Natural History Museum celebrates ‘Spirits in Stone’ exhibition

Laura and Tony Ponter don’t curate exhibits at art museums for one reason: the no touching rule.

In most art museums, signs read, “don’t touch the art,” and personnel verbally enforces that rule if you even so much as breathe a little too close to a prized piece. Take a photo and you’re out.

The Ponters believe that art is meant to be interactive, and that touching and photographing it is a must.

For this reason, the couple chose the San Diego Natural History Museum for “Spirits in Stone: Art & Animals of Africa,” a collection of Shona stone carvings, African masks, hand-woven baskets and Tuareg jewelry.

At the opening celebration, which was held at the museum last Thursday evening, museum members and guests interacted with the art. They photographed and touched everything on the museum floor – everything except for the pythons, lizards, African lungfish and the giant millipede.

Live animals native of various parts of Africa are part of this exhibit, which runs through Oct. 12. The San Diego Zoo helped design the enclosures and tanks for all the animals. The lizard enclosure sits at the front of the exhibit.

At last week’s event, patrons who didn’t know live animals were going to be there looked pleasantly surprised as they screeched, “it moved!”

The ball python didn’t seem too thrilled with the “paparazzi,” who insisted on snapping photo after photo of its seemingly endless body. The African giant millipede, on the other hand, couldn’t have cared less. He was happy sitting on his leaf, snacking away on a piece of orange.

While watching the animals move about their enclosures provided amusement, it was the art that moved. During his speech, Tony talked about the art as being reflective of modern day Africa. Repression, inflation and controversy lurks in these people’s daily lives, but he said it’s their beautiful art that transcends.

“Their lives are hell, but they’re carving their heaven,” Tony said.

All the art in this exhibition is for sale. As pieces are sold, new ones will replace them.

Since Tony and Laura already paid – in full, in U.S. dollars – the Shona people who made the art, the money from any sale directly benefits the San Diego Natural History Museum.

La Jolla residents Liz and Christopher Wills, who recently returned from a trip to Africa, bought a Queen Mother Mask during the opening celebration.

Other attendees included Brian Berlau, Helen Ross, Esther Burnham, Bill Kuni, Mary Yang and Joe and Linda Satz.

For more information about “Spirits in Stone: Art & Animals of Africa,” click