Anderson, Martha G. 1948-

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ANDERSON, Martha G. 1948-

PERSONAL: Born 1948; daughter of H. Milton (a college mathematics professor) and Charlotte (an English teacher and office manager; maiden name, Loseth) Anderson. Ethnicity: "Scandinavian-American." Education: Saint Olaf College, B.A., 1970; New York University Institute of Fine Arts, M.A., 1976; Indiana University, Ph.D., 1983. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Lutheran. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, needlework, antiquing, collecting memorabilia related to Jeanette Loff (a 1920s and 1930s film actress).

ADDRESSES: Home—64 West University St., Alfred, NY 14802. Offıce—School of Art and Design, New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, 2 Pine St., Alfred, NY 14802. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Alfred University, New York, NY, professor of art history.

MEMBER: African Studies Association, ACASA (Arts Council of the African Studies Association), Phi Kappa Phi.

AWARDS, HONORS: Doctoral dissertation fellowship, Samuel H. Kress Foundation; Fulbright-Hayes Faculty Research Abroad grant, U. S. Department of Education.


(With Christine Mullen Kreamer) Wild Spirits, StrongMedicine: African Art and the Wilderness, edited by Enid Schildkrout, Center for African Art (New York, NY), 1989.

(With Philip M. Peek) Ways of the Rivers: Arts andEnvironment of the Niger Delta, edited by E. J. Alagoa, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History (Los Angeles, CA), 2002.

Contributor of essays to African Arts, as well as two Nigerian publications. Contributor of a chapter on the Niger Delta in Arts du Nigeria.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Articles on Ijo art and culture; conducting research on J. A. Green, a Bonny Ijo photographer who worked in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

SIDELIGHTS: Martha G. Anderson, a professor of art history at Alfred University in upstate New York, has concentrated her research on African art, focusing specifically on the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Anderson participated in two prominent exhibitions pertaining to African art, one of which opened in New York and the other in California; the exhibition catalogs for these shows, which she coauthored, were received as valuable contributions to the growing body of literature on African art and anthropology.

Anderson, who received her doctoral degree from Indiana University, spent two years in the late 1970s living in the Niger Delta region and researching the nature spirits of the Ijo (pronounced "Ijaw") people. Upon her return to the United States, she began working on her first exhibition catalog: Wild Spirits, Strong Medicine: African Art and the Wilderness, in collaboration with Christine Mullen Kreamer. The exhibition opened in June of 1989, initially presented at the Center for African Art in New York City and making subsequent appearances at four other venues. The exhibition aimed to illuminate the concept of wilderness in African art—not drawing simply from a background of art history, but participating in a broader ethnological discourse. American Ethnologist's Philip M. Peek commented on a recent trend among African art exhibitions, in which their catalogs "are making major contributions to the ethnological literature on African peoples by developing specific thematic issues through text and photographs"; Wild Spirits, Strong Medicine, he noted, "demonstrates all of these welcome changes."

Anderson and Kreamer's catalog, which Art Bulletin's Suzanne Blier called "thematically provocative and visually rich," is divided into five chapters, each of which details one theme pertaining to the ways in which African cultures interact with the natural world. The first chapter, entitled "Wilderness," takes an anthropological approach to examining the dichotomy between "civilization" and the "wild" world of nature—a distinction made in varying degrees by many peoples of Africa. The authors discuss boundaries in the second chapter, "Space," examining the ways in which the Wilderness can be used to define the human social realm. "Denizens of the Wild," the next chapter, addresses the religious beings associated with the Wilderness, while also discussing artistic representations of these beings. The fourth chapter, "Diviners, Healers and Hunters," examines the role of these specialists whose activities require them to maintain a relationship with the Wilderness; the final chapter, "Power," deals with that same relationship as held by certain people in positions of power, such as politicians, witches, and kings.

Many critics were impressed with the range and depth of the study, although Blier felt that the approach was somewhat too broad: "All the included cultures, arts, and ideas are given equal weight, so that it is very difficult for the reader to discern issues of special significance. Throughout, one wishes for an authoritative voice to articulate a sense of 'forest' through the many 'trees.'" In general, however, critics responded favorably to Wild Spirits, Strong Medicine; Peek called it "a valuable introduction to the diversity of African peoples' conceptions of the Wilderness as manifest in their arts," and Choice's C. D. Roy noted that "this is one of the most useful and informative books on African art to appear [recently]."

Anderson returned to the Niger Delta region in the early 1990s, this time to study the female diviners of the Ijo who are instrumental in producing many of the culture's noted artistic and performative works: giant wood sculptures and masquerades. This research led Anderson to work on her second exhibition catalog, Ways of the Rivers: Arts and Environment of the Niger Delta (written with Philip M. Peek), which dealt specifically with the Ijo, along with other Delta peoples. The exhibition opened at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History before traveling to other venues, and it explored the relationship of the river environment to the arts and rituals of the people. Nancy B. Turner noted in Library Journal that Anderson and Peek's volume "serves as more than an exhibition catalog," and praised its in-depth, anthropological approach. The catalog examined the ways in which the Delta peoples have been dealing with their unique environment—prone to heavy rains, tides, and floods—for hundreds of years. The different ethnic groups of the region, while often separated and isolated by the vast system of rivers and islands that make up the Delta, have also utilized these waterways as a means for transportation. The trading routes that developed as a result were the means for exchanging art forms and ideas not only with other Delta communities but also with Western countries; Anderson and Peek note the frequency with which European influence appears in the art of the Niger Delta. Ways of the Rivers celebrates the vibrant, oversized sculptures and elaborate masquerades that have emerged from the Delta region, exploring in particular two thematic trends: the "water-related" ethos and the "warrior" ethos. The catalog also addresses the recent development of the region, which—oil drilling in particular—threatens the delicate river-based ecosystem. Again, critics were favorably impressed with the scope of the work and treatment of the subject, and a reviewer for Tribal Arts called it "a fine catalogue for a fine exhibition."

Martha G. Anderson told CA: "As a child, I enjoyed reading about different eras and learning about other cultures. By the age of twelve, I'd decided to prepare for a career writing historical novels by pursuing dual Ph.D.'s in history and English. I later drifted toward art and found that I could combine these interests by specializing in non-Western art history.

"Because studying the art of another culture demands an interdisciplinary approach, I've been influenced by a variety of scholars, including anthropologists, historians, theologians, and linguists. Those I admire share my belief that it's possible to convey intellectual content in a clear and concise way without resorting to obscure jargon.

"My work typically combines library, museum, archival, and field research. Because fieldwork draws on lived experience, it can take a good deal of time to digest. Winnowing out extraneous information and excessive detail proves to be the most challenging part of the process. Once I've done that, I work on style. I try to draw readers into the text by establishing and varying the rhythm.

"Although I am concerned with academic integrity, I also desire—and find it morally imperative—to give something back to the Ijo people. In addition to recording what I have learned about their culture, I want to make others care about them and others who live in similar circumstances. Exhibition catalogs provide a good way to do this, because they address a broader audience than the academic press. In order to make my work accessible to nonacademics, I try to keep it jargon-free and lively."



African Arts, July, 1990, Patrick R. McNaughton, review of Wild Spirits, Strong Medicine: African Art and the Wilderness, pp. 22-29.

American Ethnologist, November, 1991, Philip M. Peek, review of Wild Spirits, Strong Medicine, pp. 815-816.

Art Bulletin, September, 1990, Suzanne Blier, review of Wild Spirits, Strong Medicine, pp. 510-512.

Choice, January, 1990, C. D. Roy, review of WildSpirits, Strong Medicine, p. 783.

Library Journal, October 15, 2002, Nancy B. Turner, review of Ways of the Rivers: Arts and Environment of the Niger Delta, p. 80.

School Arts, February, 1990, David Baker, review of Wild Spirits, Strong Medicine, pp. 71-72.


Tribal Arts, (May 22, 2003), review of Ways of the Rivers.

University of British Columbia Press, (May 22, 2003), description of Ways of the Rivers.

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Anderson, Martha G. 1948-

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Anderson, Martha G. 1948-