Gallerie La Taj in Alexandria is unique. The current show, "Discover West Africa," is a combination of masks, sculpture and batiks, a total of 48 pieces in all, gathered from the West African regions.

Theodore Toatley, director and owner of the museum, has a sense of cause that provides inspiration for the gallery. He has achieved a personal effect that is felt the instant one enters the exhibit--as though he has welcomed you into his home.

Toatley is devoted to spreading knowledge and appreciation for African art. "I was living in Germany when I bought my first piece of African art," he explains. "I wanted to acquire some more pieces, and I returned to the woman who had sold me the original piece. She refused to divulge her sources.

"From that point on, I was hooked. I set out on my own and went to Lagos, Nigeria, to find more pieces for my collection. I chose Nigeria because there are more ethnic groups in this area. My second trip was to the Ivory Coast, another region of diversified groups . . . . "

"I was 35 when I saw my first piece of African art. I am here in Alexandria with my gallery to make sure that the kids today will not have to wait that long before they can appreciate this special craft."

The sculptures and masks, made primarily of brass and wood, are inexpensive. They are from 50 to 70 years old. The quality can be detected in the fine craftsmanship in each piece. Toatley points out that with a close look, the naked eye can detect the difference between a good example and a bad example of these works.

Toatley works full time for the federal government. His gallery is opened Saturdays and Sundays or by appointment.

"The demand for this kind of art is not big yet. I am still working off my inventory," he says.

"I want young black families to come learn from, and enjoy, this art."

His next show will be the work of a local artist who draws her inspiration from African work.

There is a boutique of handicrafts in the back of the gallery. Gallerie La Taj is a place of both art and knowledge.

Gallerie La Taj, 117 S. Henry St., Alexandria. "Discover West Africa," through Sept. 15. For more information, call 549-0508.

Other events:

The United States Navy Band's rock band, "Port Authority," performs at Lubber Run. 8 p.m. Tuesday. Call 558-2161.

Gallery West, paintings and drawings by Carol Smith, to Aug. 19. 1314 King St. Call 549-7359.