There is an old African proverb which says: “If you want to know the end, look at the beginning.”


For Lisa Jackson, Education Coordinator at the Savannah African Art Museum, the timeless adage speaks to the importance of knowing one’s origins.


In recognition of Black History Month, throughout February the museum’s staff held workshops helping museum visitors trace where they came from, an experience at the heart of the museum’s mission.


“It’s important for all of us to know who we are, where we’re from, what we’ve done and just understanding how we fit in the big picture,” Jackson shared.


Black History Month itself has come a long way. Founded in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson, it was originally celebrated during the second week of February as “Negro History Week.”


Students at Kent State University began expanding the week into a monthlong event in 1969 and by 1976 during the nation’s bi-centennial year, President Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month, calling it a time to honor the accomplishments of black Americans throughout history.


For tour guides and curators at Savannah African Art Museum, their mission is to share the prominent role African art and history has played in not just America’s story but world history at large.


“Knowing where you’re from and your ancestors; it provides that sense of grounding and roots,” Founding Director and Chief Curator Billie Stultz said. “We’re all connected in some shape or form.”


During two free workshops in February visitors learned how to research and catalog their own genealogy utilizing free resources including those available at Bull Street Library.


Later, class participants returned to share what they found, creating a historical patchwork of the diverse residents and families belonging to the region.


All March long during Women’s History Month the museum will recognize prominent female African figures who played a significant and often forgotten role in history.


Jackson says these strong women characters still resonate in modern culture today with a recent example of the Amazon warriors in the Marvel superhero-movie “Black Panther” based on real-life Dahomey Amazons, an all-female group of African military fighters.


Museum workshops occur every second and fourth Saturday of the month and are free and open to the public, as are tickets and tours of the Savannah African Art Museum.


Staff say the open-door policy is a conscious effort to make African art accessible to all ages and backgrounds, something not often found in other art museums, Stultz noted.


“Sometimes we put museums on these pedestals of inaccessible high art and we just want to bring it back down to ground level,” Stultz added. “Anyone can come to this museum to experience and learn as long as you come with an open mind, because that’s why we’re here - to share knowledge and experience.”


The Savannah African Art Museum contains more than 1,000 artifacts and works of art from West and Central Africa. The collection was formed over the course of more than 30 years by Don Kole, a Savannah businessman, private collector and founder of the museum. His impressive collection of African art highlights a range of ceremonial and spiritual objects made from ceramics, metal and wood dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries.


The museum was opened in 2016 and just celebrated its first year at its new location in a large historic home on the corner of 37th and Abercorn streets. This month the Savannah African Art Museum also re-opens its terracotta gallery, featuring a range of ceramic works and pots used for ceremonial and daily life.


The museum’s mission is to start conversations about African history art and culture and create engaging experiences with the art to a broader audience. It’s the only one of its kind in the area and a treasure for school children, college students and art enthusiasts alike, staff say.


“This museum is open to everyone,” Jackson added. “If children start going at a young age, they will recognize that knowledge and history is for them as well. It’s a door-opener for them to explore, grow and discover.”


Admission to the Savannah African Art Museum is free, though donations are always welcome, staff said. Volunteer positions and internships are available, and school tours are welcome throughout the week.


For more information about the Savannah African Art Museum visit www.savannahafricanartmuseum.org or call (912) 721-7747.


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