African Masks have been an important part of traditional African art and culture for literally millions of years, with the first masks thought to date back to BEFORE the Paleolithic era. That’s right, more than 2.6 million years ago. With more than 2.6 million years to hone their craft, it’s no wonder Traditional African Masks have inspired an international audience -and artists- over centuries. Often these traditional masks are created to represent the spirits of animals or ancestors, mythological heroes and also are used to share moral lessons and values of a culture. Abstract in form, masks were used in spiritual and ceremonial rituals. In some cultures, like the Nigerian Yoruba and Edo cultures, masked rituals resemble the western notion of theatre. When wearing the mask, it’s thought the the wearer sheds his or her identity to become the bearer of the spirit within the mask itself. The mask therefore acts as a sort of medium between the dead or nature spirits. The use of masks usually accompanies music, dance and elaborate costumes for ceremonies and celebrations like weddings, funerals and initiation rites. Animals like the crocodile, buffalo, hyena and antelope are represented in masks. The antelope is the most widely referenced animal and symbolizes agriculture. The female face – the beauty ideal – is another theme for traditional African masks as are those that represent the dead. The craft of mask-making was generally passed down from father to son, and mask makers were awarded a special status within the community. Often carved from wood or made from pottery, they also are adorned with metals like copper and bronze, shells, textiles, light stone, hair and bone. Today what you’d call traditional African Masks tend to be created for an international tourist market. Now mass produced, we’re losing the artisanal handiwork passed down through generations. There are also a lot of knock-offs being passed off as genuine artifacts. It can be hard to know the real deal from the fakes, but with experience you learn what to look for. Every now and again we are lucky enough to source some centuries old traditional masks for Snob. But these days, I also love to celebrate the work of contemporary artists who are bringing this art form back to life. Weaving tradition and the pulse of the world today into their exquisite work.
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Today a fun peak behind the scenes as Denise travels on a buying trip to South African and Cameroon. Oh to lead the jet-setting life. Above gives a sense at the wonder and beauty of the South African landscape. Ahh, to live somewhere where mountains were part of my day…
This is the Bird Man. An amazing sculpture who works primarily with rock and stone. Can you believe these beauties are carved by hand to create such lovely, light and character-filled pieces?
Once back in Canada, Denise likes to gold leaf the beaks and perch and plant them in a lucite base. They make the perfect, whimsical home accessory.
No visit to South Africa would be complete without a visit to the MonkeyBiz workshop and boutique. Denise picked out some real beauties including some human forms and larger scale beaded sculptures. Denise says it’s always such a pleasure to speak with the artists and see all the lovely works together in one place.
How amazing is this big owl dude? I simply love him! The patterning here created with the beads takes such talent and skill. And time to do!
Denise snapped a few pictures of the artwork hanging in cafes she frequented on her trip. The scale of these photographs are breathtaking and I love how they celebrate culture, history and the human form.
Another cafe, another gorgeous piece of art.
Do you recognize those birds on the roof? If you’ve stopped by our showroom or seen our latest lookbook, they’ll look familiar.
Here a few of them are in our showroom, just hanging out. Denise says she was drawn to these sculptures as soon as she laid eyes on them. Made from recycled metal and then painted they really embody the good life.
And in Cameroon, Denise went a little wild, buying up Juju feather headdresses, tonga and senufo stool artifacts, weavings, Namji dolls, sculpture and more. I can’t wait to see these pieces adorning the showroom in the coming weeks!
Do you routinely find yourself in need of a few extra seats in your home but don’t really want to commit to another bulky chair or bench? In the foyer, especially while readying multiple kids for a winter’s day; in the living area, when large parties of guests are over; in the bathroom while bathing the kidlets. These are a few of the places where extra, but not permanent seating, stools or tables may be nice. How’s this for a marvelous answer: the Tonga stool from Zimbabwe. This beauty is hand-carved from a single piece of wood. A genuine artifact, these stools were status symbols for elders of the nomadic Tonga people of Zimbabwe. They carry significant meaning, for the Tonga people, then and now. Each is carved to incorporate unique lines, shapes, and patterns, making them easy to transport but also breath-taking to behold.
Genuine Tonga stools date from the late 19th and early 20th century. Some have been repaired with metal patches that just add to their beauty. There are also many contemporary versions and recreations being made today by artisans in Zimbabwe and South Africa. What I love about these is that they are truly unique sculptures. They are art. They are strong and graceful displayed on shelves. Stack multiples together to play up their curves and lines. And displayed under a console in the foyer, they are also a continually used seat, stool, and side table. In fact you may even find your Tonga stool continues its nomadic trek, albeit on a much smaller scale, moving between rooms as well as inside and out of the house. We are lucky to have a few of these one-of-a-kind gems in the showroom now. We’ve been playing around with gold-leafing in the showroom and love how these have turned out. Stop by or email to see what’s available. Or check our our African Stools and Tables page for a brief selection.
Winter blahs got you down? It’s time to let spring into the home. Nothing says spring quite like birds to me. Their return from their winter migration. The songs that fill the trees. Nests full of new life. If you want to introduce a little bit of avian life into your home, we’ve got a gorgeous and eclectic collection for every taste. Dramatic Art If you log onto Pinterest and you may just get lost in a tropical bird paradise with the search ‘oversized bird art’. There’s something about these magical creatures – their fine feathers, the majesty of flight and the range of form they take from the flamingo to the penguin, the hummingbird to the hawk. Adorning your walls with these birds bring whimsy, drama and a link to summer skies. We currently have a small selection of animal and bird prints in the shop. Stop by as they’re sure to be snapped up fast. If you want to go big with your avian love, there’s no better choice than the Juju feather headdresses. Hung in multiples or by itself, the feather headdress will instantly make your space pop. The texture of these is an extra sensual layer adding interest and warmth to a room. Though white headdresses are the most popular, I am partial to the richly coloured versions. Go bold, I say. Shop our feather headdresses here. Simple Accessories
From ostrich eggs to metal sculpture, hand-painted boxes to hand-carved stone birds our beautiful avian accessories work in any space and with a range of decor. A single ostrich egg can feed a family of 7. In regions like South Africa they really are a source of sustenance and life. These eggs perfectly juxtapose power and exquisite delicacy, just like life itself. These stone birds, which we’ve written about before, are the perfect combination of heavy and light. Carved by hand from polished stone, we’ve mounted them on gold-leafed perches in blocks of clear lucite. Perfect on table tops, they bring a little joyous nature inside and all year round. Shop our Stone Birds here Pillows
And of course the easiest-peasiest way to freshen up a space is with pillows and throws. Updating your pillows with something that echoes the coming spring is a wonderful way to welcome a new season. And as we love, love, love birds, we’ve got you covered if you do too. From ostrich feathers to bright avian prints, there’s no better way to warm up your space. Shop our Pillow selection here.
Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. It really is the perfect time of year to hold your boo close. The long cold nights of winter are perfect for romantic retreats, dinners and dates and just simply cocooning together. Even if it’s a small token of your affection, don’t be caught off guard without a little gift. Here are some of our favourite things that will make your love’s heart beat a little faster. Something Beaded These beaded Namji Dolls are handmade and absolutely exquisite. Traditionally these would be given to a bride on their wedding day and are imbued with good energy to help with fertility. The Monkey Biz beaded animals are another fabulous gift. These are one-of-a-kind pieces created by women artisans in South Africa. Not only are they elevating South Africa’s beaded arts and bringing them to an international audience, Monkey Biz is also a not-for-profit that employs and trains women and reinvests funds directly into the community to better empower these women. Something Ceramic A vase or a delicate piece of ceramic or pottery is also a lovely gesture. Fill it with flowers, favourite teas or chocolates to present the perfect present. Everything Aglow Beautiful candles, accompanied by this handmade candle snuffer is a great way to set the mood of a room. Who doesn’t love candle light? Special Storage A pretty box not only is a lovely home accessory, adding texture and a dash of colour to your tabletops and shelves, they can also hold your most treasured things. With or without a gem inside, these boxes are a perfect way to say you treasure what your love does. Pampered Nothing is more pampering than breakfast in bed. A tray like this one is exotic, beautiful and romantic in its own rite and will make a fabulous accessory long after Valentine’s Day is gone. To romance! To long lie-ins in bed! To time spent with those that make your heart go pitter-pat!
Ever see gorgeous African textiles in design magazines and wonder what, where, how? Textile design is a true art form across the continent of Africa, and many designs are specific, not just to a region, but to a particular tribe or family. Some designs are like a coat of arms. Today we present a 101 on some of the designs that have made it into North American interiors. Mud Cloth from Mali Mud cloth (bogolanfini, or bogolan) is a culturally important tradition in Mali dating back to the 12th century. Cotton fabrics are traditionally dyed using fermented clays and muds, that give the cloth the rich dark colours and patterns. Historically, the cotton fabrics are weaved by men, while the intricate patterning created in the dyeing process is done by women. Mud cloth is enjoying its moment in the sun right now, where these textiles are being incorporated into high end interior design and fashion. Mud cloth is made by bathing the cotton in a yellow solution made from mashed and boiled leaves of the n’gallama tree. Left in the sun to dry, clay and mud is then applied as a painted layer to create the beautiful motifs. There are many artisans who continue to create these textiles using time-honoured techniques, but some modern makers have come up with new processes that speed up their creation. Kuba Textiles Kuba cloths are generally rectangular or square pieces of woven raffia that are embellished with embroidered geometric patterns. Originating from the DRC (formerly Zaire), these textiles have been intricately made by hand. Once the raffia fabric is woven, typically by men, women hand embroider the geometric patterns by sewing in the desired pattern with raffia thread, stitch by stitch, clipping or cutting each thread. This makes the embroidery process painstakingly long, but the final effect are patterned pieces that resemble velvet in texture. The pattern and repetition you see in Kuba cloth tell stories. Mathematicians have long been intrigued by the elaborate use of patterning in traditional Kuba cloths and marvel at how they also seem to represent the traditional music and song of the Kuba people, which you see in off-beat phrasing that seems to interrupt an expected pattern. Just think, that’s not simply art on your wall, or headboard at your bed, but hidden within that pattern is a myth, a song, a story. Kente Cloth Created by the Asanti people of Ghana and the Cote d’Ivoire, Kente cloth derives its name from kenten, for basket, because its woven look is so similar. The fabric itself is woven using specialized looms to create the brightly coloured and intricate patterns of the final product. Every colour used in Kente cloth carries a meaning, so that each finished piece of textile tells its own story. For instance:
- White: denotes purity, peace, innocence and spirituality
- Yellow: represents gold and signifies royalty, wealth and fertility
- Black: is the symbol for bereavement and darkness, but also for secrecy and mystery
- Blue: represents wisdom, humility, harmony and love. It’s the symbol for big spaces like the sun and ocean.
- Green: denotes life, growth, and youth
- Brown: is the colour of mother earth, and represents healing
- Pink: is associated with femininity, tenderness, calmness and the essence of life.
Various colour combinations also carry different meanings. Some weaving patterns represent entire tribes and families. The richness of these textiles, the stories and cultural narratives they hold make each one uniquely special. These should never be treated just as home trends, but understood in their context of history, geography and culture. I love these cloths and textiles. I’ve never seen any like them and so enjoy these voices in the spaces I live and work.
Dolls have long been a treasured plaything, talisman and display piece across both history and cultures. From Asia to Africa, North and South America, many iterations of the doll have been cherished over centuries – if not millennia- and used to teach care and develop empathy in children.
Today we’ll look at the beautiful dolls created by the The Namji people of Cameroon. These stunning dolls are hand-carved from African rosewood. Each is carved from a single piece of timber. They’re complete once they’re adorned with seed beads, leather strips, coins, metal pieces and cowrie shells. It’s said that these decorative trinkets is what gives each doll protective charms.
It’s quite striking to see the level of detail that goes into creating each one. Each is unique and chock full of personality. I simply love their expressions.
Traditionally these dolls are fertility talisman, presented to brides at their wedding. Women carry them around as they would babies, until they conceive. They are also passed down to girls where they become a very special toy. There are also masculine versions of these Namji dolls, gifted to men with the same intention to help inspire fertility.
We have a variety of Namji dolls, both artifacts and new versions based on traditional techniques. They are a beautiful table top display, either on their own or grouped together. We work with a master carver in Cameroon who does wonderful work. If you’re looking to add one of these special pieces to your interior, be in touch. We can have one created just for you if we don’t have one on hand that suits your fancy.
There really is something special about dolls and these in particular. They conjure up the magic of childhood, they carry a strong cultural voice and they are truly beautiful.
Want a peak behind the scenes? A recent buying trip to South Africa was ever so fruitful. It was baskets galore that I ended up finding. Handwoven works of art these are. It’s quite something the different techniques and versatility of the finished product. Take a look at these beauties. Displayed on tabletops, stands or mounted to the wall, I love the combination of pattern and texture. Here are a few that I chose. I love the tassled baskets! And the black and white baskets will look so sophisticated in a grouping on the wall. The amount of work that went into creating these large and colourful baskets is really quite astounding. The picture doesn’t do them justice, but trust me that they are very large and very very sturdy. Handwoven with all these brightly coloured strands in all those different patterns takes quite a lot of time. I am blown away by the craftsmanship that goes into making these. A gorgeous hamper, toy box, or foyer catch-all, they work just about anywhere and will keep you organized. These were lovlies were totally new to me and it was love at first sight. The technique used to make them is – ready for it – crochet! The baskets are crocheted and then treated with a resin to give them structure. They look like lace. In so many colours, sizes and patterns to choose from, I couldn’t find just one favourite. The oversized crocheted pieces can be used as end tables. They are far sturdier than they look. That’s the magic of them, I think. They look light as air, have such an ethereal feel to them and yet they can be used as furniture and functional vessels. Knitting and crochet has really been elevated in recent years. It’s no longer the pass-time of our grannies. Love, love, love! So do you have a favourite? How would you use these in your interiors? We’d love to hear!
We didn’t say much about it at the time, we were in such
a mad rush preparing, but Snob was lucky enough to
exhibit at the New York Now Gift Show this past August. It’s a fabulous show, one where only the cream of the crop get a booth. We’ve attended as guests in the past and always delight to see what the best of the best from around the world have to showcase. This is the place to go to see unique and beautiful home accessories and other giftware. This year we were there as partners with Zenza, you know, those gorgeous lights we’re always going on about? Here’s the mind-boggling part. With all these arbiters of style and beauty in attendance, it was us who were chosen as Best of New York Now! Yes,
our display and product was chosen as ‘Best of the Best’ by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) in their lighting category! It was quite the honour. essay writers But more than that, we’re just pleased that the amazing work of the artisans in Egypt are getting their due in the North American spotlight. Because truly, each piece is work of art. Hand-punctured with no stencil, means no two will ever by identical. Shop Zenza here.
So how amazing are these beauties? Strong, sculptural, elegant. Their presence commands attention. They’re also as old as several hundred years. While the title of this post might give it away, would you have guessed without this clue that these artifacts were used as currency across Africa once? We’ve been so very lucky to source these genuine artifacts. These were traded once upon a time, especially among agricultural communities in Africa.
Each piece is detailed metalwork created by blacksmiths who hand-forged currency from iron. This makes each one unique. Hardly today’s pocket change, wealth was often proudly displayed in the home when not used for active trading. We’ve been riffing on this idea, by using currency artifacts in creative ways. One of my favourite ways to display the currency as unique door handles on furniture. There’s no way you’re getting a more one-of-a-kind piece than these!
This is a mirrored-topped bar, clad in ostrich skin. We’ve cut a piece of currency in two to create the handles. This gorgeous and sophisticated piece has been hand-bronzed! We used stately over-sized currency as the closures here to balance the dark form from the open white shelves. The currency handles really is
the touch that makes the piece exciting and modern. If you’re not after a custom piece of furniture, you can always display these African currency pieces on table tops or frame them for your wall. You’ll note that some of these currency designs include European influences, an effect of colonisation. It’s so interesting – and I’d argue important – to have pieces with such strong histories and narratives in our home. It reminds us of distant places and times, of personal and collective stories, conflicts and triumphs. For this reason, I especially love these artifacts.