In Memoriam: Marshall Ward Mount (1927-2018)

I learned of Marshall Ward Mount’s November 25, 2018 passing from my aunt this past January. A Jersey City native, like Marshall, she had been thrilled by my first visit to the storied Mount home more than twelve years ago. The opportunity to view the African art collection he had amassed over decades of research travel to the continent made a lasting impression. While enrolled in Professor Mount’s Arts of Africa course as an undergraduate at New York University, I, along with hundreds of students from Marshall’s six decades of teaching, was exposed to the history of African art for the first time. His passion and enthusiasm for the subject impressed me. His personal attachments to the objects, to their lives and stories intrigued me. The box of Paul Wingert’s African art prints that I purchased for the class still sits on my bookshelf – a reminder of my introduction to a canon of objects that I’ve since learned to deconstruct, complicate and expand. Some of that crucial work began by later reading Marshall’s own book, African Art: The Years Since 1920 (1973), the research for which he received a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship as a student of Paul Wingert’s at Columbia University. This book is integral to the historiography of modern and contemporary African art history. With a generous and encouraging spirit, Marshall eagerly supported me in the early stages of my career. He introduced me to individuals whose own generosity made the pursuit of a life in art history seem possible. As I look back through my correspondence with Marshall, I am reminded of just how significant his support was to my own growth in this field. I visited Marshall and his wife Caroline’s Jersey City home for a second time while research assistant for the Arts of Africa collection at the Newark Museum. Beyond the thrill of viewing his collection with more discerning eyes, I remember Marshall’s stories. In one, he joyfully recounted his return from one of his first trips to the African continent. With a twinkle of mischief in his eye, he recalled the moth infestation that took hold in his mother’s home when he opened the crates of art and textiles he brought back from his trip, an inevitable inconvenience of the journey. Through his collecting and teaching, Marshall allowed me, and so many others, to witness firsthand the ways African objects and narratives have been mobilized to take root in the cultural imagination, both far and very near. He brought African art “home” for me as a fellow New Jerseyan and opened my eyes to the world right outside my door. Donations may be made in Marshall Ward Mount’s memory to the African Wildlife Fund.

By Perrin Lathrop, PhD Candidate, Princeton University