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Nearly $500,000 Worth in African Art Discovered at MSSU

JOPLIN, Mo. -- Have you ever put something up in the attic or the basement and years later discovered it? Well, evidently universities do that too.
JOPLIN, Mo. -- Have you ever put something up in the attic or the basement and years later discovered it? Well, evidently universities do that too.

Christine Bentley and Devon Estes both work in the art department at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin and they were shocked at what they found under a stairwell.

"So, yeah, it literally is hidden,” says Estes. “It was kind of like Indiana Jones without all the drama I guess."

Recently, a stash of hidden art was discovered in the university and it’s valued as a $500,000 treasure.

“I couldn't believe it,” says Estes. “I couldn't believe that we had such a treasure and that we weren't doing something with it already or that we didn't know how vast it was."

Hundreds of African art was pulled out of the closet, and no one has seen it for years.

“The students started bringing the things up,” says Estes. “Maybe there was a quarter of this amount and I thought, ‘okay that's probably it.’ But everyday as I came in, there was more and more and more. And it's really unbelievable."

Some of the items they've pulled out include masks, weapons and an item called an oath taker in which a person would put a nail in the statue and it worked as a binding contract.

Estes says each piece has a story and is in good shape. The oldest piece is from the 15th century.

"I think some of the craftsmanship is very fine and very well done,” says Estes. “A lot f it is made from heavy wood that can survive the African heat, the African climate, and so that doesn't surprise me that it has survived."

However some have a bit of mold and dust, but people handling the art are wearing gloves and are getting them ready for long-term display.

"When you lay it out in the gallery as we have it now, and you see just the number, sort of the wealth of objects that we have it was really amazing,” says Bentley.

There will be a public viewing of the art on August 10 from 12-2 p.m. the MSSU Spiva Art Gallery.

(courtesy KODE, Joplin)
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