For Students


World-Class African Art Collection Donated to U-M Museum of Art

Standing figure
Songye culture
Bekalebwe, ca. 1890
Wood, copper, metal tacks, snakeskin, fiber, cloth
Gift of Helmut Stern

”Helmut’s heartfelt passion and sustained commitment to UMMA is deeply moving,” said former UMMA Director James Steward. “The collection’s particular strength in the art of one region is especially appropriate to a university museum, where it will serve a profoundly important research purpose as well as provide much visual pleasure for our visitors.”

Originally from Hanover, Germany, Mr. Stern attended George Washington University (1939–1942) in Washington, DC and has made his home in Ann Arbor since 1942. Mr. Stern is President of Arcanum Corporation and from 1946 to 1983 he was General Manager and President of Industrial Tectonics, Inc. He has long been actively involved with the University of Michigan as a wise and strategic advisor and unstinting volunteer and supporter of the arts, humanities, public health, public policy, and the sciences. Currently, he is a member of UM President Mary Sue Coleman’s President’s Advisory Group, the Health System Advisory Group, and the Cardiology National Advisory Board, and he is campaign chair for the Kellogg Eye Center.

“Helmut Stern has shown his generosity to U-M over many years and in a myriad of ways,” said President Mary Sue Coleman. “He has been a wonderful volunteer, charitable with his time and his support, as well as an astute and trusted counselor who sees the big picture and takes the long view.” 

Mr. Stern began collecting modern European and American art in 1950s, later becoming increasingly interested in Asian and African art. During the 1980s, under the guidance of then-UMMA director Evan Maurer, a noted expert on African art, the collection and its focus on the art of the Congo region took shape as new works were acquired from art dealers across the United States and Europe. Over the years, Stern generously gave numerous works of art to UMMA and provided the Museum with funds for key art acquisitions. Previous Stern gifts to UMMA include a significant collection of Japanese paintings, masterworks by Swiss artist Paul Klee and English master J. M. W. Turner, and several individual African works.

The Stern collection of African art given to UMMA has been broadly studied and published, and was presented in a major exhibition and accompanying catalogue at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1999 entitled Spirits Embodied: Art of the Congo—Selections from the Helmut F. Stern Collection, which was curated by former UMMA Director Maurer and Niangi Batulukisi.