African Heritage Ltd. was Africa’s first Pan African Gallery, which Alan Donovan co-founded with the former vice-president of Kenya, Mr. Joseph Murumbi and his wife, Sheila. When African Heritage closed down in 2003 it had more than 500 full time employees, over 50 outlets around the world, and many thousands supplying items on a consignment basis. The former Tuesday African Heritage Buying Day morphed into the Maasai Markets, which are now held every day at locations in Nairobi and beyond.
“The largest and most organized craft organization in Africa… a pioneer that raised African handicrafts from souvenir trinkets to Objet d’art with world class appeal.”
This review of the African Heritage Gallery on Kenyatta Avenue in Kenya Airways’ inflight magazine MSAFIRI (left) called African Heritage not so much a shop but “More a Way of Life”. Later as African Heritage expanded into two mammoth galleries, restaurants, boutiques and six double story go-downs at Libra House on Mombasa Road, with over 50 outlets world wide, it was tagged “An Alternative Universe” with its galaxy of musicians, models, art, crafts, acrobats, stilt walkers, contortionists, restaurants, cafes, galleries, boutiques, textiles and hairdressers.
AFRICAN HERITAGE GALLERIES at Libra House Mombasa Road, featured restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, home furnishings with over 500 craftspeople and others working in 6 gigantic double story go-downs behind the premises. This was the last major gallery opened by African Heritage in 1989.
Six talented women from all parts of the world were featured in a joint exhibition held at African Heritage during the month of July 1985 to coincide with the UN Decade of Women’s Conference.
African Heritage Crafts
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For over 3 decades, African Heritage employed local and international designers to produce special crafts in wood, bone, pottery, calabashes, basketry, metal, textiles and other materials.
But soapstone, a unique and plentiful material resembling a soft marble from southwestern Kenya near the town of Kisii, was the material used for items for export as well as local sales. Several hundred soapstone carvers at African Heritage produced prototype designs which were then reproduced in larger quantities by family cooperatives at Tabaka, near Kisii. These products included designs in the natural color soapstone, while the white stone was hand painted, incised or batiked in various patterns including a series adapted from the famous hand woven and hand printed textiles of Africa.
Many outlets around the world distributed African Heritage soapstone, especially “As Art” in Paris, a firm which represented African Heritage with three galleries in Paris (which are still operating), and which won the “City of Lights” award several times for their brilliant displays of crafts at the world’s most prestigious home décor show in the world, “Maison et Objet”