Texas couple donates African art collection to Philander Smith

Collection valued at $950,000 will serve as 'educational tool'

Kevin Katz, left, and Philander Smith College president Roderick Smothers, right, show members of the media a sculpture from the 25-piece collection donated to the school by Katz and his wife, Melissa, at the school's library on July 24, 2015.

Philander Smith College on Friday received 25 pieces of African art worth nearly $1 million to supplement art education at the school.

The gift will serve as an educational tool, teaching students about the “traditions that come with these pieces,” the majority of which originate from west and central Africa, Philander Smith College President Roderick Smothers said. “It’s a beautiful opportunity for the college.”

Texas optometrists Melissa, 64, and Kevin Katz, 61, donated the collection, valued at $950,000. The collection includes ceremonial wood and bronze sculptures and masks.

Kevin Katz, born and raised in South Africa, said he and his wife began collecting art in the 70s, and they’ve traveled to Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mozambique and Tanzania. The couple acquired most of the pieces in the donated assortment from African art dealers, he said.

They hope their gift will “inspire future generations of artists, collectors, researchers and anyone interested in learning about the intrigue and history of Africa.”

Smothers said the gift is timely because he’s in the process of forming what he calls a task force to revive arts and humanities at Philander Smith College.

“So, as we look at arts and humanities across the board, this gives an excellent addition to our learning laboratory to really begin to have our students focus on the historical aspects of art and what they mean for our cultures,” he said.

The new pieces join the school’s existing 50-piece collection of African art, which is believed to be the largest collection of African art in the state, Smothers said, though the school is working to verify that assertion.

Read Saturday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for more details.


Melissa Katz and her husband Kevin Katz, right, and Philander Smith College President Roderick Smothers, center, give a preview of the couple's gifted African art collection at the school's library on Friday, July 24, 2015.