endowed the museum's position of curator of African arts. They also have established a $1 million matching commitment to increase essential operating support for the museum.
 
"Jay and Deborah Last have generously donated more than 660 works of art to the Fowler Museum since 1973 — including several distinctive and rare niche collections, such as the Zulu staffs and snuff containers currently on view — and can be counted among the museum's most loyal patrons," said Marla C. Berns, the Shirley and Ralph Shapiro Director of the Fowler Museum.
 
Jay T. Last has had a lifelong interest in Africa and African art and has focused his collecting on West and Central Africa. He said he found the Lega works of art particularly compelling.
 
"I was fascinated by the concept of the Lega society, one without hereditary or elected rulers, unified by a semisecret group, the Bwami Society, whose members rose in prestige and increasing influence as they practiced a highly moral standard of social behavior." Last said. "The emphasis was on harmony in social relationships, circumspection, filial piety, group spirit, obedience, self-discipline and tenacity of purpose. This linking of art with moral culture, the use of art objects to serve as a teaching and inspirational device during Lega ceremonies, added a great deal of meaning to my collection."
 
The collection of works by the Lega people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo formed the basis of the museum's acclaimed exhibition "Art of the Lega: Meaning and Metaphor in Central Africa," which opened at the Fowler in 2001 and traveled to several venues. This fall, the exhibition will be shown at the musée du quai Branly in Paris under the title "Secrets d'ivoire: l'art lega d'Afrique central."
 
Jay T. Last, who trained as a physicist and earned a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is one of the eight original founders (known as the "fathers of Silicon Valley") of the Fairchild Semiconductor Corp. and led the group that made the first integrated circuit chip. He has written books on American graphic arts and is a founder of the Archaeological Conservancy. Deborah Last has a bachelor's degree in art history from UCLA and a master's in print journalism from the University of Southern California.

The Fowler Museum at UCLA is one of the country's most respected institutions devoted to exploring the arts and cultures of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas. The Fowler is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., and on Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The Fowler Museum, part of UCLA Arts, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. Parking is available for a maximum of $12 in Lot 4. For more information, the public may call 310-825-4361 or visit www.fowler.ucla.edu.
 
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