I have not seen high end carving done in the city workshops. There are some very good carvers who can make a very good copy of any picture (especially if they have a picture of the back as well as the front) but they have very little knowledge of the finer details of importance to pieces from many different tribes.
Some are highly skilled when adding an aged patina and particularly one Dogon man living in Adjame in Abidjan. He showed me some of the techniques he uses to very good effect. I must add here that these carvers do not try to conceal the fact that they are aging and making copies of pieces from different places. They like all good artisans are justifiably proud of their skill in producing very good carvings as well as finishing them in a way that will suit their customers.
Many years ago I was asked to commission carvers to make a lot of pieces for the high flyers rooms of a Casino. They had to be in 3 sizes, 12" 18"and 24". I was supplied with pictures of the items needed but the catch was that the figures were to have no breasts or penises!
I left pics with Carena carvers as well as a couple of guys working alone in Adjame and asked all to make me a sample and reminded them to omit any indication of the sex of the figure.
I returned a few days later. They had all made very nice pieces and were obviously very skilled but had included breasts and penises. When I told them that my client would not accept this they were horrified and all refused to alter their work. All they could say was "Who are these people?"
I suggested my client take their pictures to Indonesia and have them carved very quickly to their specification with chain saws and power tools.
In Ghana young market carvers are apprenticed to senior skilled carvers. The older men despair these days. They see their art dying because the young guys see no value in learning more than the basic skills. After just a year they want to work alone and see no benefit in continuing to learn how to make better pieces. Their work is rough, carved green and of very poor quality but unfortunately there is a buyer for these pieces because they are extremely cheap. Why take more time if you are not going to be paid well for it?
When I was talking with the Carena carvers I noticed some beautifully carved colon figures and then in another place the same figures but very roughly carved. I asked why they had made the ugly rough work and the answer was very direct. The woman, from Sydney, who commissioned them did not want to pay for good work. She wanted cheap pieces. I later saw these horrible figures heavily discounted in decorator stores in Australia. Obviously customers here were reluctant to pay well for poor workmanship.
I do believe that the very top copies or market pieces are still made within their original cultures. Their carvers know how to carve their pieces. They know the size, wood to use and the importance of all of the small details of a piece. Very often they are carving for their village as well as selling their surpluses . The skills of the top carvers in every generation are acknowledged in their community as well as by foreign buyers.
Sidewalk Tribal Gallery
Sent from my iPad.
I also appreciate your comments about the wood carving industry in West
Africa. Do some of the shops in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana produce the aged
carvings that often include insect damage? I'm also curious about those
utterly convincing reproductions of classic carvings. Have you ever seen
a high-end workshop?
May I guess that these pieces
are made by the Senegalese carvers who work in their outdoor timber yard
workshop at Carena near the lagoon in Abidjan or alternatively from one
of the small carving shops in Adjame.
It does not look like the market carvings made in the North of Cote
d'Ivoire nor the work done in Ghana. These workshops supply a lot of the
items seen for sale in Cocody market.
I agree that these have all been made in the same workshop.
I very much doubt that the man importing and selling the carvings in the
US is deliberately trying to be dishonest. Most of the young city born
guys working in the industry have no idea of the different cultural
styles. Often the carvers don't either. They simply copy from pictures or
have a model (often several generations away from the original
village carving) to work from. Their job is to carve and sales help to
feed often very poor families.
If you can create a market for the city carvers who carve these masks you
will be helping to support many families who may otherwise have no work
therefore no income and little food.
You are right, the prices are usually very low especially when you
consider the time taken to make them and the transport costs involved in
importing them. They are popular styles and I am sure that people will
love to use them in their decor.
I agree with Lee. I do not think that they can be sold as belonging to
any particular tribe. They are simply hand carved masks from probably
Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa.
All the best, ann
On 19/12/2011, at 8:59 AM, Bendetta Goldsboro wrote:
You may very well be correcti in your assessment of the tribal origin of
these pieces. So, i will not quibble with it. However, i do
know they are not Dan, Dogon, or Senufo. Punu and Baule are very,
very similar in construction. However, i still believe these are tourist
productions. Thanks for the corrections.
On Sun, Dec 18, 2011 at 4:44 PM, Lee Rubinstein
- Beyond noting some non-exclusive elements of coiffure, I do not agree
that these masks could be classified as Punu, so I would be curious to
hear more detailed analysis of this classification.
- With regard to Punu masks, however, I would like to draw attention to
the Punu ikwara mask offered last week at auction and the text
provided by Louis Perrois in the catalogue -- which may be of
- or, See Lot 56 at
- Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie
- Paris | 14 December, 2011 Auction Results
- Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie
> read more
- On Dec 18, 2011, at 4:18 PM, Bendetta Goldsboro wrote:
- These are all from the same tribe -- Punu. And, more than likely,
they are just tourist productions.
- On Sun, Dec 18, 2011 at 3:17 PM, bw78
- A little background first! I work at a Zoo and am the assistant buyer
for the gift shop. We carry an unusally large amount of African art, the
smaller things are mainly purchased from trade companies such as Swahili
imports but we do purchase masks, carvings and other larger pieces from
an individual importer.
- The issue that I need help with is this - I don't know if this man is
being entirely honest about which tribe these masks are coming from. I
only know a very small amount about African masks and the various tribes
they come from, I'll admit. But he tells the buyer that certain masks are
Dogon or Senofu or Dan and they all screamingly look like something else
to my admittedly untrained eye. Many of the new ones we just got look to
me like Baule or maybe Punu?
- I feel like I'm in a jam. I'd like some help with just identifying
the originating tribes on some of these pieces before I voice my concern
to the buyer. The reason I'm concerned about this is that we're entering
into a larger import contract with this fellow and if he's not being
truthful, we need to know before things go further.
- I've made a folder with some images. The folder name is Brooke, the
image names are the tribe the mask is supposed to have come
- Thanks in advance for your help!