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Home wraps around African art

To showcase an extensive art collection, niches, shelves and special lighting were made part of the design.

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 13, 2002

TAMPA -- When Donald and Lynda Temple met with architect Sol Fleischman Jr. to develop a design for their Avila home, their wish list included some standard fare. They knew they wanted a contemporary architectural style, a pool, a home office, a workout room and four bedrooms.

But they also wanted to make sure they had plenty of places to display their extensive collection of African art.

Fleischman delivered.

The 7,000-square-foot home built in 1998 is replete with art niches, built-in shelves and strategically placed recessed lights and spotlights to showcase dozens of statues, ceremonial masks and carvings.

Interior designers Sandra Chancey and Catherine Christie helped place the art, installed additional lighting and filled the home with soft furniture. Neutral colors link the earthy artwork with the home's sleek modern design.

All the walls and most of the floors are white. Cabinets are natural wood with black hardware. A three-dimensional window over the foyer echoes the curve of a winding staircase, where a silver railing leads from the foyer to the second floor.

Pillars with a stainless steel finish frame the entry to the living room. It flows into the kitchen, where green granite countertops match the lush landscaping seen plainly through the windows.

Upstairs in the loft are two chairs upholstered with zebra skin fabric and a pool table with a natural wood base and a black felt playing surface. Upstairs are three bedrooms, a guest room and rooms for the Temples' son and daughter. French doors open from the children's bedrooms to a shared balcony that overlooks the swimming pool.

The artwork, much of it carved from dark woods, stands out against the home's subtle tones.

Just inside the foyer, three tall statues carved by members of the Igbo tribe in Nigeria stand in niches that open into the dining room and have recessed lighting above. On the other side of the winding staircase, Igbo military figures are displayed similarly.

In the television room, a built-in shelf holds Mende masks, carved by a tribe in Sierra Leone. The masks are worn when performing female circumcisions, a controversial procedure that has generated protests from human rights organizations. On the opposite wall, a cloth embroidered with an ancient African design hangs from a spear.

Male and female wooden figures carved by members of the Ivory Coast's Senufo tribe stand guard in an art niche in the hallway outside the TV room. Donald Temple said that the figures, which he guesses were carved in the late 1800s, have extra large belly buttons, which were common in Africa at that time because of the way umbilical cords were cut after birth.

"For me, that's an interesting thing," said Temple, who is a general surgeon.

Niches on either side of the fireplace in the living room hold ceremonial masks, a medicine box and benches from Liberia not more than 1-foot high, and an Ashanti drum sits on the floor at one end of the white sofa.

Two masks displayed on pedestals flank a bamboo plant, which is also on a pedestal. Small lights hang down from ceiling to illuminate all three, creating the feeling of a wall between the kitchen and living room. Tall, thin statues are clustered in a corner of the kitchen.

A collection of intricately carved combs used by members of the Ashanti tribe in Ghana for braiding hair are on the display in Temple's office.

"The workmanship shows tremendous skill," Temple said of the carvings. "You would say they are people who are illiterate, but they stand out at what they do."

Lynda Temple's favorite piece of artwork is a terra cotta mask from Gabon created by the Punu tribe.

"It just has a presence to it," she said of the mask.

The Temples started collecting African art in the mid-1980s and found most of their pieces through a Tampa art dealer. There are a few exceptions, including an abstract print picked up in Ybor City, paintings from Bali and Cuba, and a water color of Madame C.J. Walker (America's first black female millionaire, who made her fortune selling hair care products) that the Temples picked up in Boston.

But most of them originated in Africa. Because of collecting, Donald Temple has become a student of African art. He keeps a three-ring binder filled with photographs of the art and descriptions of its symbolism and significance and history of the tribe that produced it.

"I have to learn about things," he said.

The Temples' son, Donald Jr., has also become a collector. When he was a junior at Berkeley Preparatory School (he now attends the University of Pennsylvania), he went to Tanzania with a student group and helped build a classroom there. He brought back a wooden chess set with pieces carved into the shapes of African animals.

Four framed photographs of Tanzanian landscapes hang in the guest bathroom downstairs, and in his bedroom he hung two spears and a colorful batik of African musicians.

Temple said he didn't just stumble onto collecting African art. It was a conscious effort.

"It's part of my history," he said.

Temple grew up in Sierra Leone. He came to the United States after high school and attended Hampton University in Virginia. He went on to earn his medical degree at Cornell University and met his wife, Lynda, while doing his surgery residency at St. Luke's Hospital. Lynda, a nurse, grew up in Trinidad.

In addition to collecting art, Temple advances understanding of African culture through his involvement in the Ivory Club, a professional group for natives of Africa. Club members come from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia and Ghana. The group has fundraisers and supports local charities. Temple, who currently serves as president of the 4-year-old organization, said he hopes to create a mentoring program.

"It would be good for the African-American kids to look at these people and see we made successes of ourselves," he said.

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