I have quite a few objects in my folk art collection which cause me to ask questions. — A good thing; because it keeps my mind active. — For example, I have carvings which I know, just from my collecting experience, come from the African continent. But I don’t know their exact country of origin. Or maybe I know that; but I don’t know the carver’s tribal affiliation. And then, there are pieces in my collection which are total mysteries to me. I have a few of those. (I had more before I downsized my collection in the early 2000’s. I wish I had saved those.) Anyway, I’d like to share a few “mysteries” with you here.
St. Martin is a very small island located in the northeast Caribbean. The island’s main industry is tourism. And, here is a vintage souvenir, which somehow wound up in my town, Seattle, WA. What I know about this wonderful doll is only what I can glean from holding it in my hand and looking at it. If you search for another on the internet, you probably won’t find one. If you do, send me the photo! I’ve found no similar photos or info in my searches. It’s made of a painted gourd, wood, cloth and some type of natural fiber. I’d love to know what culture the person who made this belonged to. There are many nationalities represented in St. Martin. But this doll looks like many of the African dolls I’ve had in my collection. During the time of slavery, St. Martin was involved. I’d say this was made by a person from the Creole people — someone who can trace their lineage back to the indigenous, African and French cultures. I’d love to nail down the tradition represented here. — I would say this dates to the 1950’s or 60’s.
The one thing I can say about this little horse is this: it’s probably not Swedish. I collect Swedish carved horses and chickens, and they aren’t decorated like this. But once again, I’ve seen no other photos of this item. The poor little horse has pretty much lost its little ears, which were made of leather or a plastic material. It still has its straw tail. I love it for its primitive beauty; but I know nothing about it origin. It was made of a clay or plaster material which was dried, painted and decorated. I’m curious to know if it was part of an assortment of circus animals. If so, I’d love to see the rest! I keep this not only to add color and whimsy to my environment; I keep it to give me something to wonder about.
Not a clue…. It seems rather middle-Eastern or Asian to me. But my internet search has been fruitless. It’s a beautifully-carved horse and rider. More, I cannot say. I display it with my African art, because it — well, it doesn’t clash. I’m not sure how to date this piece. It’s made of a hardwood, which has stood up to the years very well (excepting a crack which runs vertically down the middle, which may have been caused by a fall). A piece like this could have been made close to a hundred years ago, or thirty years ago.
Again, I’m clueless about this piece. I also have this figure sharing space with my African art. I like its eyes, its large brows, its curves. Judging by its condition, I’d say it has some age on it. It could date back to the 50’s. If I was to take a wild guess, I’d say an Indonesian carver created this. It doesn’t really look African to me; Indonesian carvers are highly skilled. To my eye, this piece is simple, but perfect.*Update: I am gonna say Borneo. Since I wrote this, I was looking through a twenty year old book I have, entitled “Living With Folk Art”, and I saw a carving from Borneo that looked a little similar. I Googled “Borneo Wood Carving” and saw a few more that looked similar. And, I can say that if it is from Borneo, then it’s by the Dyak people, it has some age on it, and it’s worth a bit of money.
Members of many of our planet’s cultures have decorated utilitarian objects. For example, our American Northwest Coast native population made just about everything they used into art, whether it was a bowl, a fish hook, or an every-day utensil such as a spoon. I don’t usually collect folk art spoons or forks which were probably made for sale to tourists as art, and not really intended to be used. I find them a little “tacky”. But I was intrigued by this one. It features a beautifully-carved human form. The carving does offer one clue which could help ID it: the very top features a motif which I would call Indonesian. But I could be way off. I tend to go with Indonesian when I can’t pin down a carving’s origin (I do this in a sort of tongue-in-cheek manner. It’s like Grateful Dead dancing: when in doubt, twirl! Or in this case, when in doubt, say Indonesian).
I truly know nothing about this beautiful coiled basket’s origins. I know little about baskets in general, and I have few in my folk art collection. I’ve concentrated more on collecting tribal pottery, as opposed to tribal basketry. But I have had the pleasure of viewing many Native American baskets at the Maryhill Museum near Goldendale, WA, a town where I played hundreds of country music nightclub dates back in the 1970’s. It is so worth the drive, to visit Maryhill. I could do a whole post on that museum. It is housed in the poured concrete building Sam Hill intended to be his home. Yes, he is the Sam Hill, as in “Where in the Sam Hill?” — And, just a few miles from the museum, you’ll find a replica of Stonehenge. Yes!
The basket: I only bought this basket because it was pretty, and it was deeply discounted at an antique dealer’s going-out-of-business sale. I’m not sure how old it is, or what country it comes from. Baskets like this could be Asian, Native American, or South American. Do you have any info to share? (Sad note about the antique store: the owner was forced to close due to “progress”. The building the store was in was condemned for total destruction, so that a new structure could be put in its place. That was two years ago, and absolutely nothing has been done on the site. The antique store, tavern and dry cleaners that occupied the building could have continued to serve the public for another two years, at least.) *Update: since writing this story, I’ve looked at many more photos on the web. This could be a Hopi basket. I’m still far from certain….
Let’s finish with this complex piece. In the center, which is surrounded by a border made of several pieces of cloth which have been stitched together, is a beautiful example of Southeast Asian embroidery. I’m going to share two photos here, in hopes that someone will be able to tell me what country/tribe this comes from. It could be from the Hmong people, who inhabit the countries of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and China. Or, it could be from the Khmer tribe of Cambodia. I’d love to know. I bought the wallhanging, which measures about 3.5 feet in length, at a Seattle estate sale twenty years ago. It was already somewhat faded from exposure to sunlight. I’d say it’s at least thirty years old. I looked on the www to try to find examples of the motifs, below, with no success.
The purpose of this story is to not only to share some mystery pieces with you, but to ask for your help in identifying them. Please comment, if you can offer any assistance. And, thanks, in advance.
Odd and ends:
I mentioned in my introduction that I have African carvings which, while I’m sure they are from Africa, I can’t say where they came from, or what tribe the carver was a member of. Here is one of those. I wouldn’t say it’s really old…. If you have any info, please share. *Update: I finally found a similar image. It’s undoubtedly a carving done by a member of Ghana’s Ashante tribe. I can’t say how old it is. The carving I found on the internet was described as “vintage”. But aren’t they all?
Finally, just for comparison, here is a photo of a Swedish carved horse. Just one village in the entire world is the source of these carvings: Bergkarlås, which is located in central Sweden. They’ve been carving beautiful renderings of domestic livestock for hundreds of years. I used to have some amazing, vintage carved chickens from Bergkarlås, but I sold them to a young woman named Kim, who was completely taken by them, at one of my garage sales.– Well, I was completely taken too. By her. She got a good deal.
If you’d like to learn more about the beautiful carvings of Bergkarlås, go here: http://www.theswedishwoodenhorse.com/dala-horse-history
Here is Maryhill Museum, nestled in its beautiful Eastern Washington home, near the Columbia River. Go! Its decorative arts collection in amazing.