A Heritage Collection "l'Afrique"

Event Date: 
May 25 2009
Event Information: 

Press Release
l’Afrique: A Tribute to Maria Stein-Lessing and Leopold Spiegel

Africa Day: May 25, 2009:
Museum Africa, Newtown.
The opening of l’Afrique

A celebration of Leopold Spiegel and Maria Stein-Lessing’s knowledge and rich heritage of African art comes at a significant time. With world economies in freefall the value of art works, heritage and cultural items acquire increased value.
The couples’ contribution to preservation and appreciation of these objects is remarkable, beginning at a time when few South Africans’ displayed desire, knowledge, or interest in indigenous works. The few collectors saw it as ‘ethnography’ rather than ‘art’
Maria Stein-Lessing’s story begins in 1936 when she immigrated to South Africa from Germany - a Jew escaping the Holocaust. Rather than consider herself a victim forced to live in a foreign country with an alien culture, she immersed herself into South African culture, fascinated by South African art and artefacts.
By the mid-forties’ she had assembled an impressive collection of carvings, beadwork and unusual South African artifacts as well as paintings by pioneer South African artists.

After she married fellow Jewish immigrant from Germany - Leopold Spiegel they collected together. Having grown up in Europe in the early twentieth century, exposed to avant-garde café society European artists they knew great modernist masters of 20th Century art including Picasso, Gauguin, and Matisse were inspired by African art.

Maria Stein-Lessing’s contribution to the appreciation of modern and African art lay forgotten, after her death in 1961. Thus, Leopold Spiegel bequeathed a sum of money, enabling the Spiegel/Stein-Lessing collection of art and artefacts be reassembled as an exhibition with an accompanying publication.
With Natalie Knight editing the book, and co-curator Nessa Leibhammer, writing essays revealing the lives and work of the Stein-Lessing and Spiegel, their assembled collections are now in the public sphere.

Marie Stein-Lessing’s character as collector, teacher, personality, makes fascinating reading. To this end, the hard covered publication highlights Stein-Lessing’s foresight and describing her Bohemian lifestyle through the eyes and words of students whose lives she touched. Tributes about her emanate from art luminaries including Esmé Berman, Cecil Skotnes, Judith Mason, Elizabeth Rankin, and Eric Fernie (former director of the Courtauld Institute of Art in London). Their anecdotes recount Stein-Lessing’s unorthodox teaching methods. The book in a limited edition, is set to become a collector’s item. It will be launched simultaneously with l’Afrique exhibition at Museum Africa opening on the 25 May 2009.

l’Afrique: A Tribute to Maria Stein-Lessing and Leopold Spiegel
Date: 25 May 2009
Duration of 18 months:
Contact info:
Tel: 011- 4653606 Natalie Knight
Cell 082-411-6898 Carolina Geldenhuys (MA)

Fact File:
The works collected by Maria Stein-Lessing and Leopold Spiegel are to be found in collections belonging to Museum Africa (MA), The Johannesburg Art Gallery, and (JAG) The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and in the collections of Natalie Knight and Udo Horstmann. At MA many of these pieces will be exhibited together.

L’Afrique: A Tribute to Maria Stein-Lessing and Leopold Spiegel, published by David Krut Publishing and edited by Natalie Knight, art critic and author, who also writes the introduction and essay Hidden Treasures. Nessa Leibhammer (Curator of traditional southern African material at JAG) has written an essay on the collection items constituting the exhibition.
Essays by Esme Berman, Dr Paula Girshick (Indiana University) Prof. Andrew Spiegel and Phyllis Woolf offer different insights into the lives and contributions of Stein-Lessing and Spiegel.

Copies of l’Afrique –A Tribute to Maria Stein-Lessing and Leopold Spiegel is available @ R165 (if collected, or plus postage and packing) on orders placed before March 31, 2009. Proceeds of the book will go towards providing educational programmes and art bursaries for the disabled.
Enquiries: - Natalie Knight 011-485-3606 and Diana Wall at -833 5624 ext 259.
For order forms and more details: www.knightgalleries.net