It’s easy to see why buying art can seem unattainable. When was the last time you went to an auction at Sotheby’s? Did you run into Picasso in the hallway? Have you asked a financial advisor to look for investment funds dedicated to art?
Buying art should be fun. Remember the collection of posters that hung in your college dorm. Didn’t it make you feel better just looking at it? Simply put, it’s art. It is as much a visual emotion as it is a physical statement about you and what is going on in the larger society around you.
When it comes to being art, we’ve all heard the advice that we should just buy what we love, but what it feels like to respond to art visually, emotionally and intellectually. ?
To build confidence in the decision-making process, EBONY spoke with Mississippi attorney and private art collector Wilbur Colom, who owns a fantastic collection of Shona stone carvings, believed to be the largest outside of the Africa. A master of stone architecture, the Shona (Bantu) Kingdom helped build the stone walls surrounding the vast and wealthy empire of the Great Zimbabwe World Trade Network, which is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
EBONY: You didn’t go to Zimbabwe to buy art. Do you remember the moment that changed?
Wilbur Columbus: The first one [sculpture] I bought I bought at the market just by looking at it. When I fell in love I was traveling through the valleys towards Zimbabwe with my son and we had the opportunity to go to the rural areas and see the people who were digging these stones and selecting them. I met a local guy who had three big stones. I mean tall as a human he dug with the help of eight to ten guys. The one he had been chiseling for months and was about to finish. He said that when he saw this stone, he saw a family. He said the stone tells you what it’s gonna be. This stone that I now have in my yard.
You have more than 150 sculptures. What was the motivation behind buying one to start a collection?
The sculptures remind me of Mississippi Blues music. All those great blues musicians that we had in Mississippi. We had guys who could do blues songs in my little town of Ripley. But now you can’t find a truly authentic Blues singer. The same was happening in Zimbabwe. There were all these great stone carvers, but none of the young people did. The art form was dying in my mind so I started collecting because I thought it was going to be a very unique collection.
Exhibiting artwork at home depends a lot on your personal preferences. You wanted to exhibit the sculptures both indoors and outdoors. Why was this a critical decision?
I have a pre-war house. It’s ironic to bring home a pre-war era and fill it with African sculptures. No pictures of people in cotton fields picking cotton. It is the opposite of what you would expect. The garden was actually built around art.
Why is it important for black people to own works of art created by African Americans and Africans?
I grew up in the days of civil rights in the South. One of the things I remember is that art draws the line of music. So when you think back to that time, you think of music and art. There are classic images by Huey Newton and John Lewis and paintings by Malcolm X that define images in our culture. These images become part of the culture and they are embedded in people and they are not even aware of it. Therefore, art is very important in defining long term culture. In addition, artists must sell their art to continue to be artists. So one of the reasons I buy is because I want them to be able to do more. I don’t want them to give up.