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African Heritage founder Alan Donovan dies at 83

Friends and art lovers took to social media to mourn Donovan.

In Summary

• African Heritage founder art collector and environmentalist Alan Donovan died at his home in Athi River.

• He is among the last generation of white settlers who were dedicated to preserving and researching Kenyan history.

His installation as Yoruba Chief Babalaje of Ido Osun with Culture CS Amina Mohamed looking on during African Twilight celebrations in 2019
His installation as Yoruba Chief Babalaje of Ido Osun with Culture CS Amina Mohamed looking on during African Twilight celebrations in 2019
Image: ALAN DONOVAN

The 83-year-old veteran art collector and the founder of the African Heritage, Alan Donovan has passed away.

According to a statement from African Heritage Estate management, Donovan died in his sleep on Sunday morning at his Arthi River home.

The celebrated art collector came to Africa over 50 years ago and is also among the last generation of white settlers who was dedicated to preserving and researching Kenyan history.

His gallery, a top-rated tourist attraction, is located along Mombasa road in Arthi River. It is a masterpiece of the African culture and contains an invaluable collection of African art he collected over the years in Africa.

Poolside with a view of the park
Poolside with a view of the park
Image: African heritage

Overlooking Nairobi’s National park, the gallery sits on a hill in an 8-acre piece of land.

It was built between the years 1989 and 1994 by Alan Donovan, who modelled it with inspiration drawn from the mud architecture of the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali.

Also an author, he is credited as a man who spent his life documenting and telling stories of Africa in many newspapers and books including My journey through African heritage, African Elegance, An American in Africa, 'Black Beauty Through the Ages'.

Together with Kenya’s first vice president, Joseph Murumbi he also wrote 'A Path Not Taken' which is a compilation of transcripts made during Murumbi’s life. And 'Joseph Murumbi, a Legacy of Integrity', is by Karen Rothmyer, who was a consultant for the Star newspaper.

The gallery was threatened by demolition by the Chinese SGR railway at the same time it was being considered for national monument status.

I arrived in Africa on July 4, 1967, as a relief officer for the US State Department during the Nigeria Biafra War
I arrived in Africa on July 4, 1967, as a relief officer for the US State Department during the Nigeria Biafra War
Image: ALAN DONOVAN

It was finally gazetted as a national monument in January 2016.

Donovan had before his death planned to build a similar, Gurunsi, memorial house and a centre for African studies based on African pre-colonial architecture in collaboration with Strathmore University.

The house will be both ultra-traditional and ultramodern, proving the irreducible modernity of African design and architecture.

Front view of the gallery/house
Front view of the gallery/house
Image: African Heritage

Business at the gallery has been suspended for the next three days to mourn its founder.

The body has been taken to Lee Funeral home as burial arrangements commence.

Friends and art lovers took to social media to mourn Donovan.