Alum donates Nigerian tribal chair

By Evan Brown

A Harvard School alumnus donated a beaded tribal chair to the school, intended for use by the chair of the Visual Arts department.

Ernie Wolfe III ’68 (Ernest IV ’10, Russell ’12) discovered the chair when visiting the village of Yoruba in Nigeria. Wolfe said he bought the chair with the intent to donate it to the school.
Wolfe said he can tell that the beads, which are red, white and black, are African-manufactured because of their differing, irregular sizes. In African culture, the beads covering the wicker skeleton indicate the owner’s level of wealth and act as “ostentatious symbols of authority or status.” They became popular in the 1960s. This chair was also part of the first generation of African chairs that used padding, a mark of European influence, he said.

Also, the geometric patterns indicated a contemporary influence as opposed to classic naturalistic patterns. Wolfe believes, based on the rounded back and open arms, that the chair was “constructed maybe 10 years ago.”
Wolfe has an art gallery in West Los Angeles, which showcases art objects with practical uses and contemporary African paintings. He has traveled to Africa roughly “four dozen times since 1973.”

The plaque on the back of the chair reads: “The Art Department Chair Person’s Chair. A Gift from the Wolfe Family. Diane, Ernie III ’68, Ernest IV ’10, and Russell The Only ’12.”