This new page contains photographs of my African art collection that comes mostly from Zambezi District in the Northwestern Province of Zambia (NWP). Many were collected in the period 1963-1968 and a lesser number between 1971-1979. My collection totals over 100 items.
This page is a rudimentary classification of my art using my not-very-good digital camera. (A few art items have been re-shot by a friend with a better camera.) Still, the photographs give readers some idea of what art I still possess. Also I describe the pieces as best I can and when possible note their provenance. I have no idea of any item’s value and the whole collection must be evaluated. My family and friends do not wish to inherit the collection, so what I will do with it is totally unclear!
How this page on NWP Art came into being and the deeply personal questions it raises. The older I get, the more it seems that our life is controlled by unexpected chance and coincidence. So it is with this page! On Saturday 18th May 2019 I went with a group of senior citizens to New Hope, Pennsylvania. While walking around this small, charming town, I was surprised to see a tidy little shop called African Masks Plus (13 N. Main St., New Hope, PA 18938). Anything about African art interests me and I was especially intrigued to see a shop focused on African art in eastern PA! The curator/owner was Judy Dinnerman, a very charming woman. We introduced ourselves. I complimented her on her beautiful collection and observed that her pieces were almost all from West Africa. I told her that I had a collection of Zambian art along with some additional pieces from East and Southern Africa; our collections supplemented each other. I told her that I acquired most of my art between 1963 and 1979 when I lived and later traveled southern Africa. I added that I was currently just sitting on, and enjoying, my collection.
A simple, practical question that made me think! Judy asked me if I was interested in selling my art. I laughed and said “no” as my pieces were too dear to me to part with. But Judy’s question resulted in my asking myself hard questions! I realized that I had no idea of what to do with it when I became too old to enjoy it; I’m now almost 80! Furthermore, my closest family and friends, especially Dan/Jan Wilkin and Bwalya Ndakala, have no use for the collection. Thus, when I die it might just be thrown away, a heartbreaking thought! Until now I did not even have photographs of my items. Now that I have this webpage, what next?. I have no idea! As noted above, possibly it will be better to sell it with a hope that a buyer(s) will appreciate it. Evaluating the collection raises other questions. Who can honestly evaluate it? As I write this paragraph in late August 2019, I ponder everything!
Reminder to all users. As on other pages, simply click the picture to enlarge it for easier visibility and use.
Makishi/likishi. The seven makishi (singular) and litishi (plural) figurines below were located in the Lusaka market by Patrick Sapallo, probably in the early 1990s. They were obviously made by Lunda, Luvale, Luchazi, or Chokwe artists from the NWP. He helped me buy, pack and send them back to New York City. They are not terracotta but made from multiple materials including nicely woven clothe. While realistic and charming, they are probably not valuable. Several are identified below and more will be later. James Kanga described the figures and the collection when he visited NYC in March 1992. (Height approx. 9″ / 24 cm). Click on the following to read James’ description: > Likishi and makishi
A Lunda/Luvale ceremonial ax. Of all my art pieces, I cherish this more than another item. The two rows below show the ax from many angles, both horizontal and vertical. It was purchased at my doorstep from the artist, probably in 1964 or 1965. The gun symbolism and the carvings on both the head and handle are totally 100% Lunda and Luvale and almost impossible for anyone who does not know the cultures to appreciate. Hence I re-photoed the ax from many angles as shown in the following two rows. The wood is plain — not a hard wood — and a bit soiled as it has been handled by me and my friends hundreds of times over the last 50+ years. Thus, the ax makes a good lead for the next paragraph on true “working art” that people use, touch and appreciate. (Approx. 20″ /51 cm)
Working art. For the NWP and Zambia, “working” art is the norm. This means items that are created not just for their own sake but also for daily use. The middle items of the kitchen ladles with a small mortar and pestle is a good example. On the left are two well made and ornamented marimbas (“finger harps”). These are played all over south central Africa and a friend, James Kanga, plays them excellently. The four small wooden heads on the right are obviously ornamental and their provenance of where I got them from is not known.
Drums, small carvings and tourist carvings. The assortment on drums on the left were all made in Balovale over 50 years ago. All were probably purchased by sellers who came to my door. The small carvings in the middle were all purchased at various markets in Zambia. Note the three monkeys in the middle who represent “See no evil, hear no evil, speak not evil.” The Masai couple on the right are from a Nairobi market and were made for tourists (height approx. 13″ / 33 cm).
Three sets of tall carvings. In the set of two on the left, the Lusaka artist has left the unfinished wood on the top and bottom of each carving. The middle set of two is more traditional (probably by a Lusaka artist made for tourists). The set on the right are either totally abstract or semi-abstract, with the one on right showing an infant in front of the mother; probably both were purchased in a Lusaka market. (Height of the couple on the left is approx. 9″ /24 cm); the two sets on the right are approx. 13″/33 cm).
Large engraved tables. This row has two unusual tables. Snakes have very important symbolism in almost all NWP cultures. The leftmost table is tall and thin with a snake crawling up its sides. It also has symbolic carvings on it. It is the most valuable and was purchased at my door in Balovale. The photos in the middle and right are two views of an elephant table — made of hard wood and very heavy. This elephant table was probably purchased at my door in Balovale but might have been from a Lusaka market. (Both the snake table and elephant table are approx. 20″ / 51 cm. tall.).
African map and elephant table: from 3 angles. The top of this unusual table is a map of Africa with an elephant as its base. I may have acquired it in Lusaka or the NWP; don’t remember! (Height approx. 16″ / 41 cm).
Baskets and banana paintings. The two long baskets on the left are used for catching small fish in the subsidiaries of the Zambezi River; both were acquired in Balovale in 1965 or 1966. In front of them is an exceptionally well made (small) basket for holding general objects. In the middle of this row are five very different baskets also for general use. (They hang from my living room window and you can see the tall apartment building across the street!) These assorted baskets are made all over Zambia. On the right are an assortment of banana “paintings” from Kenya. They have all been made from banana leaves of all shades and glued to plywood. All of these objects are in my living room and have been highly cherished over the years. Above the banana art, but not fully visible in my photo is a square piece of colorful “bark clothe” that I don’t know how to describe!
“Malaya” and Canes. The two items in this row are very dear to me. The left-most painting is in my office. It was purchased in a Lusaka market and is painted on “velveteen.” I nicknamed it Malaya (prostitute) as the engaging woman fits that description in Lusaka!
On the right are objects in my living room that have been arranged to face everyone when they open my front door to enter. At the top, above all other items is a picture of Nelson Mandela (cut off) that was taken at the time he was entering office. Below Nelson’s picture is a very well carved “chain” made from one piece of wood. On the bottom is a complex group of well-carved canes (3) were made in Zambezi.
My most cherished items of pottery. The three sets of un-fired pottery in this row are some of the most cherished items in my collection. All are from Balovale (1964-67). and purchased at my door or the local market. The middle item is a heavy water pot for someone to carry water with. The figurines on the left are traditional semi-human forms and possibly quite valuable. (I have no idea!) The pots on the right are for carrying and pour liquids. (The left item is a little damaged.) Again, they were made and bought in Zambezi.
Three miscellaneous sets of art. The five objects on the left are all Zambian soapstone that is very soft, white and easy to carve; the three in the middle are a hard stone bird, bone mask and cut metal head; and items on the right are an assortment: a cut metal box, a well carved hardwood container with a lid, a very soft woven container (far right) and in the front, a wooden, painted fruit dish with typical Zambian fruits.
Pounded copper pictures. The copper picture on the left is smaller and thinner. The two on the right are much larger and much heavier and almost certainly made by the same artist — approx. 15″ (38 cm) high. All are made from scrap copper as far as I can tell. I purchased these in Solwezi in 1978 or 1979 from Zairian workmen, and as I can recall from the same group of men that made the so-called “trash can” art in the rows below. In my opinion, these metal pictures show skillful craftsmanship. I cannot even guess at their value!
Zaire “trash can” art. To me, all of these items are among my most cherished in the collection. They were made by desperate Zaireans who crossed the nearby Zambian border at a time of conflict, a few miles north of Solwezi. The artists were some very talented people who collected rubbish metal and turned it into art. I wrote a page about this many years ago and will hopefully find my script and add it for pieces. The boat full of people is quite long and a little rusted, making it very authentic! The two vertical art pieces (top row) in the middle and the one on the right are overlaid on animal skins– skins are now quite soiled — but really amazing. Probably unique among African art, at least in the USA. The boat’s length is approx. 27″ / 69 cm.) and the height of the middle pieces on the top row are approx 18″ / 46 cm.) The village scene on the bottom row is about 10″ (25.4 cm) high and in length about 30.5″ / 77.4 cm.
Copper and “eggs”. The row below contains an assortment (left to right) of mainly copper items. On the far left are two round copper maps of Zambia and Africa with a block of native copper in front. (It was given to me by Solwezi friends and was found at Kansanshi Mine.) In the middle are three copper art pieces: flower vase, mask and round copper tray. On the far right are an assortment of “eggs.” The large one in the back, in a copper mug, is an ostrich egg (from South Africa). In the front are two malachite eggs (large and small) in containers and to the right a white stone egg.
A mish-mash(!) of exotic objects. On the far left are two paintings by different Lusaka artists. The one on the left is painted on the back of a carpet tile and the one on the right is painted on fake velveteen with a simple painted frame. In the middle is possibly a very valuable traditional (wooden) storage container that is gorgeously carved by a Lunda or Luvale carver. I bought it at my doorstep from the carver! The far right is an assortment of South African objects that were collected by Zindi. Several have elaborate South African bead work. She also used her skills with bead work to train hospital TB patients.
Zindi acquired these materials. I have no idea of these provenance. I don’t think the carving on the left has any artistic merit Large, middle painting may have some value (height approx. 30″ / 76 cm). Cast iron thin statue on the right is quite heavy and beautiful. Zindi acquired it and I have no more knowledge of its provenance (height approx. 14″ / 35 cm).
Weapons of war: NWP and Somali. The ax on the left is from Balovale. The two items on the right were purchased in Nairobi from Somali artists.