Where do these pieces come from?
It is almost impossible for a foreigner to get to African places where good and authentic art still remains. We constantly hear stories about Americans and Europeans personally collecting in African countryside. In reality, most of this collecting is done at large warehouses close to international airport in central African capitals. We also occasionally acquire well documented collections or list items from our own collections. Our collection comes not from airports or large warehouses.
Our collection are not directly from Africa but are acquired from European and American private collections, auction houses, fellow dealers and other collectors from around the world. In addition, we are often approached to sell from legacy.
All of our items are clearly authentic. However, as for almost all wooden African artifacts, the true age is very difficult to establish, if you ignore the exaggerated stories which villagers or sellers always tell you here or in Africa. Actually, contrary to the popular claims by some unscrupulous dealers, there are no scientific methods available to date a wooden object produced within the modern history. All were chosen for their stylistic purity, artistic value, and signs of age and use. After many years of collecting and seeing thousands of items one develops a good feel for age and authenticity - these are the best and often only guides for the collectors and museum curators. Some signs of age to watch are: patination, age cracks, darkening of wood, oily deposits on the parts contacting the body, oxidation of materials. Raffia does not last long in African climate, so many old masks have new raffia attached to them.
Are they authentic or tourist art?
All items are authentic one-of-a-kind African tribal art! However, African artists often use older pieces to inspire them. The same is true for the European or Asian art. These works cannot be called copies. They are artifacts made by artists for the same purposes as the older artworks. Many great artists in Africa still make art for local people to use in traditional and religious ceremonies. Often, they will sell older pieces, surplus pieces or out-of-use pieces to the collectors. These items are often of superb quality, too expensive for the generally poor locals to acquire. The only copies are so-called "airport art", which we never carry and do not want you to buy.
We often give the following advice to the new collectors: only buy and collect what you like! Try to downgrade usually exaggerated claims of rarity and age and concentrate on artistic qualities and stylistic authenticity. Read good book about tribal art – there are many. Time and experience help to develop a better feel for the quality, authenticity, age, and style -- but remember: never buy a story, buy an item. Make sure it is the artwork that grabs you, not the talk and salesmanship!
Cracks, chips and signs of wear
Age cracks, blemishes, wear and tear, and signs of repairs are the integral part of African art – which was meant to be used and often abused. These imperfections are considered normal and do not detract from the artistic and monetary value of the piece. Actually, "mint condition African art" is often considered inferior to that with the obvious signs of use. Many African artifacts from the best museum collections are missing some parts or have signs of crude repairs made with the locally available materials – all are considered acceptable and often add to the charm and overall impact of the items. Thus, do not get upset about small cracks, dents, chips and other signs of use – accept them as an integral part of the art. Just think of the Egyptian, Greek or Roman masterpieces, which remain in the center of our artistic appreciation in spite of the missing body parts.
Breakage during shipment
All items we ship are professionally packed and insured for the whole price. Very rarely, the carrier may damage a particularly brittle items. In this case you have an option of using the insurance to repair the item or use an other item in our Africa Gallery or getting a full reimbursement.
How to take care of tribal wooden artifacts
Not much care is normally required. Keep your pieces away from excessive temperature and humidity fluctuations and direct sunlight. When forced hot air heating is used in winter, humidifiers really help to reduce cracking and warping. Wood boring insects, although rarely a problem, can be controlled by insecticide sprays or fumigation. Putting an effected item in a freezer for 1-2 weeks is often the safest and most effective way to get rid of the wood damaging insects. Wood borers produce small surface holes which periodically discharge fine wooden dust which accumulates in tiny mounds under the effected object. Wood borer holes are much smaller than holes produced by termites which do not present problems for the indoor collections.
Clean your art pieces often. Soft brushes, dusters or canned compressed air (i.e Dust-off® compressed-gas equipment duster) are effective in removing dust and dirt from the surfaces or crevices. Do not use water or detergents to clean your artifacts. Colored wood putty can be used to fill the cracks if they really bother you. Elmer's glue-all works well to glue back the broken pieces. To hold the glued piece in place use rubber bands or shrink wrap. However, for best results consider taking the item to a reputable professional antique or art restoration business.
We do not recommend applying any protective coatings to your wooden art. Leave natural oils, tars and pigments used by African artists in their original, unadulterated form. However, some collectors, dealers and gallery owners apply various protective or decorative coatings onto their objects. In some cases these coatings are meant to mimic the real patina, creating a problem for inexperienced collectors. If you are determined to add some shine and pizzazz to your pieces do not use anything harsher than wax-based finishes. Wax will not damage most items and can be removed. As all other coatings, wax layer will often darken the color of you piece, so try it first on a small hidden area.
Gijs van Kuijk