Heritage Museum's Black History celebrations treasure artifacts passed through generations

| Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

While its items come from afar, the exhibit of African artifacts at the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Heritage Museum carries a message that hits close to home, according to Howard Clements, who has loaned the pieces to the museum for Black History Month.

“How important it is to have artifacts,” the widely traveled Upper Burrell resident says. “How important it is to treasure family heirlooms.”

“You never know how valuable something is until you see it somewhere.”

That may be the case even for Clements, who has been sharing his collection of tribal masks and other items with the museum each February since the program began more than a decade ago.

“I'm thankful that I'm participating,” he says. “To whom more is given, more is expected of them. That's the way I look at it.

“You can contribute something positive for the communities.”

The arts collector believes that by taking in the exhibit, which includes items from countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, museum patrons will be able to see items from their own family history — and that of others — in a new light.

He has a message for patrons in the Alle-Kiski and beyond:

“Just hold on to everything that is passed down through the family from generation to generation,” he says. “Take pride in everybody's culture, not just your own.”

In addition to the display of Clements' artifacts, the museum has on loan items from New Kensington Camera Club member Tommy West. That display features artifacts, books and artwork relating to black history.

The exhibit runs through the end of the month.

To further celebrate black history, the museum is hosting an event organized and sponsored by members of about a half-dozen local churches.

Scheduled at 3 p.m. Sunday, the program features music and liturgical dance from church members and a number of presentations. After the free program, there will be a reception with hors d'oeuvres and refreshments.

Clements and West will speak about the items on loan. Wilson's preentation will focus on “Celebrating Blacks in Pittsburgh Sports and Entertainment.”

“It's a very, very interesting program,” says Dolly Mistrik, president of the historical society. “This is one of our best-attended events.”

One of the secrets to its success is the sense of fellowship found in the program, according to organizer Loretta Howell of Bethel African American Methodist Episcopal Church in Tarentum.

The fellowship promotes not only a warm reception, but also a diverse one.

“You can tell people are enjoying it, because when it's over, they stick around,” Howell says. “They stay and chat in different groups. It's not all Caucasians or African-Americans or Latinos.”

Black history programming at the museum began more than a decade ago, prompted by historical-society board member, the late Ruth Johnson.

“She had such a great love for the museum, for education and for African-American history,” Howell says.

The program's popularity is evident. Each year, as the program grows, it's clear to Howell that its message connects with the 100 or more who attend.

“Just looking at the people whenever we're going through the program, you can see the smiles and the relaxation,” she says. “People truly enjoy the things that we have.”

Julie Martin is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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