Dr. Kaplan oversaw the African collections at the Brooklyn Museum from 1951 to 1957, serving as acting curator from 1954 onward. She received her MA in archaeology from Columbia University (1958) and her PhD in anthropology from The Graduate Center, City University of New York (1976) before having a long and distinguished career at New York University (NYU) as professor of anthropology and founding director of the Museum Studies Program, Faculty of Arts and Sciences (1977–2004).
While at NYU, Kaplan curated the exhibition Images of Power: Art of the Royal Court of Benin (1981) and published the accompanying illustrated catalogue. In addition to numerous articles, she published Museums and the Making of “Ourselves”: The Role of Objects in National Identity (1994), A Mexican Folk Pottery Tradition: Cognition and Style in Material Culture in the Valley of Puebla (1994), edited Queens, Queen Mothers, Priestesses and Power: Case Studies in African Gender (1997), and co-edited the series Museum Meanings (Routledge). Kaplan retired as professor emerita of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, NYU, in 2004. Her original field research in Benin, Nigeria, and Puebla, Mexico, continues to be path breaking and relevant today.
Kaplan maintained close ties with the Smithsonian Institution throughout her professional career. A research associate at the Museum of the American Indian (1977–87), she donated Mexican pottery as well as her field research papers to the National Museum of the American Indian in 2008–09. The remainder of her extensive field research papers went to the National Anthropological Archives, National Museum of Natural History, in 2015.Flora played a pivotal role in the National Museum of African Art’s acquisition and research of the Solomon Osagie Alonge photographic collection [photo]. She co-curated the exhibition Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria (2014–16), which traveled to the National Museum of Benin for permanent installation, and co-authored Fragile Legacies: The Photographs of Solomon Osagie Alonge (2017). Over the years, Kaplan donated a number of significant collection objects to the museum, including an Edo shrine vessel [photo] and Mami Wata figure [photo] on view in the museum’s exhibition Currents: Water in African Art. Additional donations to the museum include an eclectic collection of West African textiles, Edo commemorative cloths and ensembles, Yoruba wrappers, and hand-painted barbershop signs from Nigeria. These items, along with her rich collection of Benin shrine figures and offerings, will undoubtedly engage students, teachers, researchers, and the general public for years to come.