Feedback
News

An African Art Collection Grows in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Man to Build African Art Museum With Personal Collection 1:58

It's the best-kept secret in Brooklyn.

Over 2,500 pieces of African art — some dating back as far as 4,000 years — all exist under one apartment roof and potentially worth millions of dollars.

As one of the largest private collections of African artifacts in the United States, it represents each of Africa's 54 countries and continues to grow, due to the passion of former AT&T executive Eric Edwards.

"The first piece I purchased was a small Mali Sunofo People of Origin maternity figure — it cost $300, it started there," Edwards told NBC News .

"If I see a piece I like and it ... I'm willing to do whatever it takes if I think it's worth it."

Artifacts in his possession include tools, ceremonial masks, jewelry, clothing and weapons: A copper, brass statue symbolizing birth and rebirth once at the entrance to a chief's compound in Mali; A feathered ornament from Liberia used for healing rituals from the early 1900's; A 500-year-old Nigerian drum — which was sold to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

An emphatic collector with a keen historical and cultural understanding of the items he has accrued over 44 years, Edwards stay close with his art, in fact, he lives it.

"The art for all of these years has given me sustenance," he said. "I've been blessed to be the caretaker of them. I said I take very good care of them, but they also take good care of me. It's a two-way street."

But now Edwards plans to open his own museum, an cultural institution to house his collection, in 2016.

"I realize I need to put this somewhere it can do good for some others and I realize I can't be selfish… My purpose in life is to provide a proper home for them."

As a native Brooklynite, Edwards will keep the museum in the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, under the architectural direction Rodney Léon, designer of the African Burial Ground National Monument in Manhattan.

"I thought it was something that was really long overdue for New York to have this level of. I think a museum for African Aat has been a long time coming," Léon stated. "When people are going to be able to actually interact with such a wonderful collection of African art, they're going to be able to start to understand the role that African art has played, in terms of history."

Even before the idea of the museum was born, Edwards has opened his door to colleges, institutions and youth several times, looking to inspire and educate using his vast collection, always glad to see the "sparkle in their eyes."

Recently, Edwards launched a Kickstarter campaign toward funding for the museum, with a donation from the government of Equatorial Guinea last year.

"I want to make the museum a beacon of learning and educator of value systems," Edward said. "For me to make this museum happen, it's going to take everything possible."