African Art Museum
of Maryland (AAMM)
A 501(c)(3) not-for-profit institution
Founded 1980

By Doris H. Ligon

The African Art Museum of Maryland (AAMM), founded in 1980 as the first Museum in the planned community of Columbia, MD, is unique. It is one of only three museums of its kind in the USA devoted exclusively to the art of Africa. Of those three, it is the only one founded by an African American. Among other supports, it has been recognized as “one of the State’s most respected cultural institutions,” and in 2013 was cited as “one of the top ten places to visit in Howard County, MD.” In 2011, AAMM became the first museum in the community of Maple Lawn in Fulton, MD, in Howard County.

Mission: In service to the public, the African Art Museum, through an exploration of the art of Africa, is dedicated to the encouragement of broader understanding and awareness of the diverse cultures and artistic expressions of the people of the African continent.

In firm belief that education and planned travel are major aids toward cultural understanding and, in demonstration of AAMM’s inclusiveness, multi-language didactic labels and oral presentations supplement select exhibited treasures. Also, organized travel to African nations is an AAMM activity.

Since its inception, AAMM has presented for viewing pleasure, in its location and at Outreach events, astounding works of the highest quality including contemporary, intercontinentally known, stellar artists, held in the highest esteem.

Artists include Nigerian fifth-generation Master Carver Lamidi Olonade Fakeye, whose “Housepost” was donated to the museum in 1985. Mr. Fakeye, by invitation, was commissioned to carve the doors leading to the Africa Room in the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center in Washington, DC. He has been invited throughout Europe and the USA to demonstrate his mastery of wood carving on college campuses and museums. Mr. Fakeye passed away in 2009; his reputation continues to grow. His works are in private collections and have been in world collections and retrospectives including: the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Oduduwa statue at University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). The Smithsonian Institution, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Western Michigan University.

Another artist of world fame is the Nigerian painter, Twins 7-7, whose “Two-Headed Ghost” was a centerpiece in the exhibit when Twins 7-7 exhibited his works and made an appearance at the Museum in 2001. There was standing room only. This painting was a gift to AAMM in 1986. His works are in private collections and institutions have included: the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian, France’s National Museum of Modern Art – Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the National Modern Art Gallery in Lagos.

Mr. Abdoulaye Kasse, Senegalese Master Weaver, created in the AAMM a “Butterfly” tapestry in thirteen days using his loom which had been shipped to the museum by his benefactor. In his Artist-in-Residence at AAMM, several visitors, to include students, came to witness his weaving. Upon completion, the piece was released from the loom and presented as a gift to AAMM. It hangs permanently in the Museum’s present location. Senegal is known around the world for its tapestries and Mr. Kasse, while working as a Master Weaver in Senegal, saw his works exhibited in the Ultimate Museum: The Louvre; the Fine Arts Museum in Strasbourg, France; Modern Art Museum of Brussels, Belguim; Tate Britain, London, England; National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland; Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin, Germany; Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, Australia; Chambres de Raphaël, Musées du Vatican, Rome, Italy; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada; National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.; the Senegalese Embassy, Washington, D.C.; The Whitney Museum, New York; and The Los Angeles Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA.
AAMM is the proud owner of the Harold Courlander Collection of Gold Weights – a much revered collection with some of the 202 weights over 400 years old. They are collectors’ items and were used to measure accurately gold dust. The Distinguished Harold Courlander, art collector and author of more than thirty-five books reflecting life in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the South and Southwest of the United States, and the continent of Africa, also worked as an information specialist, speech writer and editor for “The United Nations Review.” Mr. Courlander is credited with developing the name “Folkways,” and the record company continues today under the auspices of the Smithsonian. For fourteen years, Mr. Courlander, served as the African specialist, the Caribbean specialist, feature writer, and senior news analyst for the Voice of America.
The Collection
The traditional arts of Africa comprise the broad base of AAMM’s vast collection. Objects owned are gifts from individuals, or institutional collectors/collections whose interest vary to include diplomats, residents, business persons, Peace Corps and other volunteers.
The designation of traditional arts, for this packet, include items used by the indigenous people prior t, during and after colonization.
About the Founder
The African Art Museum of Maryland is the only known museum in the United States of America which is devoted exclusively to the art and culture of the continent of Africa founded by a Black female. As a student at Howard Community College in the early 1970’s, it became obvious to Doris Hillian Ligon that her semester course entitled “Art in Man’s Culture,” addressed several art cultures but not those of Africa.  This void seemed ever so obvious to the military wife who was to later learn the vast influence the art of ancient African civilizations has on world art forms.  As her project for the course, she chose to write a paper on African art.  This was the beginning.
In the early 1970’s, Doris Ligon completed the course at the (then) Museum of African Art on “A” Street in Washington, D.C., which qualified her as a docent. Until 1981, as a docent, she conducted tours through the galleries of that first Museum in the US devoted solely to African Art, which was founded in 1966 by Warren Robbins. It became in 1979 a Smithsonian affiliate.

Doris Ligon earned a Master’s Degree in Art History Museology in 1979 from Morgan State University (MSU) in Baltimore, Maryland, having studied under noted Professor James Lewis, who was an early pioneer for the importance of the exploration of African art. Ligon is the first graduate of MSU’s Museology degree-awarding school to start a Museum and to maintain it for 34 years. In 1979 and 1980, Ms. Ligon completed some post-graduate African history courses at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

It was during her volunteer service at the (then) Museum of African Art that she observed how there were relatively few visitors who came to the Museum, and, therefore the understanding of African art and culture was not reaching all segments of the population.

In an effort to remedy the situation, Ligon decided to begin a vigorous Outreach Program which was titled the African Experience Tour on October 8, 1980. Her words were: “Well, if they won’t come to where the art is, I’ll take the art to them!”

Becoming Legal
Weinberg & Green a (then) large corporate law firm in Baltimore, MD became the lawyers representing the entity the Ligons’ named Gallery Ligon, whose mission was to make a positive difference in the lives of all it served in reference to a deeper understanding of Africans through an exploration of the art of Africa.

Informing the Public
Gallery Ligon’s formation was sent to the media through a press release; the Sunpaper’s reaction was a call for an appointment from their art critic, Pearl Oxorn, who wrote an extraordinary article with photos. School officials called immediately for the free service, and because the program was very well received, the word spread and the mission was well on its way- without cost to the schools.

A Positive Impact - Gallery Ligon’s Motto: “Have Art: Will Travel”
Gallery Ligon’s mission to take art to the people was demonstrated as it conducted hundreds of presentations and installed exhibits in most of Howard County’s public and private schools with requests for repeated visits and extended stay of the exhibits. During the visits, which began in Fall 1980 and continues today (2014), thousands of students, teachers and staff have been recipients of the African Experience Tour; schools visited include those in Baltimore, MD, Washington, DC, and Virginia. Local galleries; federal offices, malls, outdoor facilities, commercial buildings, family reunion organizers, fraternal and religious organizations and Senior residences have also been recipients of the services.

In addition, to serve diverse religious groups, each 1st Saturday and 1st Sunday of the month for ten months, Gallery Ligon installed exhibits of various themes in the Interfaith Centers of Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills in Columbia, MD. Gallery Ligon’s motto, as its educational mission was “Have Art…Will Travel.” In 1983, Gallery Ligon was told by a Howard County School Official that because of the service and the quality of service provided by Gallery Ligon for the schools, that there would be included in 3rd and 6th grades a unit on Africa focusing on the countries of Kenya and Ghana.

Also in 1983, Gallery Ligon was re-designated as the Maryland Museum of African Art (MMAA) because it clearly defined the holdings of the Institution. The “Maryland” in the title denotes location; the Museum is not a budgetary item for the State of Maryland.

No Longer a Museum Without Walls
All associated with MMAA had always been in pursuit of affordable space that would allow it to provide the service for which it had become known and would later be identified as “one of the State’s most respected cultural institutions.”

October 1984 found the MMAA occupying temporary space in an under-utilized area in an elementary school in Columbia, MD. That location was short-lived because of the pupil increase in less than one year.

African Art: “At Your Place or Ours” was now an option.
Because of the MMAA’s positive contributions to the schools in Howard County, MD, permanent space was provided in 1985 in the (then) Rockland Arts Center by the (then) superintendent of Howard County Public Schools. The opening exhibit reflected the Founding Family’s sigh of relief – home at last. The exhibit, “African Art: Home At Last,” was installed in cases that were gifts from a location in Washington, DC. The exhibit included objects purchased by the Founding Family, gifts from art collector Abram Engelman, and with other art objects on loan. Upon its opening exhibit, MMAA was asked by the visitors “Are you part of Smithsonian?”

Another Move…Another Name Change
In 1989, an opportunity to return to a higher visibility location found the Museum in Columbia, MD, as its first museum and where it remained until May 2011. While there, for easier identification alphabetically, the MMAA became the AAMM: African Art Museum of Maryland, its current designation.

The Power, Wisdom and Behind – the-Scenes Organizer
While an examination of the past 34 years renders memories of plans for growth in space, staff, art holdings and credibility and the excitement of possible satellite locations, it also highlights a period of excruciating pain. Painful because in 2004, as AAMM moved into a high period of expectations, Claude Ligon, the Power, The Wisdom, The Behind-the-Scenes, all-around organizer was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition. By way of background, Claude was the vital component from even before the beginning of Gallery Ligon. For, if not for Claude Ligon, I might still be in 2014- “thinking about”, “wanting to” or “planning to” start a museum of African art since I first shared those plans in 1975. After encouraging me to “stop talking about it” and “just do it” no time was lost in his contacting the law firm once I announced in 1980 that I was ready.

It was not until Claude succumbed and I was left to manage the Museum that I fully realized how very many services he provided and how many challenges he had faced and had quietly overcome for the progress of AAMM.

In addition to being the non-paid Director of Development and Grants Writer, Claude was the most successful fundraiser, fund giver, idea person, trustee, Public Relations-high-profile mover and shaker, progressive thinker, executor and moral supporter. All these skills he demonstrated in his 23 ½ years of military service and 17years as a Commissioner in the Public Service Commission of Maryland. For the Museum, he performed all the behind-the-scenes tasks, and in the planning and growth of the Museum’s existence. It might come as a surprise to persons who are not active in museology that there are needs and more tasks than one would imagine in a Museum’s daily operation.

Claude Ligon understood that a Museum’s scope of activities is somewhat limited, so he created, as a supporting entity for AAMM, The Institute of African Commerce & Culture (IACC). It would serve to further involve commercially the embassies of Africa in the US with AAMM, and it would devote energy to pair American business persons with their African counterparts while seeking needs that the American businesses could in Africa fulfill. With overwhelming success, three IACC conferences were held; the idea, having grown beyond the Museum’s scope, was given to the county with success. Upon Claude’s passing, the next IACC conference held by Howard County (MD) was named for Claude Ligon in his memory in 2005.

Towards the Future I
The Museum’s plan included the continuation of building on the laid foundation of determination, innovation of ideas, execution of educational and pleasurable programs, hard work, perseverance, sacrifice, energy, responsibility, curiosity, critical and honest evaluation of AAMM’s events and activities and all the while expressing gratitude and appreciation to all who demonstrated interest in their diverse methods of support. And all on a shoe-string budget. The Museum continues to be governed by a Board of Trustees, aided by a Board of Advisors, and with the strong, continuous support of the Jewels of AAMM, its corps of dedicated volunteers.

Board of Trustees:

Mr. Abram “Al” Engelman
Bettye K. Walters, DVM
Ms. Beverly A. Cooper
Charles W. Barnum, Jr., LTC (Ret)
Claude M. Ligon, Jr., LTC (Ret)
Mr. Christopher Robinson
Professor G. Sunday Tenabe
Mrs. Jean W. Toomer
Jo M. Glasco, Esquire
Mr. Joseph A. Mason
Ms. Kim M. Blaney-Bivings
Mr. Maurice M. Simpkins
Moges Ayele, Ph.D.
Mr. Ralph Edgar Ballman
Ms. Rose Varner-Gaskins
Ms. Sandra M. Price
Shani D. Ball, RN, BSN
Mr. Scot M. Faulkner

Mrs. Doris H. Ligon

AAMM offers to the public:
The museum has a multi-faceted educational and pleasurable list of activities to include:

  • The African Experience Tour (AET) - a participatory experience, using hands-on art objects, videos, demonstrations, including questions/answer opportunities throughout the presentation. Vocabulary used is dependent on the maturity level of the audience and their level of interaction with the African continent. It can include an “Art Hunt” and varied themes. The AET is offered in-museum and as an Outreach Activity, and is adaptable for all age and special needs groups.
  • Tours to African Nations - Trips to Africa. Past trips include repeated visits to Senegal, the Gambia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, South Africa & Zimbabwe. Trips are first offered to Life and annual members and then offered to the General Public. Next projected trip is planned for Winter 2016.
  • In celebration and to aid in the perpetuation of America’s music JAZZ, AAMM’s innovation; “The House of JAZZ”, serves also to remind all that JAZZ has its roots in the traditional music of Africa; it is also designed to serve as a fundraising effort for the museum. Respect for AAMM’s JAZZ Aficionado, Claude Ligon, the House of JAZZ was re-named The Claude Ligon House of JAZZ in 2005, the year of his passing.
  • AAMM Sponsors visits to schools by members of the African Diplomatic Corps: Ambassadors and their country representative(s).
  • Teacher’s Workshops - demonstrating for possible use in their classroom setting, The AET or a more participatory activity of creating an art piece: an adinkra cloth, which requires applying symbolic stamps to cloth.
  • Passport to African Art & Culture -visits to African Embassies for youth and families. A “passport” was created for this activity.
  • Receptions for members of the Diplomatic Corps is an opportunity to meet socially with Ambassadors or their country’s representative(s).
  • Doing Business in Africa -The Institute of African Commerce & Culture (IACC) bringing together business persons from various African nations and American counterparts.
  • Anniversary Celebrations -observing the completion of an additional year of the Museum’s service to the public.
  • Member Appreciation Day  - Recognition of members of AAMM-Lifetime & Annual
  • Grandparents Day - Celebrating generations of family interests.
  • African Art In World Languages
  • The Literary Art Circle of AAMM
  • Students can earn their community service hours by volunteering at AAMM
  • AAMM has partnerships with Howard County Public System, Howard Community College, and is a member of the American Alliance of Museums.
  • Ruth Fisher Rhetts Lecture Series – Mrs. Rhetts gave to the AAMM its first gift of stock. She was the wife of President John F. Kennedy’s first appointed Ambassador to Liberia, where she shared she “spent some of the happiest years of my life.” AAMM names its first lecture series in her honor in appreciation of her gift.

Towards the Future II - Beyond the Louvre
Since 1980, a response of the African Art Museum of Maryland has been “One day we’ll be as big as The Louvre.”  That statement is not an expectation to acquire the equivalent square footage of that world-renown museum.

Rather that statement and this phrase, “Beyond the Louvre,” translate to influence, the difference one can make with proper exposure/education to change one’s perception through factual information.  In the 34 years of AAMM’s existence and the hundreds of thousands who have visited the Museum or have been on the receiving end at outreach events, the African Art Museum of Maryland has indeed gone “Beyond The Louvre.”  By many accounts, AAMM has, in a positive way, changed perceptions of the art and diverse cultures of Africa.

The Museum is built on that principle it dubbed “Changed Perceptions.”  AAMM’s goal is to continue to make a positive difference in the manner in which African art and culture had been—and for some—continues to be perceived.  “Changed Perceptions” through education has been presented to generations of students and adults in an atmosphere that reflects diversity and that provides learning opportunities from a hospitable and relaxed perspective.

The African Art Museum of Maryland (AAMM), founded October 8, 1980, by Claude and Doris Ligon, has been a vital educational resource of the community.  Among its many accomplishments are:

  • First museum in Columbia, Maryland (1980-2011).  Since April 2011, AAMM is the first museum in the community of Maple Lawn in Fulton, MD—still in Howard County.
  • One of only three museums in the United States devoted exclusively to the exhibiting, study and viewing pleasure of the arts of Africa. AAMM in 2013 was chosen as “one of the top 10 places to visit in Howard County.”
  • Has hosted as visitors to the Museum ambassadors and other members of the diplomatic corps from various nations of Africa to include Burundi, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Liberia, Kenya, the Gambia, South Africa, Uganda, Niger and Morocco.
  • Hosted The Royal Drummers of Burundi for their first visit to the United States in 25 years and their first visit ever to Maryland.  They performed at Howard Community College because of the generosity of Ambassador Julien Kavakure and a partnership established by the African Art Museum of Maryland with the music department of Howard Community College.
  • Ambassador Julien Kavakure was the first African Ambassador to make school visits to students of Howard County as arranged by the African Art Museum of Maryland.

The Akua’ba Award is presented to individuals, groups, businesses, institutions, etc., that have contributed to the success of the African Art Museum of Maryland (AAMM). Among the recipients are:

1991 Mr. James W. Rouse      
Founder, Columbia, MD
1992 Congressman Kweisi Mfume 
Maryland US 7th District
1993 His Excellency Julien Kavakure
Ambassador of the Republic of Burundi
1994 Mr. Padraic M. Kennedy 
President, The Columbia (Md.) Association
1995 Mr. C. Payne Lucas  
Founder & President, Africare
1996 His Excellency Franklin A. Sonn
Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa
1998 Morgan State University   
Baltimore, Maryland
1999 Mr. Warren M. Robbins 
Founder & Director, Emeritus,
National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC
2000 Mr. Melvin P. Foote  
Constituency for Africa
2002 The Hon. Koby Arthur Koomson
Former Ambassador from Ghana to the United States
2003 The Hon. Elijah E. Cummings  
U.S. Congressman, Maryland 7th District
2005 Claude M. Ligon, PhD, PE   
Lt. Col. Retired United States Army (Posthumously)


  • School curriculum was enhanced.  Ms. Rose Levine announced in 1983 that the curriculum for Howard County schools would include a unit on Africa in the 3rd and 6th grades, and they would study Ghana and Kenya, respectively.  She further announced that this curriculum enhancement was because of the presentations, visits and exhibits to the students by the African Art Museum of Maryland.
  • Is in partnership with the Howard County Public Schools and Howard Community College in Howard County Maryland.
  • Has a high rating within the community for its valued collection, the exhibits which showcase the collection and, innovative programming for the broad and diverse population.
  • Is included in Roots of Wisdom:  A Tapestry of Philosophical Traditions, Author and Professor of Philosophy at Howard Community College in Columbia, MD, Helen Buss Mitchell, PhD.
  • Among its innovative programs and activities are: (a) school and community outreach programs, (b) trips to Africa, (c) visits to the embassies of African nations, (d) anniversary diplomatic celebrations and (e) celebrated House of JAZZ, which reflects the contribution of traditional African music to America’s music, jazz.
  • The Museum has been represented on various boards/committees across the community from Howard Community College to Howard County Tourism, panels to Howard County Arts Council, Associated Black Charities, the Columbia Art Center, the Maryland State Arts Council, Maryland Historic Trust, and the Reginald Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture.
  • Originated the Passport to African Art and Culture activity, a program designed to enrich the lives of youth and families relative to their understanding of the art and culture of Africa.
  • Continues to be a resource for students who seek to earn their community service required hours.
  • Originated the classic and innovative House of JAZZ to raise funds, awareness of African art and to provide a memorable evening out to the guests as they, with AAMM, aid in keeping alive America’s music, JAZZ.

What Next? - Towards the Future III We Work Toward: Memberships, donations of art and monetary grants.
Continuation of the African Art Museum of Maryland with growth in all respects to include: space * number of visitors served * art objects * budget * staff *  the recruitment of young visitors as we retain the visitors of maturity, the Seniors * programs for educators * increased numbers of scheduled trips to African nations and to African exhibits in the US * increased educational and pleasurable activities * increased volunteers in all capacities to include gallery staffing, photography, videography, computer input and storage space, translation of AAMM’s English labels into World Languages.

The African Art Museum of Maryland in keeping with the philosophy of museums, takes delight in exhibiting for one’s education and viewing pleasure its treasures. However, the nature of AAMM’s treasures allows one to wonder about the cultural messages inherent in their physical representation. What is it? What does it mean?!? So, while applauding the superb mastery of design of the skilled and disciplined artists of its treasures, AAMM offers an opportunity to its visitors to go beyond the surface of the art for further knowledge and understanding of the treasured objects and therefore of the diverse ethnic groups of the fifty-five countries that constitute the second-largest continent on the planet Earth, Africa.

The seed for AAMM was planted in 1980 by two people who had a vision; it exists today because it has been embraced by many. AAMM’s desire is, as time passes, to, with joy, marvel at the realization that the mission of the African Art Museum of Maryland continues to be further embraced.

Thank you for your interest. We take delight in the possibility of your visit and inquiries.


11711 East Market Place
Maple Lawn Community
Fulton, MD  20759
(Howard County)


Phone & Fax:       301-490-6070
Email:                    africanartmuseumofmd@verizon.net
Web:                      www.africanartmuseum.org
Facebook:             www.facebook.com/AAMM1980
Twitter:                  @AfricanArtMM

The African Art Museum of Maryland is deeply appreciative of and supported by memberships ranging from annually $20 per individual to Lifetime membership of $1,000 for families, institutions and groups. AAMM seeks also grants and corporate sponsorships and is grateful for all donations. Fundraisers are scheduled throughout the year. Additional information supplied by request.