Updated: Jul 19, 2019

Meet Rafaela Johnson!

Job Title: Operation Manager and Registrar

Terra-cotta Gallery Designer and Curator

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Berlin, Germany.

What inspires you as an artist?

Natural patterns within nature inspire me. It’s hard to say… I love learning about different culture groups from all over the world. They inspire me as well. I’m a self taught artist. I love being able to make my thoughts come to life. Giving it a form through whichever medium I’m working with at the moment.

What inspired the design of the Savannah African Art Museum’s Carriage House?

Well, my main focus was how I could display the artifacts with natural lighting to show off the details on the terra-cotta. I wanted to take this opportunity to put a lot of my own artist sensibilities into it as well. I’ve been working with the artifacts within the museum for a little over 2 1/2 years (as Operational Mgr/ Registrar) and have developed a close relationship with them.

You’ve stepped into a more creative role within the museum for this project. How do you feel?

I feel honored to be able to design this space for the artifacts because it allows me to feel close to my ancestors. Every piece is handmade and I feel like I get to work alongside them. It was important for me to honor the meaning and purpose behind the artifacts by designing and creating the platforms for them.

For me it is a way of respecting them in a way they would have been respected in a shrine or in their place of origin. I also wanted to shine a light on why they made these pieces, what their environment looked like. I wanted the space to give our guests some insight and eduction about the people and traditions that created them.

It’s such a colorful backdrop. What inspired you to go the non traditional museum route with the design?

I worked with Aiysha Sinclair (SAAM co-worker) on how we wanted the space to feel. We wanted the colors to have a meaning. The idea for the space is to be educational. So therefore, one way I feel to keep learning exciting, is to use the colors from these culture groups. Even though a lot of the artifacts that are within the terra-cotta collection come from dry land areas. The use of elaborate and bright colors are reflected in their ceremonial costumes, everyday wear, cultures, and traditions.

With the colors not being the same as the main museum, our aim is to bridge the gap between traditional and non traditional. It speaks to all different walks of life just like Africa.

What’s one thing you want people to take away from their visit to the Terra-cotta Gallery?

There are two things that can change a persons mood right away, and that is music and colors. So I hope that everybody gains joy and knowledge out of it. Most of all I want people to be inspired to learn more about their ancestors, or just the African continent itself.

I see the space is still in development. When will it be open to the public?

Ideally It will be open mid Fall.

Carriage House located on the lot of the Savannah African Art Museum.

A lot of though went into the design of the space. A model was first created to design the layout and how the terra-cotta was to be displayed.

Once the design and colors were chosen for the gallery, the terra-cotta was moved aside and painting began.

A look at the space before the color and new flooring was added.

Rafaela and Aiysha working on the display of the artifacts.

With Aiysha Sinclair (Program Coordinator)

Rafaela meeting with the awesome duo, contractors/ carpenters Jeff Wilson and Ricky Coco.

Many thanks to our intern Quinn for photographing the collection.

Our intern Izzy is working hard to get everything just right.

We got a fresh coat of paint, thanks to Abi!

Planning out how to display photos of the culture groups on the wall.

The new wall colors are up and the vibrancy of the space is impactful.

Left: Aiysha Sinclair

Right: Rafaela Johnson

Stay connected as we continue to give updates on the gallery and museum happenings!

#africanart #savannahafricanartmuseum #AfricanPottery

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Contact Us



201 E 37th Street

Savannah, Georgia, 31401

Visiting Hours

**COVID 19 Hours below

Wednesday - Saturday | 1 pm - 5 pm

The last tour begins daily at 4 pm

Groups will be limited to 5 per group per tour to maintain social distancing guidelines. 


*Masks are REQUIRED

Reservations are available 

The Savannah African Art Museum is closed on the following major holidays:

New Years Eve | New Years Day | St. Patrick's Day
 Fourth of July |Thanksgiving Day | Black Friday 

 Christmas Eve | Christmas Day

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