Furniture & Utilitarian Objects - African Art

Grassfields Calabash Sold
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A large and exceptionally beautiful mid-20th-century gourd used for the serving of palm wine on festive occasions. A cradle and handle fabricated from woven reed surround the vessel. Vertical strands bind the base, and sections of interlocking loops wind around the collar. Only the gourd's spout is bare. A bouquet of basket material with knotted ends blocks the throat. The purpose of the bouquet is both decorative and practical, intended to thwart the entry of vermin who love turning empty containers into cozy nests. 18" tall. Price on request
Oromo Gourd
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Bottle gourds of this size and shape, both decorated and plain, come from the Oromo valley in Ethiopia. A number of tribes inhabit this vast region. After having looked through hundreds of field photographs, I've determined that this gourd is probably Konso. Numbers of such containers hang on the walls of Konso huts from leather straps tied around their pinched necks. Here the strap is stiff, oily, and split on one side. A pattern of joined, cross-hatched triangles has been incised around the mouth of the vessel. A similar pattern is used to decorate headrests indigenous to the region. The body of the vessel was cracked ages ago and lovingly repaired. The repairs consist of fine strands of interlocking rattan sewn through the gourd. The surface of the gourd came to me cleaned of soot. 8" tall. $650.
Storage Gourd
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Across the African continent gourds are used for the storage of dry goods. They are lightweight, durable, and relatively resistant to rodents. In the Grassfields of northwest Cameroon, the Bamileke and their neighbors carve small doors into cultivated gourds while they are still fresh and supple. By cutting on a bias and creating triangular or trapezoidal shapes, the cutouts can later be replaced in the openings to form neatly fitting doors. Series of woven loops are made on the gourd and cutout, producing a locking device. After the container is hollowed out and dried, it is fitted with a length of cord affixed through a hole at the top. It can then be stocked with anything from chilies to medicinal herbs and stored out of the way of children and rats from the walls or rafters. This gourd has a particularly beautiful shape. 12". Sooty brown-black patina. Price on request
Dinka Headrest, Sudan
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A well balanced and finely rendered headrest from the Dinka of southern sudan. 11" long. Decades of civil war in the Sudan prevented the region's ethnographic riches from reaching the western market until the mid 1990s when a political thaw in the conflict and Ugandan military activities opened routes into the southern frontier that had previously been too dangerous. Within two years the flow of artifacts was well infiltrated with newly made confections; after five it was subsumed. This piece was purchased early and is well used. It is carved from a dense savanna hardwood, honestly patinated. 17" long, 7" high. Price on request.
Old Congolese Stool
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The form of this lovely stool is similar to published examples (African Seats, etc.) identified as Lega. An even more similar stool, also identified as Lega, has been in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History since 1954. While the AMNH stool lacks the zigzag contours of the legs as well as the carved edge details and floral incising seen here, the pyro-work, patination and scale are very close. It's possible that the stool is from a neighboring tribe such as the Wanandi or that the general form is broadly regional. Numerous tribes call Congo's eastern highlands home including the Mbuti Pygmies. Although the pygmies neither carve nor own substantial furniture the seat decoration calls to mind the calligraphy of their bark cloth and face painting. For decades this stool decorated a Belgian home. It was collected around mid century, before Congo's independence. 8.5" high x 13" diameter. $900
Huge Fulani Calabash
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This voluminous 20" calabash hails from northern Cameroon and was the work of semi-nomadic Fulani. It represents the vertically cut half of a hollowed-out, incised and blackened gourd. Fulani communities are scattered across West Africa from Senegal through the Central African Republic. It is a common sight to see Fulani women bringing milk to market in such vessels which are lightweight, remarkably durable and are well suited to personalized decoration. This is an older gourd with a well worn and variegated patina. Price on request.
Intricately Decorated Calabash
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This enormous calabash is similar to one illustrated in Marc Ginzberg's beautiful book African Forms. Its intricate geometric design expresses Fulani notions of world order and cosmology. In Cameroon nomadic Fulani (Wodabe) carry milk to market in gourds such as this, balancing them atop their heads with the aid of a cloth ring. Gourds are remarkably light weight and durable. If well cared for by their owners they may last a lifetime. Personalized decorations encourage such sentiments. From Mali to Chad It is not uncommon to see calabashes lovingly repaired from top to bottom. 19.5" diameter. Price on request
A Calabash Shekere
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Gourds grow well in the cool, well watered highlands of Cameroon's Grassfields. Once hollowed out they make useful bottles and jars for fermenting palm wine and hanging dry goods out of harm's way from the rafters of huts. Gourds also make excellent resonators for musical instruments. Here a loose textile net strung with scores of wooden beads surrounds a large gourd to create an instrument known as a shekere. When spun in the hands and manipulated just so the shekere can be made to make a variety of remarkably loud, complex and rhythmic sounds. This old, well preserved and beautifully patinated example is an unusual find. 16" tall, unmounted. $600
Tutsi Basket
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"Coil-sewn baskets (agaseki) with conical lids were made by Tutsi women of the aristocracy. The fine coil sewing and the precisely worked-out spiral patterns, many of which have names, were time-consuming and called for exact calculations in the stitching. By the 1930s, imported dyes had expanded the range of available colors (the natural pale gold of the grass and black and white) to include green, orange, and mauve. Earlier baskets such as these lidded ones show a delicacy of design that later examples, made at craft centers for sale to tourists, lack. Baskets made in Rwanda have a plain, undecorated lid; lids of those made in Burundi may be patterned." MC. From "Africa, the Art of a Continent", page 155, edited by Tom Phillips. 8.5" tall $575
Large Bamileke Flute
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At 14" this is among the largish Bamileke flutes you'll find. The form is classic for a Grassfields woodwind, taking the shape of a stylized buffalo head if held with the mouth piece up or as an abstract human if held inverted. This instrument bears traces of commercial paint which at one time spelled out its owner's name. Mounted on a custom base. Price on request.
Grassfields Ceremonial Rattle
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Basketry rattles are not generally common throughout sub-Saharan Africa but they are indigenous to the people of the Grassfield highlands of Cameroon and the Congo Basin. As is typical, but not universal, such rattles consist of a section of calabash attached to a volume of basketry containing dried seeds or hollow nuts. Calabashes make ideal resonators for all manner of musical instruments from stringed Koras to drums. They are easily shaped when fresh but soon harden to a firm, smooth light-weight material that projects sound like no other. Here, the top of a calabash forms the base of a beautifully crafted rattle employing a few lengths of colorful telephone wire in its finial. Indigenous writing on the bottom provides a date in the early 1990s but the overall high level of craftsmanship and oxidation of the materials suggests a significantly more age. The sensuous form of this rattle is unique to the Cameroon Grassfields. 9" tall. $300
Liberian Harp
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Although the shape of this rare musical instrument is reminiscent of a lyre, the fact that the strings are parallel to the cross bar rather than strung from it categorizes it as a harp. An essentially identical example is illustrated in Sir Harry Johnson's "Liberia" 1906, plate 397. The Natural History Museum in New York houses two similar specimens collected in 1939 and 1957. They are identified, respectively, as Toma and (Dan) Gio. The illustrated harp is described as being from Liberia's Northwest. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the instrument is extinct in the field. I have never seen any with traders. This one was acquired from an estate housing several very old West African instruments. It differs from the other Liberian harps mentioned in that the half-calabash sound box at the bottom is covered with hide from one of several possible species of spotted genet- a nocturnal, cat-like animal. 15" tall and 16" wide; wood, plant fiber, genet fur and calabash. Price on request.
Abstract Senufo Heddle Pulley
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This lovely heddle pulley was collected in Korhogo, Cote d'Ivoire more than a dozen years ago by Jerry Vogel. It likely dates to the first quarter of the 20th century or before. I've seen this iconography a number of times. At least one example incorporated a human face into the pot-like finial. This example makes no obvious allusion to human form. It is lovely in its clean simplicity. Well used, natural patina. 7" tall. Price on request.
Akan Pulley
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This beautiful, abstract heddle pulley was collected in Cote d'Ivoire by Thomas McNemar between 1958 and 1964. At the time export of art from Africa was still exclusively in the hands of non-Africans. Mr. McNemar supplied several New York dealers with Ivoirian and Malian artworks including many of the often spectacular pulleys making up the famous collection of Harold Rome. 7" tall. Price on request.
Koranic Tablet From Timbuktu
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One of two exceptional koranic tablets purchased from the collection of Merton D. Simpson. Merton Simpson was the preeminent dealer of African art in the United States from the 1960s through the 1990s until age and ailing health dimmed his vision. In the early 90s I became his preferred base-maker and for a long time we shared a wonderful relationship wherein Mertpassed me stellar objects to mount along with loosely sketched images of how he wanted the piece to be transformed through mounting. Mert was among the first dealers to recognize the beauty and value of lovingly created and preserved non-figurative personal objects from the continent. The oportunity to work in essence as a sculptor in presenting such objects as works of art was as much an honor as it was thrilling: in my two years traveling in Africa I had encountered very few figurative works of art in the bush while lovely spoons, stools, carved cups and bowls came to my attention almost daily. To see the finest examples of this genre celebrated as art was and remains deeply satisfying. This is simply a gorgeous koranic tablet, used by students to practice Arabic calligraphy and washed and reused hundreds of times over to a remarkable smoothness 25" tall by 8.5" wide. Unmounted. Price on request.
Koranic Tablet
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One of two exceptional koranic tablets purchased from the collection of Merton D. Simpson. Merton Simpson was the preeminent dealer of African art in the United States from the 1960s through the 1990s until age and ailing health dimmed his vision. In the early 90s I became his preferred base-maker and for a long time we shared a wonderful relationship wherein Mertpassed me stellar objects to mount along with loosely sketched images of how he wanted the piece to be transformed through mounting. Mert was among the first dealers to recognize the beauty and value of lovingly created and preserved non-figurative personal objects from the continent. The oportunity to work in essence as a sculptor in presenting such objects as works of art was as much an honor as it was thrilling: in my two years traveling in Africa I had encountered very few figurative works of art in the bush while lovely spoons, stools, carved cups and bowls came to my attention almost daily. To see the finest examples of this genre celebrated as art was and remains deeply satisfying. This is simply a gorgeous koranic tablet, used by students to practice Arabic calligraphy and washed and reused hundreds of times over to a remarkable smoothness 29" tall by 9.5" wide. Unmounted. Price on request.
14.5
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The Tuareg are a nomadic ethnic group living in the heart of the Sahara. They divide themselves into kels- politically autonomous sub tribes occupying distinct regions of their vast territory which traverses the borders of Mali, Algeria and Niger. The Tuareg are ethnic Berbers with straight hair and fair skin but those living farther south have greater affinities in both appearance and sensibility to their sub-Saharan neighbors. This bowl comes from a southern group under the Iwellemmeden federation in western Niger. Such bowls are distinct to the southern Tuargeg. Studies of the northern kels make mention of other types of bowls with feet, thick rims and handles but not these. Iwellemmeden bowls are a variety carved in near perfect hemispherical form from a single block of wood hollowed out to a thickness of less than 1/4". I know of no where else in the world where desert dwellers took such enormous quantities of precious hardwood and reduced them to so little in terms of weight. A large number of these bowls, incised with geometrical patterns and occasionally Tifnagh lettering, were exported during the drought in the 1990s. They were all very old, many bearing intricate indigenous repairs. Once the run was over there were no more, probably because the large trees required for the raw material no longer existed along with the man hours and patience to do the work. In general such bowls are oily only on their exterior surfaces indicating they were not used for serving or preparing food. My understanding is that these carved bowls were made to to emulate the large calabashes of the neighboring Wodabe. These wandering Fulani accumulate huge numbers of incised and hollowed out gourds which they pass along as bride wealth out of all proportion with their actual utility. Perhaps these painstakingly carved skeuomorphic marvels are are a spectacular example of tribal one upmanship but whatever the impetus they represent an old tradition that has ended, probably forever. 14.5" in diameter. Price on request.
13.5
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The Tuareg are a nomadic ethnic group living in the heart of the Sahara. They divide themselves into kels- politically autonomous sub tribes occupying distinct regions of their vast territory which traverses the borders of Mali, Algeria and Niger. The Tuareg are ethnic Berbers with straight hair and fair skin but those living farther south have greater affinities in both appearance and sensibility to their sub-Saharan neighbors. This bowl comes from a southern group under the Iwellemmeden federation in western Niger. Such bowls are distinct to the southern Tuargeg. Studies of the northern kels make mention of other types of bowls with feet, thick rims and handles but not these. Iwellemmeden bowls are a variety carved in near perfect hemispherical form from a single block of wood hollowed out to a thickness of less than 1/4". I know of no where else in the world where desert dwellers took such enormous quantities of precious hardwood and reduced them to so little in terms of weight. A large number of these bowls, incised with geometrical patterns and occasionally Tifnagh lettering, were exported during the drought in the 1990s. They were all very old, many bearing intricate indigenous repairs. Once the run was over there were no more, probably because the large trees required for the raw material no longer existed along with the man hours and patience to do the work. In general such bowls are oily only on their exterior surfaces indicating they were not used for serving or preparing food. My understanding is that these carved bowls were made to to emulate the large calabashes of the neighboring Wodabe. These wandering Fulani accumulate huge numbers of incised and hollowed out gourds which they pass along as bride wealth out of all proportion with their actual utility. Perhaps these painstakingly carved skeuomorphic marvels are are a spectacular example of tribal one upmanship but whatever the impetus they represent an old tradition that has ended, probably forever. 14.5" in diameter. Price on request.
Lovingly Incised 17.5
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A beautifully incised and well patinated calabash from the nomadic Fulani of northern Cameroon. Such calabashes can still be seen today in use in the more remote regions of West Africa for the transport of comestibles to and from market. They are increasingly giving way to Nigerian and Chinese enamelware, recycled jerrycans and plastic buckets. Light and stunningly voluminous. Price on request.
Massive Fulani Calabash, 20
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A monumental, beautifully incised and richly patinated calabash from the nomadic Fulani of northern Cameroon. Such calabashes can still be seen today in use in the more remote regions of West Africa for the transport of comestibles to and from market. They are increasingly giving way to Nigerian and Chinese enamelware, recycled jerrycans and plastic buckets. Light and stunningly voluminous. exceptionally large at 20" in diameter. Price on request.
Koranic Board, 62
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In Somalia and elsewhere in Africa Muslim children between the ages of 6 and 13 are taught to read and write Arabic and to recite passages from the koran in madrasas- often outdoors. Traditionally they practice their calligraphy on planks of wood that are periodically washed. Their ink is little more than soot and water, sometimes with a little of gum arabic as a binder. While the practice varies little across the continent the form of the tablets are distinctive to a geographical area or ethnic group. The Somali of Ethiopian Ogaden, Puntland and Somalia own the largest tablets on the continent. Like this beautiful example they are long and narrow, with a pair of feet at the bottom and a nub of a handle at the top. $400/unmounted. (Field photo: Al Arabiya)
61
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In Somalia and elsewhere in Africa Muslim children between the ages of 6 and 13 are taught to read and write Arabic and to recite passages from the koran in madrasas- often outdoors. Traditionally they practice their calligraphy on planks of wood that are periodically washed. Their ink is little more than soot and water, sometimes with a little of gum arabic as a binder. While the practice varies little across the continent the form of the tablets are distinctive to a geographical area or ethnic group. The Somali of Ethiopian Ogaden, Puntland and Somalia own the largest tablets on the continent. Like this beautiful example they are long and narrow, with a pair of feet at the bottom and a nub of a handle at the top. $400/unmounted. (Field photo, Reuters)
Massive Fulani Calabash, 17.5
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Marc Ginzberg's African Forms illustrates a gourd container with a similar design which he identifies as Mangbetu. He likens the interlocking pattern to leopard spots which may well have been the intention of the carver. This 17.5" diameter gourd hails from northern Cameroon and was the work of semi-nomadic Fulani. It represents the vertical half of a large hollowed-out, incised and blackened gourd. Fulani communities are scattered across West Africa from Senegal through the Central African Republic. It is a common sight to see Fulani women bringing milk to market in just such calabashes which are lightweight, remarkably durable and are well suited to personalized decoration. Price on request.
Pende Palm Wine Cup
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This lovely, honey colored palm wine cup was acquired by collector Robert Keating between the year 1970and 1972 in Kinshasa, Zaire. It was apparently the only Pende cup he collected. At the time this cup had about twenty years of wear on it. Along with the handsome face the carving is lovingly detailed in the coiffure with pyro-engraved circular markings on the cheeks and neck which doubles as the cups foot. There is a small bit of old loss on the rim which does not detract from the overall beauty of the object. 6.5" tall, price on request.
Kuba Tukula Box In The Form Of A Basket
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The Kuba are among the Congo's largest groups and most artistically prolific. Traditionally they produced a vast array of objects in wood as well as basketry, textiles and metalwork. This unusual box, used for the storage of tukula cosmetic powder bridges three worlds: it is carved from wood in the form of a basket and bears patterns of classic Kuba weaving. 8.5" tall x 6" wide. Price on request.
Kuba Box From The Keating Collection
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This beautifully worn, crescent shaped box was purchased in Kinshasa before 1973 by future World Bank director Robert Keating. At the time indigenous art merchants, locally know as bag-men, regularly traveled from the countryside to sell artifacts to foreigners and wholesalers in the Congolese capital. So rich was the material culture of Central Africa that even after the devastating effects of decades of colonial rule much in the way of fine, antique art and crafts remained long after the colonizers had left with their trunkfuls of treasures. 12" in length. Price on request.
Kuba Box
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This beautiful old, square edged box with deeply carved designs was purchased in Kinshasa before 1973 by future World Bank director Robert Keating. It was used as a storage container for tukula (twool to the Kuba), the ground powder of either the African sandalwood or Pterocarpus soyauxii. Twool was used by Kuba women to decorate the face and chest, to anoint bodies for burial and, in combination with other pigments, to dye cloth. 6" x 4". Price on request.
Kuba Container
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The Kuba use tukula powder both in dry and blended with palm oil as a paste. This container, which may have once had a lid, appears to have been used for mixing this pomade. It's rounded bottom suggests it did not serve as a storage vessel but rather to be held, with the aid of its compact handle, in a single hand. The lovely, deeply carved designs decorating its surface testify to the ritual significance of this rare object. Collected in Kinshasa as-is before 1973 by Robert Keating. 5.5" wide x 3" tall. Price on request.
Buganda Harp, Ennanga
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This old and very beautiful ennanga is atypical in a number of ways. Let's start with the resonator which is made from the carapace of a turtle. This feature alone is unique. The skin stretched over it has two sound holes where others always have one, and it's stretched tight, not with the classic pattern of parallel strings bound to a rectangle of hide on the back, but with knots of untanned hide forming a grid. The bow arm isn't a smooth arc- it's irregular, fashioned it unapologetically from a stripped and smoothed branch. And, finally, this ennanga has only five (gut) strings where as nearly every other example I've see has eight or nine strings. All of this suggests that it is probably a country instrument, from a district far from the Buganda royal court or perhaps a neighboring group. 24" long. Mounted on a custom base (included). Ex. UK collection. Price on request.
Classic Ennanga, Buganda Harp
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This gorgeous harp is similar to one illustrated in the late Marc Ginzberg's "African Forms" albeit with one more string (eight). A nearly identical example has been housed at the Tervuren Museum since 1911 (inv.#2775.) Both the present instrument and the one in Brussels have the added feature of vegetable fiber rings covered with snake skin tucked below each string. When the gut vibrates it brushes the ring, giving the note a distinctive nasal timbre. The back of this instrument is exceptionally beautiful with a rectangle of finely tanned leather stretched between four parallel sets of hand spun twine. Unmounted. Ex US collection. 30" long. Price on request.
Rendille Moran's Headrest
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The Rendille live north and east of the Samburu in semi-desert country north of Mt. Kenya. The two groups share many traditions and frequently intermarry.As a result many of their household artifacts and adornments are essentially undifferentiated. This headrest is very similar to one in the collection of the California Academy of Sciences, field collected (I believe) in the 1970s. The Rendille are herdsmen. Due to the arid conditions of their territory they are semi-nomadic, living in settlements of oval mobile huts made of interwoven branches covered with woven mats. During the day young men herd livestock- chiefly camels and goats. These morans carry headrests such as these, a stick and often frequently a spear or rifle and little else. Like the Samburu they wear elaborate coiffures and even today, scar their bodies with identifying tribal marks. The headrest is 7" in height. Price upon request.
Beautifully Aged Somali Camel Bell
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The sight of scores of camels being herded through the dry savannahs of East Africa is unforgettable but the sound of their myriad wooden bells, each with a slightly different tone but hauntingly syncopated rhythms, gets into your dreams. The Somali people occupy a vast stretch of Africa's Horn in four countries: Somali, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. Mature camels and cows wear bells to aid herdsmen in keeping track of them when in bushy country. Koor aleen ah as they are known are carved from Accacia wood and last for many years, weathering gracefully in sandstorms and happenstance in the bush. This exceptional example, collected in Ethiopia's Ogaden region, is especially deeply eroded with high points burnished through contact with the camel's neck and with other animals. Mounted on a hardwood base. 6.5" tall by 8" wide. Price on request.
Attractively Mounted Camel Bells
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Camels are herded by a variety of ethnic groups across northern Africa from Mauritania to Djibouti. Somalis carve distinctive bells for tying around the necks of their livestock in order to keep track of them in the scrub forests that dominate their lands. Neighboring groups such as the Rendille and Gabra in Kenya have their own distinctive style of bell. The sound of a large herd of camels being driven to pasture, each with its own wooden bell, is enchanting. Here two bells are arranged on a single base 11" tall over all. $450
Large Medicine Gourd With Figural Stopper
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Across much of East Africa from Ethiopia to South Africa and west to Congo basin calabashes are cultivated, trained into useful shapes, hollowed out and fashuioned into containers. In traditional societies they were often hung from the rafters and on the walls of huts where they housed everything from fermenting beverages to honey and medicinal elixirs and powders. When it came to housing medicinal substances the calabash became something more than a mere container as the effectiveness of its contents required the active involvement of overseeing spirits or powers. For this reason, particularly in Tanzania, medicine gourds were special and needed to look the part. They were embellished with beads, shells and other adornments and always closed with carved stoppers. These stoppers may be anthropomorphic, zoomorphic or non-figural, but where nganga (traditional medicine) is involved they are almost never plain. This calabash with its elegant stopper stands 12" tall. Zaramo people, Tanzania. Price on request.
Zaramo Medicine Gourd With Female Image
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This stopper was personally collected in a Zaramo village by Mohamed Jaffer, himself the product of a Zaramo-Tutsi household with a great many Zaramo family contacts. The coiffure of the serene female half figure calls to mind Luguru representations. In fact the Zaramo have traditions very close to the Luguru from who they are understood to have descended. This gourd was in use for a great many decades. Erosion from a leaky roof has left its mark on the figure's left side and down a matching stretch of the calabash. 9" tall. Price on request
Extra Large Turkana Headrest
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The Turkana occupy vast, dry lands in northern Kenya. Their adversarial neighbors the Pokot make and use very similar headrests. This spectacularly large specimen, like all examples of its general type, has been carved from a single, inverted section of timber selected from the crotch of an acacia tree. Two swirls of heartwood are visible at the top of the headrest. By using a natural bifurcation, the headrest's creator took advantage of the wood's diverging grain, creating an especially strong yet lightweight piece of portable furniture capable if necessary of bearing a man's full weight. This gorgeous old example is 25% larger than typical, probably because it was made for an especially tall individual. Old US collection. 9" x 10". Price on request.
Bold Geometric Bobo Pulley
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This striking heddle pulley was collected in Cote d'Ivoire by Thomas McNemar between 1958 and 1964. At the time export of art from Africa was still exclusively in the hands of Europeans. Mr. McNemar supplied several New York dealers and collectors with West African artwork including many of the pulleys comprising Harold Rome's famous collection. With a rich patina blackened from time and use this 7" pulley is as fine a non-figurative pulleys as one will find. Price on request.
Tutsi Screen (insika)
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The traditional homes of well-to-do Tutsi in Rwanda and Burudi were beautifully constructed grass roofed rondavels. To divide the interior a variety of screens were employed within the structure. This type, known as insika, are rigid and typically about one to two meters in height. Typically they are emblazoned with a bold two tone, geometric motif. Along with baskets and mats, insika accounted for much of the creative output of Tutsi women in Burundi and Rwanda in terms of expressive handiwork. The Tutsi were justly famous for their fine basketry and the highly evolved sense of design with which they were decorated. This screen dates to the latter half of the 20th century. 18.5" x 70.5". Price on request.
Tutsi Screen (insika) With Zigzags
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The traditional homes of well-to-do Tutsi in Rwanda and Burudi were beautifully constructed grass roofed rondavels. To divide the interior a variety of screens were employed within the structure. This type, known as insika, are rigid and typically about one to two meters in height. Typically they are emblazoned with a bold two tone, geometric motif. Along with baskets and mats, insika accounted for much of the creative output of Tutsi women in Burundi and Rwanda in terms of expressive handiwork. The Tutsi were justly famous for their fine basketry and the highly evolved sense of design with which they were decorated. This screen dates to the latter half of the 20th century. 80" x 19". Price on request.
Omo Valley Headrest
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Eight distinct tribes live in the lower Omo Valley of Ethiopia both along its banks and within its watershed. Among them the Hamer, Dassenech and Karo have headrests essentially identical in form which men carry while tending their cattle. Headrests are carved by their owners, but the finest examples are purchased from craftsmen who specialize in the carving of wooden ware in market towns such as Tumi where members of various ethnic groups congregate to trade and resupply. This particular headrest has a lovely patina, especially nice incised details and a well balanced form. Metal decoration marks the seat. 7" tall $385
Rendille Game Board Sold
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Mancala is an ancient game played across the African continent. In East Africa the game is known generally as "bao" although many ethnic group have their own name for it. In much of East Africa a four row version of the game is played but as in West Africa and Ethiopia The Rendille, Samburu, Masai and other play on two row boards. This old, well used and richly patinated example hails from the Rendille of northern Kenya who are closely related to the Samburu and live just to their north and east, in dry country bordering ethnic Somali and Turkana lands. As nomadic pastoralists, Rendille material culture consists largely of adornments and practicalities: headrests, containers, tools and weapons. A household may own a single game board, streamlined and legless which is set on the ground and generally played out doors in the shade of a thorn tree. 34" long. $950
Maasai Game Board
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Mancala is an ancient game played across the African continent. The Maasai know the game as Enkeshui and play a two row version on boards such as this with two piercings on one edge for the attachment of a hide carry strap. This is a deeply patinated and well used board of great beauty, 28" in length. It can be played with bean or pebble counters but it would serve well as an object of art, hung vertically or horizontally on the wall in a sophisticated home. $1150
Bent-wood Headrest
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I believe both the Karamajong as well as neighboring Turkana made such headrests. In the dry, rugged and remote regions of northeastern Uganda and northern Kenya headrests are still in use amongst pastoralists, but this bent wood type can no longer be found in the field although non bent wood examples in this approximate style are still made and used. This example is unusual for its lovely warm tones, a result of the variety of wood employed plus years of handling. Blonde tones are more typical. Bent wood headrests can be differentiated from others in that the top, horizontal section shows the same parallel grain structure as the sides. Headrests which assume this general shape by carving alone will show end grain on the top. 9" tall. Price on request.
Bulu Spoon Sold
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Acquired with one other from an estate sale this crisply carved spoon is very similar to a group purchased by the American Museum of Natural History in 1943. The acquisition entry listed the spoon as Bulu but did not name the village. Like the museum examples this spoon was probably never used. Rather, it was purchased in a marketplace directly from the maker. It is nevertheless a fine example of the distinctive, local craftwork once available nearly everywhere in Africa but which is today has become increasingly rare. 10.5":
Luba Headrest, Ex Merton D. Simpson
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The Luba live in gorgeous country in southeastern Congo. The region is rich in copper and timber, has reliable rainfall, plentiful rivers, fertile soil and, historically at least, bountiful game. As a result the Luba Kingdoms were wealthy and stable allowing for the development of an indigenous industry of craftspeople that evolved over centuries, producing works in a variety of mediums from ceramics to figural carving of unrivaled beauty. Although deceptively simple, this turn of the 20th Century headrest is flawlessly carved, finely detailed and as lovely in the hands as it is to behold. Personally purchased from the collection of the late Merton D. Simpson who I had the pleasure of working with for over 15 years. 5" tall; price on request.
Bongo Headrest
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The Bongo are today a vanishing ethnic group in the Tonj district of South Sudan. Small seats similar in form to this example were collected amongst the Bongo in the mid 1800's. According to Schweinfurth in, Artes Africanae (1875) the Bongo made such seats 'of the beautiful chestnut-brown wood of the 'Göl' tree ... which is susceptible of a splendid polish'. In Heart of Africa (1873) he claimed they were called hegba and only used by women, but this is contradicted by Evans-Pritchard in "The Bongo" (1929) who reported that although the Bongo had by then ceased making these stools, both sexes of one clan were still using them as headrests. As the Bongo were farmers and not herdsmen and did not organize bride-wealth in cattle, the apparently zoomorphic form may reference a totemic or origin-myth animal if not the household, milk-providing goat rather than an ox or cow. Ex Pace Primitive. 4" in height; price on request. References thanks to the Pitt-Rivers, Sudan Project, Oxford.
Bamana Drum With Crocodiles
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This old drum safely dates to the first half of the 20th C. It has either its original drum skin or one that replaced it and was subsequently used for many years. The tear in the skin was professionally repair with archival materials; as a result it is strong and firm but essentially no longer playable as intended. It nevertheless functions very well visually as a fine, authentic example of finely carved antique Malian instrument. A crocodile, or perhaps a monitor lizard graces each side. 37" tall. Price on request.
Old Bulu Spoon
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Acquired with several other southern Cameroonian and Gabonese spoons an estate sale, this crisply carved example is very similar to a group purchased by the American Museum of Natural History in 1943. The acquisition entry listed those spoons as Bulu without pinpointing a village. Like the museum examples this spoon was probably never used. In all likelihood, it was purchased in a marketplace directly from the maker. It is nevertheless a fine example of the distinctive, local craft work once available nearly everywhere in Africa but which today has become increasingly scarce. 5.5". $325 with base.
Small Fang Spoon
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Acquired with several petite Cameroonian and Gabonese spoons from an estate sale this crisply carved example is very similar to three examples published in the Musee Dapper's delightful "Cuillers Sculptures". This particular spoon probably dates to the 2nd quarter of the 20th Century and was little used, accounting for it's light, oil free patina. Nevertheless the spoon was carved by a trained and disciplined master craftsman. In terms of refinement of form and detail it is first class. 5" tall. $650 with custom mount.
Comoros Lamp
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In 1963 the Comoros Islands released a series of stamps celebrating indigenous handicrafts. Among them was an object identified as a "porte-lampe" remarkably similar to the one we have here. This particular lamp was collected in the late 70's by Robert Keating during his time as US ambassador to the island nation and Madagascar. The lamp consists of a wooden backboard, carved with a rectilinear and symmetrical design and joined to a perpendicular shelf supporting a four pronged stand carved from three interlocking pieces of lumber. The stand balances a large strombus shell which in turn functioned as a lamp or candle holder. As Ambassador Keating kept the stand bundled in storage for over 30 years it's hard to judge its age. Apparently, such lamps are no longer in use or even made- at least none of this style or level of craftsmanship. The Comoro islands lie between northern Madagascar and Mozambique. Its people are the descendants of Malagasy settlers and, in the 18th century, East Africans captured and stored on the islands by Arab slavers. Wood, shell and earth pigments; 26" x 14". Price on request.
Comoro Lamp
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In 1963 the Comoros Islands released a series of stamps celebrating indigenous handicrafts. Among them was an object identified as a "porte-lampe" remarkably similar to the one we have here. This particular lamp was collected in the late 70's by Robert Keating during his time as US ambassador to the island nation and Madagascar. The lamp consists of a wooden backboard, carved with a rectilinear and symmetrical design and joined to a perpendicular shelf supporting a four pronged stand carved from three interlocking pieces of lumber. The stand balances a large strombus shell which in turn functioned as a lamp or candle holder. As Ambassador Keating kept the stand bundled in storage for over 30 years it's hard to judge its age. Apparently, such lamps are no longer in use or even made- at least none of this style or level of craftsmanship. The Comoro islands lie between northern Madagascar and Mozambique. Its people are the descendants of Malagasy settlers and, in the 18th century, East Africans captured and stored on the islands by Arab slavers. Wood, shell and earth pigments; 23" x 10.5". Price on request.
Pine Wine Vessel Pitcher20.5
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pitcher basketry Jerome Vogel collection
Ovahimba Milk Pail
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I'm listing this milk pail as Ovahimba but it could as easily be from a related group from southwest Angola such as the Zemba or Mwila. The Ovahimba live on both sides of the Namibia/Angola border, occasionally driving their cattle and goats across the Cunene River that divides the two countries and Ovahimba lands. The Ovahimba and their northern neighbors are semi-nomadic herdsmen who live in a high desert land. Their possessions are few but those which they maintain are vital to their traditional lifestyle: headrests, clubs, and wooden, gourd and basketry containers, funnels and commercial metal cooking pots. This 10" tall vessel has a fine patina and satisfying color and form. Ex collection of the late Robert Rubin, long time chairman of the Museum for African Art, New York. $650
Ovahimba Milk Pot, Collected In 1994
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I bought this milk pail from an Ovahimba family I encountered along a track near Orupembe, Namibia. The party as I recall included one young woman in Herero dress and the remainder adorned as Ovahimba, their bodies glistening with fat mixed with red ochre. The pail has some native repairs executed with fiber. The pail had about a year's worth of use on it at the time. In the regions I visited carved milk vessels were far out numbered by watertight vessels made of dense basketry. In fact this is the only one I found. 9", price on request.
Zambian Calabash Pipe With Ceramic Bowl
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Western knowledge of the material cultures of the central and eastern regions of Africa is poor. The region is vast, rugged and diverse. Its colonial overseers, the British and Portuguese, took a largely haphazard approach to documenting and identifying its traditional art and artifacts. This beautiful and richly surfaced pipe arrived in the United States from Tanzania around 2003. It's precise origins are not known but an old Nyamwezi (Tanzania) staff from the William Brill collection depicts a man puffing on a pipe of similar form. The British Museum on the other hand houses a small number of African gourd and ceramic pipes, the most analogous of which to our pipe is one collected in 1909 in Zambia/Malawi and identified as Bemba. The Bemba are a large, Bantu ethnicity related to the Luba. The BA pipe features a ceramic bowl of similar form as well as nearly identical wire work in the area where the bowl and calabash meet. 10" long, mounted on a hardwood base. $675
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Western knowledge of the material cultures of the central and eastern regions of Africa is poor. The region is vast, rugged and diverse. Its colonial overseers, the British and Portuguese, took a largely haphazard approach to documenting and identifying its traditional art and artifacts. This beautiful and richly surfaced pipe arrived in the United States from Tanzania around 2003. It's precise origins are not known but an old Nyamwezi (Tanzania) staff from the William Brill collection depicts a man puffing on a pipe of similar form. The British Museum on the other hand houses a small number of African gourd and ceramic pipes, the most analogous of which to our pipe is one collected in 1909 in Zambia/Malawi and identified as Bemba. The Bemba are a large, Bantu ethnicity related to the Luba. The BA pipe features a ceramic bowl of similar form as well as nearly identical wire work in the area where the bowl and calabash meet. It should be noted that neighboring and not necessarily culturally related peoples, may well have used essentially identical pipes as many cultural artifacts are not strictly tribal but may be simply regional in style. 14" long, mounted on a hardwood base. $775
Royal Drum
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This gorgeous 44.5" tall drum dates to the late 19th C. It was exported from Africa before 1970 and displays excellent wear and a glorious patina all of it developed while still in situ. The flawlessly executed decorative pattern encircling the instrument is an abstract, traditional Grassfields design embodying anthropomorphic and botanical elements. One quarter of the way up from the bottom a band of flying birds encircles the instrument. With its tremendous level of detail and original drum skin this is with out question the finest example of its type I have ever encountered outside of a museum. Price on request.