In the south of the Sahara, wood is the most commonly used material for carving. Nowadays, wooden sculptures are still very much an existing tradition. Today, many people worldwide are fascinated by the aesthetic appeal of imaginative and creative African Art.
It is difficult to envision as to how African tribal sculptors have viewed their very own work, however, they have certainly not perceived it as art reflecting the western approach from recent centuries.
Tribal carving is prepared for a clear and practical purpose. A figure may represent an ancestor destined to stand in a place of worship, otherwise everyday objects, figurines; ceremonial objects, sculptures and decorative items are reflected.
Selecting the correct wood indicates that the carving will last for many years. When the incorrect wood is utilised, the carving may shrink or crack. Wood is, after all, a “living” material and is subject to changes regarding climate and humidity.
Certain woods are becoming rare, and, in turn, are difficult to source.
Ironwood is an exceptionally solid and beautiful brown wood found in Zimbabwe and parts of South Africa. When dry, it still remains heavy because of the density of the grains.
It consists of a dark red or deep reddish brown colour. The timber has proven to be extremely durable. Ironwood is a common name for a wide variety of African trees or shrubs that possess exceptionally hard or dense wood. Although the name is generally applied to trees of three unrelated genera, scores of other trees are also known as ironwood in local usage and terms. Because it is so dense, it will not float in water; therefore carving anything from this material can be extremely difficult.
Southern Africa is home to many master carvers of Ironwood, especially in Zimbabwe. They use hand held tools to initiate producing these works of art.
The tree is white on the outside (sap wood) and dark brown on the inside (heart wood). Polishing accentuates the natural colour of the wood, while the finished heart wood ranges from brown to black, depending on the age of the tree.
At BATANAI we take great care in selecting our Ironwood carvings to make sure they have been properly dried.
Exceptionally rare, this wood is also tricky to find. In many parts of Africa, this wood is protected. It has a beautiful aroma, which lasts for years, and comes from the thick and heavy sap. The grain is interesting and contains many swirls and twists that enhance the natural beauty of the wood.
This is known as a black hardwood, famous for it’s lustrous beauty. It is a delicacy in the world of the African wood sculptor. Skilled ebony sculptors tend to migrate to the few regions of Africa where ebony wood is grown. A highly dense wood with a dark interlocking grain, ebony wood is normally brown on the outside of the tree, and black on the inside. The carvings often appear as a beautiful mixture of black and brown, but the pure dark black wood that is the most renowned grain. It is interesting to note that ebony is probably the world’s most expensive wood.