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Blog / African Art

7 Signs You Should Invest in Makonde Art

One of the most interesting forms of African art - one that we are seeing more and more in homes around the world - is Makonde artwork and sculpture. It is the visual appeal and abstract nature of the hand carvings especially that intrigue people, making these pieces very desirable in both home and office décor.

About Makonde Art - Makonde art has become popular in Western culture because of the fascinating nature of the pieces and the history of the Makonde culture. The Makonde peoples from Mozambique and Tanzania are known for their hand carved wood pieces in the global artistic community.

The pieces are highly desirable because of the high quality African Blackwood (Mpingo) used, and the intricate carving details which are incorporated into a variety of household objects, sculptures and masks created by Makonde artisans. Makonde artists are best known for their masks. The carvings are based on the mythical spirit – the Shetani. The Shetani, like much of Makonde art expressiveness, takes on many abstract forms and is known to represent spirits, humans, and animal forms!

7 Signs You Should Invest in Makonde Art 


  • You are a fan of wood carvings: If you love wood carvings, there are perhaps none finer than those from the Makonde. From wood masks, sculptures, and even household items, there is no shortage of intriguing pieces to add to your personal collection.
  • Your home is filled with unique items: If your home décor and design is based on unique items, a piece from the Makonde will fit in perfectly. Add a piece on your mantel, in a display case, or make it the focal point of your living room. Selecting a Limited Edition carving will add a unique touch to any room.
  • You want rare items: No two pieces of Makonde art are the same. The pieces are not common here in North America, and you can spend hours looking for a piece that has a rare look and the meaning that you desire.
  • You are an art collector: No art collection is complete without a unique piece from the Makonde artisans of Tanzania or Mozambique. The high degree of detail and mystique in these pieces make them a must-have for your collection.
  • You have been to Africa and love the culture: One trip to Africa is all you need to fall in love with the art and culture of the Makonde. Having the chance to see artisans first hand and view the intricate carvings and masks in person will make you want to invest, Bringing Africa Home with you.
  • The Shetani has you intrigued: There is something very intriguing and fascinating about the mythology and the story of the Shetani and the dominant role it plays in African culture. It is represented in so many different ways, and the diverse humanistic and animalistic forms it takes on in Makonde art is attention grabbing.
  • You are looking for an out of the ordinary décor piece: If you want to break out of cookie cutter design, adding an African mask or unique sculpture is the perfect solution. A piece from the Makonde can easily become the centerpiece or focal point of a room in your home. Fusion or global décor is beautifully communicated by the addition of a unique piece of African hand carved sculpture.

How many of these signs have you identified in yourself? Is it time to invest in Makonde art and Bring Africa Into Your Home?

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Enter the World of the Makonde Shetani

There has been resurgence in the popularity of African art, especially when it comes to wood carvings and traditional African works of art. When most people envision African art, they are quite often thinking about the beautiful hand carvings created by the Makonde of Tanzania and Mozambique.
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A Guide to Family Tree Style Makonde Sculptures

One of the most popular and fascinating forms of Makonde art is sculpture – especially.  These pieces have become extremely popular today with art collectors and homeowners alike. Considering they come in many shapes, sizes, and types of carvings, it’s not surprising they are popping up all over the world!

Like any other piece of art, the history and origins of the Family Tree Style sculpture only adds to its intrigue.

Origins of Family Tree Style Sculptures

The Family Tree Style sculptures, which are also referred to as “Tree of Life,” date back to the late 1950s and an artistic style called Dimoongo – one of the eight major Makonde styles.

Professor Elias Jengo explains:

“A style called Dimoongo (power of strength), which a local political zealot later named Ujamaa, was introduced by the late Roberto Yakobo Sangwani who migrated into Tanzania from Mozambique in the late 1950s. The original style represented a winner in a wrestling match who was carried shoulder high by his colleagues represented in a cluster of figures. Some later versions were carved showing a female figure at the top of a cluster of figures. This was the beginning of a style known as the Makonde family tree.” With a history of name changes, tracking the Makonde Family Tree sculptures can be a little confusing for the average person. Dimoongo, Ujamaa, and Tree of Life all refer to the same style of art.

Significance of the Makonde “Family Tree”

Even though these carvings have been known by a number of different names, the significance and meaning of the carvings have remained the same over the years. Ujamaa means community and family. This meaning is also echoed in the “Tree of Life” pieces which speak to a common human ancestral heritage. This is why you often see symbols of support and generations of family. Overall, the piece brings out the community harmony the Makonde people strongly believe in.

Common Characteristics and Depictions

The sculptures, while they can take on a variety of shapes, forms, and sizes, have a number of common characteristics representing the symbolism and significance of the carvings. The carvings typically include:
  • A column of people, with one central figure surrounded by smaller figures.
  • One large figure at the top of the pole – often a central figure such as a tribal chief. More modern carvings typically have a female figure at the top.
  • They commonly depict members of extended family – often representing multiple generations.
  • People are often depicted climbing or holding each other up (representing support).
  • People are often shown performing traditional tasks and local work such as cooking or farming.

About the Artists and the Canvas

Family tree sculptures can be as tall as 6 feet, taking artisans up to 9 months to complete. However, they also come in many other sizes, ensuring you can find the perfect carving for your home or office decor.
  • The sculptures have become popular because of their intricate design and decor.
  • They are carved from African blackwood (also known as mpingo).
  • High quality pieces are carved from a single large tree trunk.

What really communicates the beauty of these carvings is their unparalleled, intricately detailed and delicate shapes, making these sculptures highly desirable. Please take a few moments to explore our collection of Family Tree Style Sculptures. They are fascinating pieces, deeply rooted in history. Bring a piece of Africa home with you today. Add a Family Tree Sculpture to your home or office. A unique and fascinating accent, they are also great conversation starters!

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Lessons in African Art – 6 Quick Buying Tips

The Rise in Popularity of African Art - African art is hot these days. It is popular not only because it looks intriguing, but also because of the traditions, culture, and mythology associated with each piece. This is why you are seeing African artwork more frequently in people’s homes and offices. There has been a quite a surge in the appreciation of African artists and craftspeople!

 African Art is More Accessible Than Ever - Part of the reason African art has "taken off" is that it is more accessible than ever. The Internet has made it possible for anyone to view and purchase pieces online. African art is no longer confined to art collector’s private collections and galleries. If you are new to African art, understanding core characteristics is important and contributes to appreciating the significance of a particular piece. You need to know what to look for and what you are looking at, in order to determine if the piece is not only visually appealing to you, but also has the meaning or theme you want to incorporate into your decor.

Core Characteristics of African Art  - The following tips will provide you with a brief lesson in African art that you can apply when buying online:

  1. Diversity: African art is diverse—in fact, more diverse than most realize. This makes it very difficult to generalize. There are more than 1,000 cultural groups living on the continent. Each of the 5 main regions has developed its own cultural and artistic identity. Each region and/or cultural group has also been influenced by other cultures, depending on where they are located and the influences brought to the area by other cultural and ethnic groups.
  1. Traditional Wood Carvings: Traditional wood carvings are the most widely recognized and popular forms of African art, with masks and sculpture being the two most symbolic forms. However, wood décor and furniture have also become popular. Many of the traditional pieces are carved using African Blackwood (also known as Mpingo) and ebony.
  1. African Masks: There are three basic types of African masks that you will encounter – head dresses, face masks and helmet-style masks. These masks are worn in many different religious and ritualistic ceremonies, and each one has a specific meaning and symbolism based on appearance, design and symbols used.
  1. African Sculptures: One of the primary things you will notice about African sculpture is the unique and often abstract design elements. Most are vertical and tubular in shape, often abstractly representing human-like figures and specific themes centering on life and spirituality.
  1. Intricate Details: Every nuance is there for a reason. Carvings with smooth surfaces represent beauty and health; rough surfaces represent deformity or moral flaws. Artists pride themselves on their emphasis of high quality craftsmanship and materials.
  1. Subjects and Themes: African art has often been created to be used as part of a ceremony or ritual, rather than specifically as a decor item or embellishment. This approach significantly changes how African art is constructed. Common themes and symbolism include:
  • Abstract human and animal images
  • A man with a weapon
  • Women with their children
  • An outsider or stranger
  • A religious or mythical spirit
  • Luminosity and smooth surface designs
  • Themes of wisdom, protection, family, youthfulness, self-composure

If you are interested in African art and crafts, delve a little deeper and look for the message, the spirituality and often the story that each piece conveys. This will heighten your enjoyment of each and every piece you purchase. Please always feel free to contact us if you have a question. We may not always know the answer, but we often can refer you to someone who does..

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T is for Teapot - A Brief (but Fascinating) History

Giraffe Teapot

Teapots were invented back in the Yuan Dynasty (in China). The design likely progressed gradually from ceramic kettles and wine pots made of metals. Prior to that, only cauldrons were used to boil tea which was then served in bowls.

By the Ming Dynasty, use of the teapot was widespread in China.

Early teapots were small in comparison to what we use today, as they were usually designed for a single tea drinker. Believe it or not, once the tea was brewed, they usually drank it straight from the teapot spout! If I'd done that as a child, my grandmother would have clipped my ear! Different strokes for different folks, indeed.

They might have actually been onto something, as single portions of tea are easier to control with regard to flavour and are easier to repeat consistently.

From the 17th century onward, tea was shipped from China to Europe, along with exotic spices and other luxuries. Porcelain teapots, often painted in the familiar blue and white we associate with many Chinese ceramics, were also shipped out.

Here's a fun fact! Because porcelain is completely vitrified, it can stand subjection to seawater without harm. Therefore, the teapots could be stowed below deck. The tea, however, had to be stowed above deck in order to remain dry.

At first, tea drinkers in Europe were of the upper class

At that time, porcelain couldn't be made in Europe. So tea and teapots were fairly expensive, limiting consumption to those who could readily afford it. It wasn't until 1708 that Ehrenfriend Walther von Tschirnaus figured out how to make porcelain and started the Meissen Factory (in Dresden) in 1710.

In the Americas, Boston was a centre for silver craftsmanship. We're sure you've heard of the Revere family, whose works of art included teapots.

Paul Revere's Famous Ride

Early English homes used tea cosies to keep their teapot hot after the tea had brewed. They work - as we still utilize them today! Knitters and crocheters in our family used to compete for the most intricate and whimsical tea cosy creations!

Many people enjoy collecting teapots

I know, because I'm one of them! In all my years of collecting (and I have quite a few teapots), I have never seen such intricate, whimsical teapots as produced by Ardmore Studio. These teapots would be quite suitable on the table at The Mad Hatter's Tea Party! In fact, we're proud to tell you that some of our lovely ceramics from The Ardmore Collection are on display at the shop at the prestigious Gardiner Museum in Toronto now through the end of March 2018.

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At first glance, most people can't tell that this is a teapot! Look closely and you will see that it is. Can't you just see this lovely piece on the tea table in Alice in Wonderland? We sure can!

The Ardmore Collection

On Springvale Farm, located in the KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), a most astounding art studio is found. Ardmore Ceramics has been acknowledged by the acclaimed auction house - Christie's - as producers of "modern day collectibles". Styled in an exuberant, exotic (even, may we say, whimsical style), the ceramics produced by this remarkable atelier are superb examples of design and craftsmanship. Often inspired by wildlife, Ardmore Ceramics have been exhibited in leading galleries and collections around the world, including The Museum of Art & Design in New York and The Museum of Cultures in Basel (Switzerland). Ardmore's modern art style breaks ceramic conventions, using techniques resulting from years of experimentation with materials and processes. The vibrant colours and enormous attention to detail are simply superb.



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B is for Bowl - The Most Versatile Vessel Ever

Bowls can be round. But they can also be square, rectangular, oval, oblong - you get the drift. And, not to put too fine a point on it, they can be used for a lot more than consuming liquids or foods.

Latte bowls for drinking coffee. Small tip bowls on your favourite coffee shop counter. Great big bowls for storing things like DVDs, pens, pencils, notepaper. Bowls to hold ever-multiplying remotes on your coffee table. Prep bowls for food. Condiment bowls for spices and relishes. Frankly, I have a fabric bowl on my desk (made by my talented sister who sews) that is what I call my flotsam and jetsam bowl. In other words, a catch-all for whatever I don't know what to do with!

Punch bowls abound at weddings and other celebrations. Big wooden salad bowls are used to create Caesar salads from scratch tableside in some restaurants.

Bowls can be made of many different types of materials such as ceramic,
porcelain, plastic, wood, stone, glass, metal - just to name what readily comes to mind.

Bowls have been in use for thousands of years

Bowls have been found dating back thousands of years in archeological digs in China, Ancient Greece and some Native American cultures.

In ancient Greece, bowls called phiales included a small dent in the centre of the bowl that enabled the bowl to be more easily held or steadied with a finger. Some sources think these phiales were used for perfume instead of wine or other liquids. Imagine! A perfume bowl.

  • So far as we know, the oldest bowl ever found is 18,000 years old.
  • Some Chinese pottery bowls have been dated back to the Neolithic period.

**Did you know that a bowl is also a standard unit of measure? One bowl is 3.75 cups or 887.2059 ml.**

The Ardmore Collection

On Springvale Farm, located in the KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), a most astounding art studio is found. Ardmore Ceramics has been acknowledged by the acclaimed auction house - Christie's - as producers of "modern day collectibles". Styled in an exuberant, exotic (even, may we say, whimsical style), the ceramics produced by this remarkable atelier are superb examples of design and craftsmanship. Often inspired by wildlife, Ardmore Ceramics have been exhibited in leading galleries and collections around the world, including The Museum of Art & Design in New York and The Museum of Cultures in Basel (Switzerland). Ardmore's modern art style breaks ceramic conventions, using techniques resulting from years of experimentation with materials and processes. The vibrant colours and enormous attention to detail are simply superb.



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5 Misconceptions About African Art and Culture

Even though we are seeing a remarkable rise in popularity of African art and culture here in the Western world, it is amazing how much misinformation and misconception still exists. Let's take a look at some of these misconceptions and hopefully gain a better understanding and appreciation.

Misconception #1

Africa Is A Country

Let’s start with perhaps the biggest piece of misinformation that exists about Africa – it is not a country. It’s a continent and it is comprised of more than 50 distinct countries. Now that this is out of the way, let’s take a look at some other misunderstandings.

Misconception #2

We Can’t Do Anything To Help

Many assume that there is little we can do to help and assume the entire continent is like what we see in commercials on TV. There are many ways that we can help regions of Africa that are in need. Zawadee gives back in three ways . . .
  • charitable donations through charity: water (Zawadee donates 2% of all sales and also supports).
  • Supporting African Artisans and Entrepreneurs through micro funding. These methods help to empower African artisans and entrerpeneurs.
  • providing a sales, marketing and distribution channel for African artisans and entrepreneurs

Zawadee remains committed to supporting the empowerment of African artisans and entrepreneurs.

Misconception #3

Africa Is Homogenous

Africa is one of the most diverse continents. This diversity is reflected in the multitude of arts and unique cultures. In general, there are five main regions: North Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, and Southern Africa. Art collectors and aficionados often look for African art based on these regional divides, however, distinctly different cultures and artistic expression occur within each region as well.

Misconception # 4

Africa Is Primitive

Many people think the entire continent is primitive, poor and war stricken. Not true at all! There are many progressive areas, and African art, culture, architecture and fashion have evolved significantly over the years. While African artisans are perhaps best known for their traditional wood carved sculptures and masks, African art continues to evolve. The growing community of contemporary artists and their creativity that are on display in art shows and galleries around the world is the proof of this constantly changing, constantly developing creativity.

Misconception #5

African Art Is Cursed

Many examples of African culture have spiritual meaning and can be associated with mythological and cultural spirits, namely the Shetani. Every piece, whether mask, sculpture, carving, painting, etc., is meant to communicate an aspect of culture, history, heritage. And, as with any artistic expression, some are lighter and more holistically spiritual and some are darker - communicating a more negative slant.

Hopefully, we've helped you gain a better appreciation for African art and culture!

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Ceramics with an African Flair - The Ardmore Collection

From Capodimonte to Hummel to Lladro to Wedgwood, the world does not suffer from a lack of fine pottery. These venerable manufacturers produce modern collectibles in signature styles. Is there room for yet another manufacturer, another source, a new style? Zawadee believes that the verve and whimsy of it ranks with the settled elegance and the studied cuteness of other famous manufacturers. The magic of pottery lies in its ability to remain useful as well as decorative and to explore a variety of shapes and express myriad motifs. Ceramics combines decorative qualities with utility. Located in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa, the artisans who create masterpieces that draw inspiration from the dramatic environment that includes beaches, mountains, and savannah populated by big game. The region’s northeast is home to rhinoceroses, lions, and giraffes. Colorful traditions of native peoples, such as the Zulu tribes, also add inspiration!

 The Origin Of South African Art

Art in South Africa goes back 4,000 years to dramatic cave paintings created by the hunter-gatherer societies that populated the region until displaced by colonialists in the 1800s. Artistic appreciation took a distinctly European turn in the early colonial era as artists painted and sculpted their visions of the newly discovered territories replete with exotic flora, fauna, and people. That European influence continued into the 20th century with Cubism, Impressionism, and Expressionism that ranged from cool, serene, and distant to bold, vivid, and personal. Art in the latter half of the 20th century adopted a more intimate focus, and Western society largely ignored native artists. Even the European-born and classically trained artists who brought their Western ideals to South Africa could not escape the impact of African forms on their creations. The melding of European craftsmanship with African verve and motifs created a distinctly exotic, exuberant, graceful, and even whimsical style that finds wide acceptance and appreciation today.

Natural Forms

South African art echoes the plants and animals indigenous to the continent’s sub-Saharan expanses; it pays homage to nature and the earth from which the raw materials of pottery come. Much of it favors visual abstraction, which applies well to the design practical objects, such at pitchers and platters and candlesticks. As dramatic and bold as the continent itself, it captures attention with fluid forms, bold colors, and rhythmic patterns....

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The patterns found in nature and in everyday life make their home in the ceramic bowls, jugs, vases, platters, and other objects produced by the Ardmore Studio. Glazes draw the eye with lush color and expressive detail while pottery molded into realistic or fanciful shapes add fluidity and energy to the finished hard forms. Until one sees the incorporation of these shapes and patterns, one cannot understand how natural forms apply to our lives.  

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