- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

Roslyn A. Walker, director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art, announced yesterday that she will retire June 28 for health reasons.
Ms. Walker, 57, has led the museum since January 1997, when she succeeded the museum's first director, Sylvia H. Williams. An expert on Nigerian art, Ms. Walker started working at the museum in 1981 as a curator.
"In December, I went in for surgery to repair an abdominal aneurysm. I didn't accept how serious it was, but after a while your body catches up and says, 'Pay attention to me,'" Ms. Walker said. "I came back to work in February, and it was just too much for me. I was working all the time as director, and even the business travel to Europe was work. I haven't had a break for 25 years."
Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small, who praised Ms. Walker as possessing "an understanding of African art that few can equal," said an international search for a successor would begin immediately. Tom Lentz, director of the Smithsonian's International Art Museums Division, will serve as the museum's acting director and will lead the search. The museum has 49 staff members and a fiscal 2002 federal appropriation of $4.3 million.
Ms. Walker becomes the seventh director of a Smithsonian museum to leave in the past 2 years, according to Smithsonian representatives. Three others retired: Jim Demetrion of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Alan Fern of the National Portrait Gallery, and Milo Beach of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Three resigned: Spencer Crew, American History; Bob Fri, Natural History; and Dennis O'Connor, acting director of Natural History, who leaves May 28. Some cited conflicts with Mr. Small regarding the pressure to raise funds and the role of private donors.
The African art museum under Ms. Walker's direction created its first traveling exhibitions, "South Africa, 1936-1949: Photographs by Constance Stuart Larrabee" and "The Artistry of African Currency."
Ms. Walker also created a development office and hired a curator of modern and contemporary African art. Before that, the museum concentrated on the traditional art of sub-Saharan Africa. She has overseen the renovation of the museum's pavilion, scheduled to open this fall.
The Smithsonian credits Ms. Walker with starting to organize one of the museum's most significant exhibitions, "Olowe of Ise: A Yoruba Sculptor to Kings," when she was senior curator. It opened in 1998.
Before joining the Smithsonian, Ms. Walker was director of the University Museums at Illinois State University. From 1973 to 1975, she was curator of collections at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria.

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