Alan Donovan Biography, Family, Career And Personal Life

By Kimani Kuria 

The late Alan Donovan was a co-founder of African Heritage Estates along with former vice president Joseph Murumbi and his wife Sheila Murumbi. The trio founded the company from their shared interest in collecting. Joseph Murumbi remains one of Kenya’s most renowned private collectors evidenced in The Nairobi Gallery that houses his collections. Alan Donovan died on 5th December 2021 peacefully in his sleep at his Athi River residence. 

Age and Place of Birth

Alan Donovan originally hailed from the United States of America where he was born in 1938. 

Move to Africa

Donovan first landed in Africa on 4th July 1967 as a relief officer with the US State Department. This was during the war between Nigeria and the Republic of Biafra. He held the post for two years before resignation. Alan Donovan was always amused by the African culture and the arts that different parts of the continent embraced. He discovered these and more fascinating creations such as mud architecture, stunning places of worship and other art forms. 

Also Read: The Interior Architect Behind Radisson Blu Hotel In Nairobi 

Works in Kenya

He had arrived at Nairobi in March 1970 and spent his time in Kenya’s northern regions. In a past interview, Alan Donovan said that in another life, he would be Turkana. He was fascinated by the culture and arts of the people and with this passion went on to set up his furst exhibition in October the same year. The exhibition became the meeting point for the trio that would later form Africa’s pioneer Pan African Gallery. 

  • Pan African Festivals

Alan ran these festivals showcasing African culture, fashion and a means to bring together diverse cultures from the continent. 

  • African Heritage Jewellery

This was Africa’s largest aggregator of jewellery collecting beaded work and more for export.

  • African Heritage Gallery

Alan Donovan was a co-founder of the gallery that revolutionized how art from the continent was viewed. They led the world in giving African handicrafts more attention. In Kenya, during the gallery’s lifetime, they usually held the Tuesday African Heritage Buying Day which has so far transformed into the famous daily Masai Markets around Nairobi.

  • Kenya’s African Heritage Festival

This was an effort to promote Kenyan music and culture surrounding this such as costume designs and dancing styles. The platfform exposed Kenyan talent and supported the emergence of several music groups.

  • African Heritage House

Alan Donovan led the erection of African Heritage House in Nairobi showcasing Africa’s signature mud architecture and decorated as so. The House hosts colleectionsn from around Africa, offers meals, entertainment, tours, and hospitality services all delivered in a rich African atmosphere. 

  • African Heritage Book

Alan Donovan was also an author having written a memoir titled My Journey Through African Heritage which gives an accounts of his experiences in exploring Africa’s rich culture and fascinating art.

  • Murumbi Legacy

Donovan led a group of like minded individuals forming the Murumbi Trust that was priarily tasked with preserving the former vice president’s legacy at The Nairobi Gallery, a sculpture in his memory, The Murumbi Gallery, and later on using Murumbi’s writings released a book titled A Path Not Taken, the Story of Joseph Murumbi

  • Interior Design

Using his skilled eye and keen interest in African art, Alan Donovan worked with commercial and private clients to design interior spaces in African themes. Some of his clients included Strathmore University, Serena Hotels, and The Carnivore.

The country eulogized him as a pioneer of the arts and an irreplaceable promoter of African art and culture. His body was ferried to the Lee Funeral Home for burial procedures to begin.