Meet Robert Glenn, an African tribal artifacts collector of over 400 original pieces made from bronze, wood and terracotta objects.
In honor of Black History Month, the Goodyear resident is showcasing his collection at West Valley Art Museum at Peoria City Hall, 8401 W. Monroe Street. Available through March 4, “African Art in the Cycles of Life” is free to the public.
Inviting the public to see his collections is important to Glenn, as is the study of the artifacts. His collection represents numerous tribes in many countries, including Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana, Nigeria and Zaire.
“I get to research the African part of my heritage and the spirituality that the African part of my heritage really represents,” he said. “It got me to form my own spirituality with a combination of things that I have experienced throughout my life.”
African tribal art is almost never meant to beautify or decorate, he said. The pieces — made of wood, bronze or terra cotta — are used for tribal worship, rituals, magic and communicating with the supernatural.
“With these items, a lot of time, they use these in their tribes,” Glenn said. “They keep them for life. To get them out of Africa is an amazing thing. My favorite piece is a Chokwe from Zimbabwe. It’s a statue that they put in front of their community for protection. It’s supernatural.”
Born in Detroit, Glenn became a professional African artifacts appraiser in 2010. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan, and a master’s from Wayne State University in Detroit, Glenn served as a Detroit Public Schools teacher, coach and administrator. Retiring after 35 years, Glenn has fully indulged in his beloved hobby.
Proud of his large collection, Glenn started it with an Ashanti stool from Ghana.
“At first I was buying and selling to other people as a distributor,” he said. “In Detroit, there’s a big community. I was purchasing it from the traders. I got to know some of the African traders personally. I got some real good pieces, and I fell in love with the pieces. I decided to stop selling and keep the pieces.”
Glenn said he strategically chose Goodyear as his family’s new home. Each year, he makes the two-hour drive to Tucson for the African tribal village sale.
“I can go to that every year to continue my collection,” he said. “They have about 50 traders who you can purchase from. They did not have one (last year), though, due to COVID. I love it here. It’s one of the best decisions I have ever made. I love being near Sedona. It’s a very spiritual place. I enjoy the people here. It’s a mixture here.”
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks adversely affected his collection and African tribal art.
“They destroyed the area that the traders would store art in,” he said. “They had a warehouse in New York, and it was crushed in that event. They would bring them in containers from New York and store them in this large warehouse. It all got destroyed.”
As an Estrella High School track coach, Glenn said his athletes and the community members became interested in his collection. He said he feels an obligation to educate other people about the history and importance of the art.
“Once they found out they said, ‘We didn’t know you had these pieces,’” he said. “I’ve had them over my house to give history lessons about the pieces. I’ve given a presentation at Total Wine in Goodyear where 70 individuals came."