Specializing in the arts of West and Central Africa, Thomas McNemar was a prominent collector and gallerist. His interest in the subject was piqued while conducting dissertation research at the British Museum while he was pursuing a doctorate in British literature. Though largely self-trained, McNemar became a widely recognized authority on the subject through his extensive studies and field work. In the early 1960s he relocated to Grand-Bassam, Côte d'Ivoire, which served as a pragmatic base for his collecting in the surrounding regions.
In addition to building his own extensive collection, he also acquired works on behalf of institutions and individuals and established art galleries for African art in New York and San Francisco. Further attesting to his reputation, he served as a consultant for major sales of African art, including the seminal Helena Rubinstein sale at Sotheby’s Parke-Bernet in 1966.
After returning to his native Virginia, McNemar sponsored local educational initiatives to encourage broader appreciation for African arts and cultures and gifted part of his personal collection to the North Dakota Museum of Art.