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The Rollyn Osterweis Krichbaum Memorial Program Fund for the Public Understanding of African Art and Culture

Endowments allow the Libraries to invest in print collections to preserve our collective past. So much of what the Libraries offers cannot be found elsewhere and named endowments ensure a steady and growing stream of income to acquire and preserve treasures. This post is written by Ruth Osterweis Selig, Research Collaborator, National Museum of Natural History.

In 2012, I established the Rollyn Osterweis Krichbaum Memorial Program Fund for the Public Understanding of African Art and Culture in memory my identical twin sister Rollyn. The endowment serves the Warren M. Robbins Library at the National Museum of African Art, supporting scholars-in-residence, public programming, lectures, and exhibitions, as well as book acquisitions.

Rollyn Krichbaum and her son Steven.
Rollyn Krichbaum and her son Steven.

The endowment honors the life and career of Rollyn, who was a museum professional dedicated to education, publications, and museums, working as an editor in the publications department at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Before her untimely death in 1982, Rollyn helped organize and edit the catalog Treasures of Ancient Nigeria (text by Ekpo Eyo and Frank Willett), which accompanied an exhibition of international importance organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts. It was the first comprehensive display of Nigerian art in the United States and the first time the Nigerian government permitted a major loan of its art treasures spanning over 2,000 years. Featuring over 100 objects, the exhibition traveled to ten major North American cities, garnering enthusiastic reviews. The catalog sold tens of thousands of copies and has been translated into several languages.

Rollyn considered her involvement with Treasures of Ancient Nigeria and especially her collaboration with the esteemed Nigerian art historian Ekpo Eyo (Director of the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments) as the most important work of her entire career. Treasures was on a continuum with Rollyn’s commitment to civil rights, after she co-founded a civil rights group at Wellesley College. In the early 1970s, she married Dan Krichbaum, a Methodist minister at a large church located in the heart of Detroit. She and Dan shared a commitment to improving community relations in urban settings. During the 1960s and 1970s, the world witnessed struggles in both America and Africa for greater freedom and independence, and Rollyn viewed the exhibition’s importance within that dual context.

Treasures of Ancient Nigeria
Treasures of Ancient Nigeria

In recognition of Rollyn’s commitments, values, and editorial work, I established an endowed program fund through which my twin’s contribution to the field of African art will live on by supporting acquisitions and special programming at the Warren M. Robbins Library.

Ruth Osterweis Selig is a long-time Smithsonian employee and currently a research collaborator in the National Museum of Natural History’s Department of Anthropology. Similar to her sister, Ruth has dedicated her professional life to education, publications, and museums. Ruth has made gifts for over 20 years to help librarian Janet Stanley purchase volumes for the library; it now contains over 300 African art books with memorial bookplates honoring Rollyn, in addition to the new Program Fund.

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