The Polk Museum of Art has recently extended its holdings to include African Art. The objects on display come from the collection of Norma and William Roth of Winter Haven, who recently donated 50 textiles, gourds, and ceramic objects from their extensive collection. Ranging from hats and capes to bags and vessels, all of these objects are from the southern region of Africa are adorned with beads. Some of the cultures represented in the exhibition include the Ndebele, Thembu, and Zulu Cultures of South Africa, the Himba and San Cultures of Namibia, and the Batonka Culture of Zimbabwe.
Glass beads have been used by African artisans since the earliest development of glass in Ancient Egypt. The beaded works included in this collection are both beautiful and culturally significant. Beads have not only been used by the peoples of Africa for decorative purposes; their importance lies in the fact that they are used to denote many different forms of social status. Through the use of color, form, and stitching, the people of southern Africa are able to use beads to communicate such things as marital status, political or economic status, and affection for one another. The exhibition includes a great variety of objects including hats and headdresses, skirts and aprons, necklaces, belts, bags, and ceremonial objects.