Terracotta & Miscellaneous - African Art

Terra-cotta Bull
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This is a bit of an oddity. I know only that this piece came from Nigeria, presumably the northeast. The half-moon decorations on the body are similar to details on Sao terracottas, but the clay is dissimilar. Although I have seen many Sao figurines of cattle, they have been uniformly plain with a hump, horns, and a sense of movement, but otherwise lacking detail. Here, the decorations are not only numerous, but deeply imprinted even though they have since filled up with fine, impacted earth, indicating that the piece was buried for a considerable period. The body is hollow and there is a hole in the belly. The end of the tail is missing and one foot has been restored so that the figurine stands on its own. The head tilts deliberately to one side, evoking a large healthy animal at pasture. The clay is very solid and, at the break, reveals itself to be similar to Nok pieces in that it is heavily grogged with a fine, burnished slip coat surface. 9" long and 4" high. Price on request.
Tutsi Pots
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Ceramic vessels of this form have been collected in both Rwanda and Uganda. They are said to be Tutsi but they may in fact be the product of people of one or more ethnicities who produce them for a local clientele of any tribal affiliation. In Southwestern Uganda in 2015 I watched people of multiple tribal and national affiliations converging on a weekly market near Kunungu, a town close to the Congolese frontier with all manner of produce and handicrafts to sell. At least one man was seen carrying a massive ceramic water jar on his shoulders. If the man, the marketer of the vessel, was of one ethnicity and his ultimate buyer turned out to be of a different one, how would we identify the pot were we to show up, twenty years hence and buy it from him? This highly refined and burnished example still has it's original patina accumulated over years of being wiped down regularly but never scrubbed or washed with soap. Were it to be cleaned in such a way it's underlying surface of polished red clay would be revealed but its hard earned patina of use, subtle and variagated would be lost forever. 9.5" tall. Price on request. come is said to be Tutsi but are more likely from a Tutsi related people, an agrarian people living on a broad peninsula in the northeast corner of Lake Victoria. The pots are not common, but those I have seen are fairly consistent in style and scale, here about 8" tall. The one variable seems to be the flare at the top of the vessel, which can be either extreme or modest. The pots are thin-walled and have a concave base that allows them to sit flat, even on soft or warped surfaces. They are smooth to the touch. Traces of white residue and an absence of odor in the interior suggest they were used for the serving of palm wine. They are formed from a dark grey to black gray with ruddy highlights and incised designs on their shoulders. Three examples each 10.5" tall appear here in sequence: a, b and c. Price upon request.
Zulu Pot
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Description coming soon.
Akan Abusua Kuruwa Head 1
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Abusua kuruwa are funerary vessels with projecting figures or heads representing matrilineal characters or retainers of the notable being honored. This head is one of three surviving from a vessel of ancient origin, now lost. Gold dust mixed in with the clay still shimmers on the surface and indicates the wealth and status of the honoree. Abusa Kuruwa are distinguished from day-to-day Akan pottery by the inclusion of figural elements; their forms are traditional and utilitarian. This beautiful head with its serene expression is more than 150 years old. About 3.5" tall. $950
Akan Abusa Kuruwa Head 2
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Abusua kuruwa are funerary vessels with projecting figures or heads representing matrilineal characters or retainers of the notable being honored. This head is one of three surviving from a vessel of ancient origin, now lost. Gold dust mixed in with the clay still shimmers on the surface and indicates the wealth and status of the honoree. Abusa Kuruwa are distinguished from day-to-day Akan pottery by the inclusion of figural elements; their forms are traditional and utilitarian. This beautiful head with its serene expression is more than 150 years old. About 3.5" tall. $950
Akan Abusa Kuruwa Head 3
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Abusua kuruwa are funerary vessels with projecting figures or heads representing matrilineal characters or retainers of the notable being honored. This fragmentary head is one of three surviving from a vessel of ancient origin, now lost. Gold dust mixed in with the clay still shimmers on the surface and indicates the wealth and status of the honoree. Abusa Kuruwa are distinguished from day-to-day Akan pottery by the inclusion of figural elements; their forms are traditional and utilitarian. This beautiful head with its serene expression is more than 150 years old. About 3.5" tall. Loss to chin and jaw area as illustrated. $500
Cham-mwana Sold
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The Cham and the Mwana are tribes speaking the same language, living to the north of the Benue River in northern Nigeria. They traditionally fabricated figurative terra cotta vessels for the specific purposes of divining, protection of children (born and unborn) and the treatment of diseases in people and livestock. These vessels, known as itinate, were made exclusively by men (in contrast with household pottery which was the singular domain of women.) This beautifully crafted vessel depicts an individual of uncertain sex. It's spine and ribs are protuberant. It's shoulder blades jut out. It's right hand hovers over its left, an object (a new born child?) balanced on its right wrist. Although emaciated, the figure does not reveal any suffering in either its expression or pose; rather he or she is focussed on its hands and the task or curative process with which it is is preoccupied. 12.5" tall, provided with a metal ring base (not the grassfields head-ring shown). $700
Djenne Red Glaze Flask
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It is a common practice in West Africa to splash the first drops of home brew onto the ground "for the ancestors" before taking a sip yourself. It's such a strong tradition that it survived the cruelties of the middle passage and slavery to live on firmly in the diaspora cultures of the Americas and Caribbean. The association between libation and honoring the dead is not limited to toasts. The internment of the deceased was until recently often accompanied with the burial of terra cotta vessels both used ones and others made specifically for such a purpose. Not infrequently archeological pots are found with their openings capped suggesting they were not buried empty. This beautiful pot is in flawless condition. It may be anywhere from one to several centuries old. White decoration over red glaze. No repairs. Unmounted 15" high, 10" diameter. Price on request
Small Kwahu Head
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The use of fired ceramic in funerary customs, ancestral worship and the memorialization of the deceased is both ancient and widespread in Africa south of the Sahara. The Ashante have utilized ceramics in these practices for centuries, but their customs are hardly static. The placing of terra cotta memorial heads in sacred places (asensie) evolved out of earlier traditions. In the 19th and 20th centuries- the approximate date of this head- symbolic portrait heads were created with glossy, black, painted surfaces. Presumably these were intended to memorialize from within the descendants' homes. The great majority of such heads are large- about a 12" in diameter or more. While unusually small, this example is classic nonetheless. It is deftly and minimally detailed with typical tribal marks on its upturned disc-shaped face. Although there is some minor characteristic loss to a section of its base the sculpture is largely whole and in excellent condition. Although probably never steady on its integral base it was made to be a free standing object. A custom steel mount now holds its upright and protects it. 7" inches tall. Price on request
Exceptional Terra Cotta Mama Figure
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The Mama of Nigeria's culturally rich Benue valley are best known for their abstractly rendered buffalo masks. The Mama also carve figures with bulbous heads, inflated torsos and bulky arms posed like rugby players preparing to join the scrum. This Mama figure may be related to the female figure in the Yale archive (0079241). He is also listed in the archive (0113477~01). His genitals have been knocked off- probably deliberately-, an arm has been reattached and a foot was lost long ago. He is old and as evidenced from the sole of his remaining foot and the contrasting patination of his front and back sides it appears he was situated for a considerable period on an altar or reserved area on the floor of a hut with earth underfoot, leaning back against a mud wall. The use of figures among the Mama is not well known. It is likely however that this figure served as some sort of ancestral idol. It is possible that clay figures are more common than the two known examples suggest as African traders would certainly prefer to ferry lighter and less fragile wooden sculptures whenever possible. 19.5" tall. Some traces of red ochre. Price on request
1930s Terra Cotta By Mbitim
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The Azande were prolific potters for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in the 19th century. Their lands in the transition zone between the Congo basin and the upper Nile made them middle men between Arab traders from the north with their beads and metal trade goods and forest dwellers to the south and east with their ivory and other raw materials. With the arrival of Europeans and new outposts of trade the Azande became quick studies in creating goods to cater to their new neighbors and structure their relations to the new regional brokers of power and wealth. By the 1930s handicrafts in wood and ceramics were being produced for this small but active market in outposts throughout the region among them Lirangu in southern Sudan. It was there that the Azande potter Mbitim established a workshop producing distinctive, largely figurative ceramics in a variety of forms not limited to vessels. Many of his works would eventually find their way to England and the United States- including vases and bookends donated to the American Museum of Natural History and published in Schildkraut and Keim's excellent book "African Reflections, Art from Northeastern Zaire." In this lovely 6.5" tall paperweight, a child wearing shorts and holding a box sits with a small dog. The fine features, delicate modeling and meticulous detail are classic Mbitim. The dog has lost its right paw, but otherwise in remarkable condition. Price on request.
1930s Paperweight By Mbitim
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This paperweight by the Azande potter Mbitim was clearly made for Europeans. However, the coiffures and faces have distinctly tribal origins. The Azande were prolific potters for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in the 19th century. Their lands in the transition zone between the Congo basin and the upper Nile made them middle men between Arab traders from the north with their beads and metal trade goods and forest dwellers to the south and east with their ivory and other raw materials. With the arrival of Europeans and new outposts of trade the Azande became quick studies in creating goods to cater to their new neighbors and structure their relations to the new regional brokers of power and wealth. By the 1930s handicrafts in wood and ceramics were being produced for this small but active market in outposts throughout the region among them Lirangu in southern Sudan. It was there that the Azande potter Mbitim established a workshop producing distinctive, largely figurative ceramics in a variety of forms not limited to vessels. Many of his works would eventually find their way to England and the United States- including vases and bookends donated to the American Museum of Natural History and published in Schildkraut and Keim's excellent book "African Reflections, Art from Northeastern Zaire." 8" wide. Price on request.
Akan Head
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Akan memorial heads have a history dating to before the 16th century. They are are generalized portraits of an deceased notable, here a woman with a partially shaven head and elaborate asymmetrical coiffure. Such heads were placed in variety of locations although never at the grave site: in sacred groves or indoor shrines where they were the focus of libations and ritual sacrifice. This beautiful example (Yale #114700) is likely by the same hand as one published in Arts d'Afrique Noire, no.83, 1992. A similar example is published in"African Tribal Images: The Katherine White Reswick Collection", by William Fagg The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1968: #96; an example identified by the late Roy Sieber as coming from the Adansi-Fomena area of (Ghana) around the year 1850. The snail shaped knobs on the head represent gold hair ornaments worn by royalty. 9.5". Custom base. Price on request
Three Lobed Azande Pot
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The Azande of northeastern Congo and southwestern Sudan are renowned for their compact, magnificently crafted ceramics. Formed from a light colored clay with deeply incised abrstract designs Azande pottery come in a wide variety of forms. Three lobed pots with a single cylindrical or tapered neck are well known tours de force in the Azande repertory. Following the collapse of the invasion of eastern Congo by Laurent Kabila and his Ugandan and Rwandan military backers in the late 90s, and a subsequent shift in security conditions in neighboring regions of Sudan, substantial quantities of antique ethnographic material began making its way to art traders in Kampala, Nairobi and Dar Es Salam. Within a few years authentic material was becoming scarce and new, poorly executed reproduction began to take their place. This rare and beautiful example has a small essentially invisible repair on the rim but it otherwise intact. It was purchased in 2002. 10" tall. Price on request.
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Kwahu shrine heads come in a variety of sizes. The largest may exceed 60cms in height. At 33cms this wonderfully abstract example is about average in height although its neck is longer than most. When I acquired it the face was largely obscured from years of ritual applications of kaolin which made the features difficult to read. Judicious cleaning of the face revealed a beautiful surface of time burnished and often-washed black ceramic. The sculptors placement of the intense, high relief eyes, nose and mouth at extremes on the tilted visage give this head a unique and startling appearance. Price on request.
Tukula Bongotol
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Two species of tropical tree, cam wood (Bafia nitra) and African padauk (Pterocarpus soyauxii) are valued for their red heartwood and the red pigment derived from it. The trees are found widely but production of the pigment, known in central Africa as tukula, is localized. The powder is a key ingredient in textile dyes both within communities which manufacture it and without. It is also valued as a cosmetic, to enhance and decorate carved objects, and in funerary rituals. Tukula is made by grinding a log with a stone or against another hardwood blank. The process is cooled and lubricated with water. The collected pulp is then dried. As transporting raw logs or powder are both inconvenient, the Kuba for generations have commodified tukula by forming it into bricks of various shapes, often decorated with patterns which may signify the maker and thereby suggest the quality of the material. The bricks, or bongotol to the Kuba, may also be presented as gifts, in which case they may be sculpted into portrait heads or prestigious representations of status objects such as pottery or furnishings. Among the examples depicted here is a one in the form of a cooking vessel. Prices on request.
Qua Archeological Headrest
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Terra cotta headrests are rare everywhere in Africa but are among the more common artifacts unearthed from the Qua civilization (10th-11th Century) in the region of Calabar in eastern Nigeria. Qua terra cottas first came to light during excavation and road building. In addition to headrests, Qua terra cottas include platters, bowls jars and bottle-like figures with architectonic, zoomorphic or anthropomorphic finials and heads. The clay is very distinctive with a crackled, porous surface with an yellow-ochre exterior and an anaerobic-black interior. Headrests come in a variety of hollow forms of which this example, with its wide opening topped with two small holes, is the most typical. The purpose of the smaller holes is not known although it is likely that they anchored twine used for hanging the headrest or otherwise holding it in place. Qua terra cottas universally have finely incised surface patterns strikingly reminiscent of Kuba textile designs. Some loss and erosion, as one would expect of a one thousand year old ceramic. 5" high. Price on request.
Set Of Terracotta Bed Posts
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As it snakes its way through the flat interior of Mali before turning south near Timbuktu, the Niger River gives birth to numerous smaller tributaries, floodplains and lakes. For centuries this vast inland delta has been the home of the Bozo people who till its earth and fish its waters. Because hardwood is scarce and clay is abundant in the inland delta, the Bozo have made the most of the possibilities of terra-cotta. Using palm fronds as fuel the Bozo have made a range of furnishings over the centuries from vessels to seats to bedposts such as these. This beautiful set, rare to find complete and in such fine condition, would have supported a pair of longitudinal palm trunks on which would have rested a set of cross pieces of the same material. On top of that frame the Bozo typically spread a succession of ever finer mats eventually achieving a level and surprisingly comfortable surface on which to sleep. Because river courses change over time and seasonal flooding can be severe, the Bozo occasionally must resettle, abandoning entire villages along with whatever they cannot squeeze into their canoes. For this reason Bozo pottery can be well worn, intact and yet centuries old. These bed posts were no doubt abandoned in this way and later recovered. About a one to two centuries old only single post of the four shows a significant crack, clearly visible in the second of the two images. Although it would be easily restored I have chose to leave it as is for now. About 14" tall each. Offered as a set only at $1800.
Katsina Head
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In northern Nigeria, east of the Niger river, is where this Katsina head (10.5 in.) was found. It dates back to between 200 BCE–100 CE. It is speculated that Katsina terracotta head figures, such as this one, were originally tops of globular jars and perhaps used as funeral markers. This solid head is broken a few inches above the shoulders and maintains its original red, modeled surfacing in which the tool marks are still apparent. The eyes are deep crescents with heavy eyelids and the protruding lips are defined by the deep incision of the mouth. The triangular nose is considerably shallow compared to the mouth and does not extend beyond the top lip. The right ear has sadly fallen off but the left ear is fully intact in its simplified form. The reflective visage is contrasted by the energetic protruding spikes of hair on the back of the head. A few spikes were lost long ago but the majority still remain firm. The ancient history and mystery that surrounds the Katsina and their terracotta figures makes this head a vessel of historical intrigue.