Many of us have stories about our moments of discovery and mentors who have guided us on our collecting journeys. There are exhibitions, collectors, curators and colleagues that have helped us to â€œseeâ€? the art, to distinguish the good from the great and to understand the meaning and function of objects. Seeing the Marc and Denyse Ginzberg collection African Forms at the Museum for African Art in New York marked a turning point in the way I looked at non-figurative art. Although I studied art history and made countless visits to museums, I had not fully appreciated the aesthetics, variety and astonishing craftsmanship of African forms. The show deepened my appreciation for non-figurative art, and that admiration in time grew to include a variety of cultures, including some of those illustrated in this catalog. It is precisely because these pieces were made for specific functions and rituals that they are imbued with distinct integrity and soul. In our present-day society, where many objects of our daily lives are disposable, it is satisfying to see the patina of age and use along with extraordinary design. From the grand scale and magnificence of a Mangbetu drum to the satisfying symmetry and virtuoso carving of a Zulu staff, one can see how carefully these artisans worked with their materials and the artistic choices they made. From these objects we catch a glimpse of the cultures they come from, and we are privileged to be their caretakers. I hope you will enjoy browsing our catalogue. Dori Rootenberg November 2019
SHIELD Tanala, Madagascar Late 19th to early 20th century Hide, wood 19.75â€? h 16.5â€? w Provenance: Private European collection A rare and lovely Tanala shield (ampinga) from northeastern Madagascar, dating to around the time of the colonization of the island by the French in 1897. Covered with bull hide, its face shows a gorgeous, organic play of light and dark within an egg-shaped silhouette. This shield was made for parrying spears and it has seen significant use, evinced by the smooth, polished patina on the grip.
PRESTIGE STAFF Venda, South Africa Mid–19th century Wood 42.75” h 4” w Provenance: Seward Kennedy, London; Kevin Conru, Brussels Published in Africa, The Art of a Continent, Phillips, London, 1995, pp. 15 & 209, no 3.27C; The Art of Southeast Africa, Conru, 2006, pl 75 Exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts Gallery, London, 1995; Martin GropiusBau, Berlin, 1996; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1996 This rare and highly unique prestige staff, composed with remarkable imagination, consists of four distinct stylistic elements, some notably zoomorphic. The finial depicts the head of a bull with powerfully curved horns, ears held to the side. Lightly etched facial features are found on the reverse. Below are found a projecting, cylindrical crosspiece and a torus that dramatically interrupts the line of the shaft. A serpent form, one of the most powerful symbols of southern African peoples, entwines and seems to penetrate and emerge through the midsection of the staff, recalling an umbilicus. Graced with a sleek, shining surface, the beautiful two-tone wood has been exceptionally worked to offer delightful accents in warm, amber-colored patches that highlight the grain.
FISH HOOK, PA KAHAWAI Maori, New Zealand Mid-19th century Wood, abalone shell, fiber, bone 5.25” l 1” w Provenance: Robert Henry Soden Smith; private Pittsburgh collection Among their many magnificent art traditions, the Maori have long been adept at the manufacture of fish hooks. Ranging from the strictly utilitarian to purely decorative, hooks are carved variously of bone, wood, greenstone, or a combination of materials. This lovely composite trolling lure, designed for use at sea, joins a barbed bone point to a wooden body faced with a plate of iridescent abalone shell. A fragment of the woven lead remains attached at the top. On the reverse side the hook bears a written description by Robert Henry Soden Smith, keeper of the Art Library of the South Kensington Museum from 1868– 1890. The library was in its earliest stages when Smith was appointed assistant keeper in 1857, and his instincts as a collector were a powerful shaping force to the institution’s development. A lover of nature in every form, Smith made a special study of freshwater shells. In antiquarian pursuits he was equally interested in English and Asian pottery, and of both he formed large collections.
Commemorative portrait medallion of Robert Henry Soden Smith by Henry Richard Hope-Pinker, circa 1900
BOWL Lumi, Papua New Guinea Late 19th century Wood 15” l 10” w Provenance: Michael Hamson; Todd Barlin, Australia; Elizabeth Pryce Collection; Serge Schoffel A beautiful wooden bowl in the classic almond-shaped style of the Lumi, who are located in the heart of the Sandaun Province of the northwestern corner of Papua New Guinea. When not in use, a bowl such as this would be hung from the wall by its suspension holes, which are found here still intact. Accordingly, the bottom of the bowl would be treated by the artist as an opportunity for embellishment. This example features a raised form, echoing the bowl’s silhouette, that surrounds the circular foot to complete a stunning design evoking an open eye. A heavily encrusted patina lends a rich, textured surface to this powerful piece of Oceanic woodwork.
PLATTER Lozi, Zambia Late 19th or early 20th century Wood 13” l 9” w Provenance: Private European collection The Lozi language group, also known as the Barotse, occupies the Zambezi floodplain in southeastern Africa. Best known for their basketry, they also have a tradition of wood carving produced by artisans from tributary communities. This is largely embodied in a class of lidded, ornamental bowls used for the serving and storage of food, typically almond-shaped or ovular and topped with a handle in avian or geometric form. The platter presented here is similar in form and features a highly decorative openwork rim that echoes the classic zigzag or sawtooth motifs found in Lozi basketry. It was used to serve “relish” (likely a meat stew) at banquets or feasts, likely in royal contexts. Smoothed and worn with long use, it shows a lovely, developed patina with deep browns and warm highlights.
CLUB, MACANA Arawak, Guyana or Brazil Early 19th century Wood, fiber 13” l 3.25” w Provenance: Private USA collection A precisely carved club (macana) of waisted, quadrangular form. The grip is wrapped with light-colored cord and wound with a length of twisted fiber rope. Two-toned wood is employed to dramatic effect, presenting one dark face and one light. Clubs of this type are associated exclusively with the Wapitxana, an Arawak tribe, in the Roraima area of southern Guyana and northern Brazil. Several examples were among the earliest objects to reach Europe from Guyana in the seventeenth century, entering first the Tradescant collection and then the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. An early description of this type of war club in Dutch Guiana, based on observations made in the years 1772–1777, is given by Captain Stedman, who writes, “I must not forget that every Indian carries a club, which they call apootoo, for their defence. These clubs are made of the heaviest wood in the forest; they are about eighteen inches long, flat at both ends, and square, but heavier at one end than the other.”
CHURINGA Aboriginal Australian 19th century Stone 6.75â€? l 3â€? w Provenance: Kilton Riggs Stewart Traditionally veiled in intense secrecy and revealed only to initiated men, churinga (or tjurunga) are representations or manifestations of living, ancestral or mythic beings and are connected in Australian Aboriginal cosmology to the eternal Dreamtime. Possessors of churinga had a powerfully personal bond with the objects and were sometimes buried with them. Churinga bear a significant variety of surface designs, from flowing, asymmetric grooves to geometric designs and tightly drawn spirals, and often combine motifs in unique compositions. They are oval in form but vary greatly in size, and sometimes stand several feet tall. This smaller example features a trio of incised spiral motifs on both sides, joined by curved and vertical channels. This churinga was acquired in the 1930s by Kilton Riggs Stewart (1902-1965), an anthropologist active from the 1920s to the 1960s. Stewart spent the majority of his career focused on the psychology of dreams, for which he traveled around the world on a number of field studies.
DRUM, NEDUNDU Mangbetu, D.R. Congo Late 19th or early 20th century Wood 18â€? h 35â€? w Provenance: Former collection of the Dominican sisters of Namur, Brussels, brought back in 1934; Didier Claes, Brussels; private US collection This fine Mangbetu slit drum shows an impressively strong silhouette in classic semicircular style, intensified by elongated points at the upper corners. In contrast to others of its type, which are adorned with decorative details applied with metal tacks, this drum features a smooth, unbroken surface design. With a dramatic fullness communicated in its weighty arc, the composition achieves a powerful sculptural minimalism. Slit drums, or nedundu, were commonly used by the Mangbetu in communication, ceremony and dance. They were slung over one shoulder when played, hung by a strong strap or cord tied through one of their rectangular suspension holes.
DRINKING HORN Kuba, D.R. Congo Late 19th century Wood, metal 7” h 13” w Provenance: Pierre Dartevelle, Brussels; Taylor Dale, Santa Fe Palm wine horns were objects of high status among the Kuba. As icons of kingly largesse they were accordingly decorative, laboriously carved in low relief with patterns of studs, concentric rings, zigzags, and other geometric motifs. Their sharply angled buffalo horn shape was emblematic of the power of their owners, who often carried them suspended from the belt. According to Pierre Dartevelle, the bearer of the horn offered here would have been identified as a tax collector, and would be given water when he arrived in the village. Its dark surface, worn smooth with use, is decorated with incised concentric rings and zoomorphic motifs composed in a looser manner than many examples of its kind. A similar Kuba horn is illustrated in Leopoldville-Liège, Liège-Kinshasa. Les collections africaines de l’Université de Liège, 2007, pp. 85, 87.
PIPE Thembu, South Africa Late 19th century 11 3/4â€? l 3â€? h Wood, horn, metal Provenance: Jonathan Lowen, London; Kevin Conru, Brussels Published in Africa: The Art of a Continent, Phillips, 1995 Exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts Gallery, London, 1995; Martin Gropius-Bau, Berlin, 1996; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1996 Pipes were used in a variety of social contexts in southern Africa, and while sometimes tobacco was smoked as part of a simple interpersonal exchange, other moments were more ritualized. Ancestral spirits could be honored and satisfied by offerings of tobacco, as well as entities inhabiting the surrounding natural world. Among the Xhosa pipes were smoked on such occasions as the Umhlwayelelo ceremony, when river spirits were appeased. In this way pipes were seen as a means to befriend the spiritual world. The lovely openwork panel forming the centerpiece of this graceful, elegant pipe features a group of slender bands that, taken together, seem to suggest the image of an eye.
HAND SCRAPER Greenland or Aleutian Islands 19th century Marine ivory 8.5â€? h 2.5â€? w Provenance: Private USA collection Ergonomic grooves and indentations sculpt the body of this nineteenth-century hide scraper. Arctic and Paleoeskimo peoples employed an array of handcrafted scrapers for the preparation of skins, carving, and other varied uses. While many designs comprise a wood haft bound to a chipped stone blade, this example from the nineteenth century has been carved entirely of ivory. The British Museum holds a similar object, described as an Eskimo-Aleut pick blade. With its worn, aged surface and asymmetrical sculptural quality, this scraper carries the powerful and ineffable sense of hard-fought, eternal continuance so palpable in Arctic art traditions.
BEER POT, UKHAMBA Zulu, South Africa Mid-20th century Ceramic 8â€? h 8â€? w Provenance: Bill Simmons, New York Horizontal ranks of pointed amasumpa nodes cover almost the entire surface of this Zulu beer pot, or ukhamba, to dramatic sculptural effect. Usually deployed in low relief, here the clustered motifs push boldly beyond the decorative or utilitarian with a prominence that nearly abstracts the form. This beautiful vessel was made by Hlenge Langa and owned by Beki Ndlovu, a traditional herbalist (nyanga).
MEAT PLATTER Zulu, South Africa First half of 20th century 21” l 8” w Wood, pokerwork Provenance: Dave Roberts, South Africa; Noble Endicott, New York In South Africa, most ceremonies and rites were accompanied by a muchanticipated feast of grilled meat, shared by the assembled company from large platters. These platters were carved by men and were objects of both culinary function and careful aesthetic design. When not in use they would be hung as objects of display, with their undersides becoming the primary artistic focus. This platter, which features two large, ovular plates and a pair of small, detached circular dishes for condiments, presents a beautiful sense of geometric composition from both front and back. Distribution of light and dark is found in dramatic contrast on either side, the back side being highlighted with four small rectangles of light wood marking the platter’s feet.
SCEPTER, MAKPO Fon, Benin Late 19th or early 20th century Wood, brass 22â€? l Provenance: Private California collection Royal scepters (makpo) were one of the more iconic forms in the art traditions of the Fon, located in what is now Benin. They were one of the seven symbols of authority of the Fon monarch, who was not allowed to go out in public without it. Makpo had ceremonial uses and were also rods of command, carried by messengers to certify the authenticity of their messages. Identified by their distinctive, right-angled form, many featured an elaborately forged metal tip, often zoomorphic and usually designed after the monarch's personal symbol. The makpo presented here is remarkably streamlined in terms of design. Opting for an elegant essentialism that focuses almost entirely on its hallmark silhouette, it is embellished only with a brass knob at the rear, attached by a strip that closely hugs the sinuous contour of the crook.
OSTRICH EGG CONTAINER Southern Africa Late 19th or early 20th century Ostrich egg, ash 7â€? h 4.75â€? w Provenance: Private USA collection Ostrich eggs decorated with imagery are an ancient form of art in Africa's southern reaches. Designs were incised and picked into the surface of the egg with a sharp implement, then blackened with ash. This example is adorned with a large, eight-legged zoomorphic design with spreading appendages, believed to possibly represent a praying mantis, spanning almost the full height of the egg. The opposite side bears a geometric design of contiguous triangles, darkened with oblong spots, that suggests an abstracted avian form. A small wooden stopper is found at the top of the egg. Kalahari Bushmen gather eggs from ostrich nests and empty the contents of the egg through a hole drilled in one end, repurposing the egg as a water flask. The practice is not unique to present-day Bushmen and in fact dates to prehistoric times. Clusters of whole ostrich eggshell flasks with grass or beeswax stoppers have been found stashed in the arid landscapes of southwest Africa, and fragments are included in the earliest archaeological deposits found in these areas.
KNOBKERRIE Zulu, South Africa Late 19th or early 20th century Wood 30â€? l Provenance: Private UK collection Knobkerries are some of the most iconic objects in the indigenous art traditions of South Africa, and were ubiquitously carried by men in the region as both weapons and symbols of status. While typically designed with utility in mind, they were often carved with a great aesthetic sensibility, emerging as works of art in their own right. This knobkerrie features an unusually large head pitted with concavities to create a honeycomb effect. Age and use have lent a dark, rich patina to the surface of the wood. Reflecting the imaginative approach of South African carvers, this delightful piece shows intriguing uniqueness in an otherwise standard form.
BEER POT, UKHAMBA Zulu, South Africa Mid-20th century Ceramic 10” h 10” w Provenance: Bill Simmons, New York Zulu beer pots, or ukhamba, are shaped with the coil method, then smoothed, incised, indented or embossed with geometric patterns, and finally fired, which hardens the clay and darkens its surface. The black, glossy finish of this ukhamba, strikingly beautiful in its own right, is contrasted further by the addition of a disc of raised amasumpa motifs in the center of the pot’s flank. Embellishment of pots in this way was decorative, but also a matter of utility, aiding the holder in safely lifting the vessel. The Zulu traditionally brewed beer from sorghum and it was made exclusively by women. After being cooked and fermented in a large clay vessel, the final product was filtered through a grass sieve and served in an ukhamba. The enjoyment of beer was a group affair and those partaking would drink either directly from the pot or with a communal gourd.
LIDDED VESSEL Zulu, South Africa Second half of 19th century Wood, pokerwork 14” h 8.5” w Provenance: Private UK collection Zulu woodworking tradition contains several types of prestige vessels, often treated with extensive surface decoration and sometimes elaborately composed. This smaller vessel, lavished with panels of striated incisions across its full surface, was clearly an object of status and was likely used to store snuff. Tobacco featured prominently in Zulu social dynamics and an eye-catching piece such as this would have drawn great appreciation from its owner’s guests. The snugly fitting lid features an intriguing trio of projections recalling a pair of ears and a nose or snout, echoed in the almost identical configuration of the legs. Together they lend a zoomorphic or corporeal impression not typically seen in this class of vessel.
PECTORAL ORNAMENT, TEMA Santa Cruz Island, Solomon Islands Early 20th century Clam shell, turtle shell, fiber 6.5” h 6.5” w Provenance: Private US collection The Solomon Islands, located in the southwest Pacific between New Britain and Vanuatu, is remarkable for the richness of its traditional decorative arts, which served to adorn the human body and embellish ceremonial and utilitarian objects. Artists in the island chain produced ornate jewelry and personal ornaments fashioned from shell, porpoise teeth, turtle shell, and other materials. Chest ornaments (tema) are one of the most iconic forms in the Solomon Islands traditions. Worn by men of high status in the Santa Cruz Group, the tema is the central and most important element of the ceremonial costume and its size and quality are indicative of the owner’s wealth and social importance. The precise meaning of their iconography is no longer recorded, but it is hypothesized that the tema’s form represents the silhouette of a frigate bird against the full moon or the sun.
POUNDER, TUKI Tonga 18th century Wood 10.75” h Provenance: Sir Thomas Berry Cusack-Smith; Sold by the executors of his daughter at Graffham Court House sale, November 1988 Amongst the rarest objects from Polynesia is the Tongan tuki, or food pounder. These bulbous objects, mistaken by early collectors for Fijian throwing clubs, were used by Tongan women to grind breadfruit to make a pudding called faikakai. Faikakai is still eaten in Tonga today, but the reasons for which the tuki fell out of use after the eighteenth century are unknown. The tuki presented here, which may have been collected on one of Captain Cook’s voyages, is possibly the finest known example. The patina evidences great age and extended use, the form is pure and elegant (the overtly phallic shape for an object reserved for women was no doubt intentional), and the rarity is unquestioned. Of the seven known examples listed in Adrienne Kaeppler’s Artificial Curiosities: Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook, six have eighteenth-century provenance and were collected and taken to Europe by Captain James Cook. They now reside in museums at Cambridge, Oxford, Wörlitz, Göttingen and Vienna.
Tribal art and antiquities from Africa, Oceania and the Americas