Two paintings discovered in archive


Collection research is not a finite activity. Questions leads to answers which lead to more questions. Here is one example of two newly discovered paintings in the ethnography collection and some of the research that went with it. This is part of the Designated-funded Discovering Worlds: Africa project.


Nancy Stanfield


One of our key donors of African textiles is a lady called Nancy Stanfield (nee Clay). Born in Nuneaton in 1905, Stanfield trained in art, passing her entrance exam to the Royal College of Art in 1924 where she studied until 1928. Her passion for art led her to continue her training at the V&A and at the Central School of Art and Design. However, her learning encompassed a love for weaving, vegetable dyeing, spinning etc.


Married in 1948, Stanfield went with her botanist husband to Nigeria. She went on to become a lecturer at a number of different teacher training colleges. Stanfield taught crafts in local communities and organised exhibitions of their work. Her work led her to publish many art books to be used by teachers. However, in the 1950s and 60s Stanfield focused her time on the production of adire cloth in Ibadan and Abeokuta. In 1960 she went on to produce an educational television series on local arts and craft for the Nigerian Television Service. Nancy Stanfield should be acknowledged as a local hero to Nuneaton and Devon for her incredible work as an art teacher but mainly for also being a scholar of adire cloth.


An important text on adire


In 1966, Stanfield exhibited her collection of weaving and dyeing artefacts at the Horniman Museum, and donated a good half of her collection to that institution. This also includes her slide archive. In 1968, Stanfield contributed a chapter to the first major text on adire. This was edited by Jane Barbour and Doig Simmonds and is entitled Adire Cloth in Nigeria, published by The Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan. This significant volume has been updated and can be found here.


In 1998, the remainder of her adire textile collection was bequeathed to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. This included an important archive – a copy of her slides, her art books, her television notes, various water colour paintings and portraits. It was going through this archive that a surprise discovery was made; two water colour paintings of scenes in Nigeria that had been produced by Ben Enwonwu and dated 1949-51.


Ben Enwonwu


Odinigwe Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu MBE was born in Onitsha, Nigeria in 1917. A renowned painter and sculpture. As a young student at the Government College in Umuahia his artistic talent was noticed. In the 1940s he worked a number of government educational institutions. He soon won a scholarship to continue his art education in England. In 1944 he studied at Goldsmith’s College, London and this was followed by a place at Ruskin College, Oxford. Finally two years at the Slade School of Fine Arts where he obtained a First. Art aside briefly, he also undertook study in anthropology at UCLA and Louisana State University, Baton Rouge. His Masters degree in this subject was completed at UCL.


Enwonwu in Nigeria


In 1959, Enwonwu returned home where he became an advisor to the Nigerian government. It was during the 1960s that he decided to commit his time to his own painting and sculpture – during his time Queen Elizabeth II sat for him during her trip to Nigeria in 1956, and the resulting bronze statue resides at the entrance to the Parliament Buildings in Lagos.


In 1971, he became a visiting professor in African studies to Harvard University, and in the same year was appointed Professor of Art at the University of Ife in Nigeria. He retired in 1975 and passed away in Lagos in February 1994. He remains remembered for his passion of art and the preservation of artworks in Nigeria. Enwonwu was also a prolific writer and an art critic. In 1955, he was awarded an MBE from the Queen Elizabeth II, and in 1980 received the National Order Merit by the Nigerian government.


And here in the Stanfield archive at RAMM are two of his water colours.

Ben UnwonwuOf course, there is one unresolved question. How did Nancy Stanfield and Ben Enwonwu know one another? This will require a little more work but I have a feeling that they met during his exhibition in Lagos circa 1949-1951. Stanfield kept two of his paintings among her own water colours of Nigerian scenes.


The painting shown in this blog entry will feature in the World Cultures gallery in 2018 as part of the new Africa displays. If you can help me answer this question please do not hesitate to get in touch.