Dabls MBAD African Bead Museum is an igniter! Visiting it sparks joy, inspiration, creativity, community.
The Detroit-based museum is many things. For starters, it’s a community-fostering and educational space for African Americans, a space for founder Olayami Dabls’ “community to understand the immense power of their African heritage,” as explained on its website.
The Our Story section of Dabls’ website gives a detailed backstory of the museum and its mission that’s wholly worth the read. It explains how Dabls went from working for 15 years at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History to build his museum “with the intention to use art for its original purpose in Africa. Instead of using art for entertainment or to make money, he uses art to stimulate emotional and cultural healing.”
While Dabls is a place for African Americans to connect with these aspects of its mission, it welcomes everyone. People of all racial and ethnic backgrounds travel from all over the globe to visit the museum, from far-flung locales such as Germany, the UK, Switzerland, and Gabon. International visitors are featured regularly on the museum’s Instagram account.
A trip to Dabls might start with a visit to its bead gallery. Selling beads that span the decades (some are hundreds of years old), it’s an absolute delight to browse – especially if you’re a crafter. Loose beads are for sale at all manner of price points, crafted from all manner of materials. But fully-formed necklaces are for sale, too.
In the gallery, ’80s-era ceramic beads mingle with beads carved from wood and bone; Lucite beads glisten like marbles. There are beads made from ebony wood and brass, from precious stones such as jade, carnelian, and amber – even 500-year-old hand-carved quartz beads (sold for $80 apiece on Dabls’ website). It’s a glorious site to behold, this bead shop: a kaleidoscope of colors, artisanship, and possibility.
I found a pretty strand of beads already fashioned into a necklace at Dabls’ bead gallery. Round, amber-colored beads streaked with black, they appear to be Lucite. The necklace has a ’70s vibe and regularly finds its way into my wardrobe rotation, making it well worth its $20 price tag.
Dabls himself was manning the shop the day of my visit and was kind enough to give me an overview of the beads housed there. He also gave me free rein to browse the art displayed on the grounds of the museum. It was cold and snowy on the day of my late-January visit, but I didn’t let that stop me from exploring!
That brings us to the art-installation component of Dabls. The 18 art installations on Dabls’ campus are stunning displays of color, texture, and creativity. They’re my favorite kind of art: found object. Scrap metal, wood, mop heads, a tractor: materials such as these meld together to form stunning displays, all artistically enhanced with brushstrokes and splatters of colorful paint.
One display toward the back of the campus is especially stunning. The exterior of the N’kisi House hosts a mural bursting with vibrant colors and textures. It’s an absolutely gorgeous site to behold.
The exterior of the bead gallery is no slouch, either. As you approach its entrance on Vinewood Street, your eyes will be dazzled by an abundance of art: gorgeous, rainbow-colored murals and found-object sculptures.
If you’re looking to experience such a dazzling, treat yourself to a trip to Dabls! Admission is free, though the museum does accept donations; see the Support the Expansion page of its website to donate and learn about its growth plans. I expect that growth will lead to further kindling of creativity!
6559 Grand River Ave.
Detroit, MI 48208