Reprinted from yesterday's late edition

"How you do it is you work your head off; six trips to Europe every year for eight years. You have to go to Europe, mostly Brussels and Paris - there isn't any traditional African art left to be bought in Africa. Maybe two or there major pieces a year come out of Africa, the rest you have to buy out of European collections. Some of the best collections belong to missionaries."

That's Lee Bronson, who will be in Hong Kong next week negotiating with suppliers for his California based sportswear company and may be in Brussels the week after if he hears of a chance to pick up something interesing.

He is a front-runner in a large and growing pack - there are 400 to 500 significant collectors of African art in the United States alone. And they are all after a diminishing resource, relics of a civilization that is rapidly giving way to modernization, and becoming more conscious, protective, possessive about the remaining vestiges of its past.

Some of his choicest trophies are now on exhibit at the Museum of African Art, and at a party Tuesday night in the State Department's massive Jefferson Room he was clearly enjoying the fact, thanking guests in the name of his family "for coming to view something that we love and hold dear."

His euphoria seemed contagious. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs William Harrap said he was optimistic about new approaches to the continent's intricate political problems - "the self-determination of Namibia . . . a resolution of the problems in Rhodesia . . . we have now a historic moment of real concern and excitment toward Africa from the United States point of view."

Ambassador Kasongo Mutuale of Zaire noted that another exhibit, "Art of Zaire," has been touring American cities under his government's auspices since March 1976. "For Zaire, my country, this will mean a grand total of almost 27 uninterrupted months during which American will intensely live on Zairian cultural time," he said.

"Lately, Zaire was known only through the fatal blows that were dealt by those evil forces interested only in the resources of the underground and who believe that Zaire's wealth can be summarized with a few rocks," he said, referring to the repeated bloodshed inspired by Zaire's mineral resources.

Zaire's true wealth, he said, "is to be found in the variety of our peoples, of our climates . . . our rivers, flowers, mountains, volcanoes, lakes . . ."

But for those who can't get to the mountains and lakes, a lot of it is to be found currently in the Bronson family's treasures at the Museum of African Art.