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A Voice From The Congo

The Chief of the Tribe, 1908. Royal Museum for Central Africa.

The Chief of the Tribe

A native of the African Congo seated on a lion skin and reclining against a wood tip stool on the back of which are suspended human skulls, attesting to his prowess in battle and symbolizing his office as chieftain. This over life-size sculpture symbolizes the “unknown world of primitives, with its mysteries, its savagery, its sufferings, and its promise.” [Heilig] It is a work to attract and hold the attention of the thoughtful visitor.
The Chief of the Tribe
Awarded the gold medal of the Société des Artistes Français in 1908.
This work was created by Herbert Ward (1863–1919), an English adventurer, writer, illustrator and artist-sculptor who was a nephew of the taxidermist Rowland Ward.

Herbert Ward

Born in London on the 11th of January 1863. He was the son of Edwin Ward, also a noted taxidermist and the elder brother of Rowland Ward (1847-1912). Edwin and Rowland were both trained in their father’s taxidermy studio before setting up their own and the former is the presumed author of 'Knapsack Manual for Sportsman on the Field', London, 1872 which is a guide to big game hunting around the world. For a while Edwin, his brother Rowland and their father Henry were all operating taxidermy businesses in London at the same time, causing a degree of confusion. Herbert's grandfather, Henry Ward (1812-1878), assisted John James Audubon in 1831 and went with him on the first collecting trip in America.
Herbert Ward evidently inherited his artistic talent and a visions of a wider world of adventure. He spent much of his early life travelling in New Zealand, Australia, Borneo, and the Congo.
When in Africa, from 1884-1889, Ward lived for five years among the native people, observing with great interest and sympathy their material culture and mode of life. He took notes and made drawings which were to serve him later when he pursued a career as an artist. He collected some 2700 specimens of their weapons and other objects of their material culture. Including zoological specimens, consisting primarily of hunting trophies such as an elephant head, a python, antelopes and a gorilla skeletons.
Herbert Ward's Paris studio displaying a collection of African Congo weapons, including bronze statue of The Chief of the Tribe, tusks and stuffed monkey. 1910
Photo: Harry C. Ellis, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
Herbert Ward's Paris studio displaying African weapons and artifacts. An elephant trophy, a python, bronze statuary, and gorilla skeleton. 1910
Photo: Harry C. Ellis, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
Once back in Europe he produced numerous sculptures depicting various peoples of Africa. Ward states his artistic goal was “to make something symbolical — not an absolutely realistic thing like wax works in an anatomical museum — but to make something which demands two different requirements; the thing must have the spirit of Africa in its broad sense, and at the same time it should fill the requirements of the art of sculpture.” It is this approach which distinguish his sculptures from scientific documentation, and other ethnographic sculptures and life cast studies.
Sterling Heilig, a Paris-based correspondent and Ward’s friend, says of the sculptures:
“The sculptor has infused into the dead bronze the pathos, the dignity, and the genius of the African forest dweller. He has brought home to us the infinite tragedy of the Congo in these marvelous reproductions of Central African types, which will tell all who see them of that unknown world of primitives, with its mysteries, its savagery, its sufferings, and its promise. Nothing but sheer power could have forced upon western cultured superficiality the interest which Ward's work excites — interest in a race long persecuted with pitiless cruelty, a race of another color, remote, incomprehensible to the western mind.”
Herbert Ward working on the Fire Maker in his studio in Paris.
Photo: The Outlook.
After Ward’s death, his collection of African ethnologica, together with his sculptures were donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington by his widow, Sarita Sanford Ward. Four large scale polychromed plaster casts versions of the sculptures entitled A Congo Artist, The Fire Maker, The Idol Maker, and The Chief of the Tribe are in the collection of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren.

The Royal Museum for Central Africa

The Idol Maker - The Royal Museum for Central Africa.
The Fire Maker - The Royal Museum for Central Africa.
A Congo Artist - The Royal Museum for Central Africa.

A Biographical Note

A biographical introduction of Herbert Ward by Sydney S. Pawling [Mr. Poilu: notes and sketches with the fighting French. 1916]
... Ward sailed in an emigrant ship, the James Wishart, a 700 ton barque, for Auckland, New Zealand, a tougher discipline than even the uncongenial school life. For the three following years he graduated in a university of struggle and hardship in various parts of New Zealand and Australia, being in turn sailor, kauri-gum digger, coal and gold miner, sailmaker, gymnast in a travelling circus, and stock-rider.
Wishing to return to England, and not having any more attractive opportunity, he shipped as an A.B. before the mast in the full-rigged ship The Star of the Sea from Sydney to San Francisco, and round Cape Horn to London. The call of the sea was irresistible, and after a short stay he made two further voyages, one to New York in The Persian Monarch, a ship carrying Scandinavian emigrants, and again to Singapore. This last voyage was with the definite object of seeking adventure and experience in Borneo, where, through the interest of the Governor of the North Borneo Company, he was enrolled as a cadet in the service. This gave him the wider scope for which his abilities were fitted. He was sent on an important expedition of some hundreds of miles up the Kinabatangan River to an outpost at Penungah, among picturesque but uncertain natives. Here, for eight months, by tact and a sympathetic understanding with the natives, he did valuable work, until a severe attack of jungle fever laid him low.
After a few months of convalescence in England, in the autumn of 1884 Ward went to the Congo under the auspices of Sir Henry M. Stanley. Here he was commissioned to assist in the organisation of transport service, going far into the interior to found stations and persuade the various chiefs to lend their able-bodied men as carriers. Varied active service in what is now the Congo Free State lasted for two and a half years, when the news reached him of Stanley's arrival in command of the Expedition to relieve Emin Pasha in the Sudan. On his own initiative Herbert Ward collected a force of over four hundred natives as carriers, and marched down country with them to meet Stanley, placing his and their services at the great explorer's disposal. His offer was accepted, and he was enrolled as an officer (voluntary) of the Expedition, and a further two and a half years of unceasing and exciting work were passed in the centre of the Dark Continent.
In 1890 Herbert Ward married, in America, Sarita, daughter of C. H. Sanford of New York, and settled for ten years in England. His interest and work in sculpture called him, in 1900, to Paris, and there he migrated with his family of five children, alternating between the busy studio and home life of the city, and a beautiful country home at Rolleboise on the Seine, forty miles from Paris.
The years between 1900 and the outbreak of the present war were full of fine work in sculpture, mainly concerned with the presentation of the Central African life he has always loved so well. A constant exhibitor at the Salon, where he was awarded two gold medals, he was further honoured by specimens of his work being acquired for the Luxembourg, and in 1911 he received the Cross of the Legion of Honour. ...

Explorations and adventures in Borneo

"Good-bye till we meet again in London."
Drawn by W.H. Margetson, from a sketch by Herbert Ward.
After a brief rest in England Herbert Ward started for North Borneo as a cadet in the service of the British North Borneo Company. In the awful jungles and malarial swamps which constitute a portion of that domain he contracted worse fevers than he ever afterwards experienced in Africa, and he was compelled to return to England.
He brought back with him but one happy, yet painful, reminiscence from the Bornean forests — namely, the friendship he had formed for Frank Hatton, an attractive, bright, accomplished young fellow, who seemed destined to do exceptionally good work in the service of the North Borneo Company, but who, by a most regrettable accident, was killed by the chance discharge of his gun when forcing his way through a jungle.
Ward, having been the first and nearest white man to learn the news and particulars of Frank Hatton's death, was able to supply the relatives of the deceased with a fuller account of what had occurred than the meagre telegrams which had been transmitted by the authorities, and in this way he became acquainted with his companion's father, Mr. Joseph Hatton, who eventually introduced Ward to Stanley , and thus got him an appointment in the service of the Congo Free State in 1884.
[The Speaker, vol.2, 1890.]
Frank Hatton (31 August 1861 - 1 March 1883) was a British geologist and explorer. His father, the journalist Joseph Hatton (1839–1907) wrote a biographical preface to the book on North Borneo published posthumously based on field notes. Herbert Ward is mentioned in the last diary from the expedition: 'North Borneo: explorations and adventures on the equator', 1885.

Published works by Herbert Ward

Ward published several volumes of reminiscences: 'Five years with the Congo cannibals', Chatto & Windus, 1891; 'My Life with Stanley's Rear-Guard', CL Webster, 1891; 'The Voice from the Congo', Scribner & Sons, 1910 and 'Mr. Poilu: Notes and Sketches with the Fighting French', Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1916.

Herbert Ward's Gift to the National Museum

The Herbert Ward African Collection on display in the United States National Museum, 1921.
Smithsonian Institution Archives.
The museum’s first permanent exhibit was on view from the end of the 19th century until the 1960’s. In 1922 it was modified when a new exhibit was installed which featured the Herbert Ward collection. As Mary-Jo Arnoldi points out, ”the curators consciously worked to captured some of the drama that Herbert Ward had achieved in his private set up of his collection in Paris. This new installation represented a shift in style of ethnology exhibits, but not in their interpretative intent. The exhibition articulated and reflected the principal late-nineteenth century beliefs and attitudes about Africa and Africans, and it contributes publicly and dramatically to supporting an already popular discourse of misunderstanding about the continent and its peoples.”
'The Cultures of Africa', the museum's second permanent exhibit opened in the late 1960’s. The Ward sculptures had no place in this new narrative, and most of them were removed. "The dismantling of the 1922 installation, the integration of the Ward collection of African material culture with other collections, and the displacement of the Ward bronzes has effectively eradicated the intimate association between the collection and the collector that once was so much a part of the collection’s history." [Mary-Jo Arnoldi] The new exhibit remained on view with few modifications for quarter of century until it was dismantled in 1992 amid public controversy.
Mary Jo Arnoldi's article entitled 'From the Diorama to the Dialogic : A Century of Exhibiting Africa at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History' gives a brief history of the African anthropological collections at the Smithsonian. It analyses the history of permanent African exhibits and the relationship to specific anthropological theories.
The former U.S. president and African big game hunter Theodore Roosevelt, who visited the artist's studio in Paris, wrote a brief article entitled 'Herbert Ward's Gift to the Smithsonian' on the life work of Ward.
Reviews on Herbert Ward's bronzes by Elbert Francis Baldwin, 'Herbert Ward: Explorer, Sculptor, War Worker' ; Jay Culver, 'Herbert Ward - An Artists and Adventurer' ; Leila Mechlin 'The Herbert Ward African Collection' ; The Independent, 'The Soul of the Black'.
  • Department of Anthropology photograph collection of anthropological exhibits 1890-1910, Smithsonian Institution
  • Pat Morris, Rowland Ward Taxidermist to the World, MPM 2003.
  • Baldwin, Elbert Francis, Herbert Ward: Explorer, Sculptor, War Worker, New Outlook, v.30, 1922.
  • Mechlin, Leila, The Herbert Ward African Collection, Magazine of Art, v.13, 1922.
  • Culver, Jay D., Herbert Ward - An Artists and Adventurer, Dearborn Independent, Volume 22, 1922.
  • The Soul of the Black, The Independent, v.74, May 1, 1913.
  • Holmes, William H., Herbert Ward's Achievements in the Field of Art, Art and Archeology, Vol.18, 1934.
  • Arnoldi, Mary Jo, A distorted mirror: the exhibition of the Herbert Ward Collection of Africana, Chater 14, In: Museums and communities: the politics of public culture I edited by Ivan Karp, Christine Mullen Kreamer and Steven D. Lavine.
  • The Speaker, vol.2, 1890.
  • Rowland Ward, A Naturalist's Life Study in the Art of Taxidermy, London: Rowland Ward, 1913.
  • Wikipedia, Herbert Ward