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Sieber, Roy

    Full Name: Sieber, Roy

    Other Names:

    • Roy Sieber

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1923

    Date Died: 14 September 2001

    Place Born: Shawano, WI, USA

    Place Died: Bloomington, Monroe, IN, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): African (general, continental cultures), African sculpture styles, decorative art (art genre), hair (material), metal, sculpture (visual works), and textile art (visual works)

    Career(s): art historians, curators, and educators


    Early American historian of African art, founder of the discipline of African art history in the United States; Rudy Professor of Fine Arts, Indiana University, 1974-. As a child, Sieber accompanied his parents on trips to Chicago visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and, most importantly for him, the Field Museum where many African artifacts were displayed. He graduated from the New School for Social Research in New York in 1949 guided in his studies by Meyer Schapiro, Rudolf Arnheim, and the artist Mauricio Lasansky. Sieber moved to the University of Iowa where he received his M.A. in 1951. In 1956, Sieber curated a small exhibition of African art while studying at the University. The following year his Ph.D. was granted (1957). His dissertation, on African art, was the first in the United States. Titled “African Tribal Sculpture,” it examined the spiritual and religious connections between African sculptors and their work. In 1959 he contributed an essay to the Cleveland Museum of Art exhibition, Seven Metals of Africa. He joined Indiana University as an associate professor in 1962, one of the original scholars in the University’s nascent African Studies Program as the Rudy Professor of Fine Arts. In 1983, Sieber became Associate Director for Collections and Research at the National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian Collections), where he was responsible for evaluating collection research and developing acquisition standards. Sieber received the first Leadership Award from the Arts Council of the African Studies Association in 1986. At the Museum, he curated several major exhibitions, including African Art in the Cycle of Life (1987) with Roslyn Walker, the inaugural exhibition of the museum’s site on the Mall. Sieber authored the introduction to Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art and Hair in African Art and Culture and the essay in “Extreme Canvas: Hand-Painted Movie Posters From Ghana.” He relinquished his Smithsonian position in 1993 to found an art collection on the Bloomington campus called “The House of Nigeria.” He suffered a stroke and died in 2001. A Roy Sieber Fellowship at the Henry Hope School of Fine Arts was established in his memory. His students included Cornelius Oyeleke Adepegba and Martha G. Anderson. Sieber is considered the “founder of the discipline of African art history in the United States” (Kreamer). His major publications, such as African Textiles and the Decorative Arts (1980), are object-oriented discussions that also explain the social context of the works examined.

    Selected Bibliography

    Sculpture of Northern Nigeria, New York: New York Museum of Primitive Art, published by University Publishers, 1961; Sculpture of Black Africa: The Paul Tishman Collection, Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1968; African Masterworks in the Detroit Institute of the Arts, Washington, D.C.: Published for the Detroit Institute of the Arts by the Smithsonian Institution, 1995.


    African Arts 25 no. 4 (October, 1992); DAI 17, no.12 (1957): 2970; Kreamer, Christine Mullen. “A Tribute to Roy Sieber: Part I.” African Arts 36 no. 1 (Spring 2003): 12-23, 91, Part 2. African Arts 36 no. 2 (Summer 2003): 10-29, 94; [obituaries:] Gupta, Pritha. “Indiana U. mourns loss of a legend.” Indiana [University] Daily Student. September 18, 2001; “Roy Sieber, 78, Dies, Smithsonian Official.” Washington PostSeptember 21, 2001, p. B7

    Contributors: LaNitra Michele Walker and Lee Sorensen


    LaNitra Michele Walker and Lee Sorensen. "Sieber, Roy." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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