American diplomat donates his African art collection to Russian museum

An American diplomat donated his African art collection to a museum in St. Petersburg on Monday, saying that he wanted to give treasures from his days in Cameroon and Burundi to a city where he had experienced his happiest professional moments.

U.S. Consul General Morris Hughes, 59, who is set to retire and leave his post Tuesday, delivered his African collection to the city's Anthropology and Ethnography Museum or Kunstkamera.

"These things are a part of my life in diplomacy," he said at a ceremony marking the donation. "And I'm glad that this part of my home will belong to the museum."

Hughes gave the museum about 50 objects of everyday African life, such as a drum, vessel for beer and a mask. He said he had collected the objects during his six years of diplomatic service in Cameroon and Burundi.

Yuri Chistov, director of the Kunstkamera, said Hughes' collection would become an important part of the museum's African art and crafts collection, which is the biggest in Russia.

Hughes twice worked in Russia during Soviet times, but said his three years of work in St. Petersburg was "the best time in his diplomatic service" because he was able to witness monumental changes.

Hughes recalled how in 1984 he was detained - apparently by the KGB - at a marketplace after taking pictures of Russian sellers in a small town 400 kilometers (250 miles) outside Moscow.

The men, dressed in civilian clothes, took him to a police station and started to question him about the pictures.

"What it turned out was that I took a picture of a lady selling a watermelon, but the people she was selling a watermelon to were KGB! I didn't know they were KGB!" he said.

Things have changed since then, though.

Russia, he said, has changed from the Soviet days when "nothing was possible - to everything is possible." IRINA TITOVA, Associated Press Writer

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