I love what age does to round things. Here are some bracelets up for auction.
At Christie’s are “two Jade Bracelets from Southeast China, Neolithic Period (3000 BC): Each a tapering, thick-walled ring, one Liangzhu culture, the stone of yellow and russet-brown color; the other of Liangzhu type, the stone of olive color with opaque areas of brown and ivory color, the outer wall slightly concave, both with satiny polish” Sale date: 19 March 2015
Sotheby’s is auctioning this marvellous bracelet from Cameroon. “In the grasslands, ivory bracelets were worn by members of the nobility in pageants. Here, the elegance of the shape is accentuated by the fullness of the button and the red-brown shades of patina.” Sale date: 11 December 2013
At Zemanek-Munster, please note lots 275, 512, 93, 96, and 180.
Lot 275: “Nigeria, Igbo | “ivory, shiny reddish brown patina, of oval form, natural grains.” Lot 512: “ivory, honey brown patina, of circular form, decorated with elaborate incised ornaments with inset metal tags | Provenance Hans Himmelheber, Heidelberg, Germany | Kegel-Konietzko, Hamburg, Germany.”
Lots 275 and 512
Lot 93: “Sudan | ivory, honey brown patina, white pigment remains, ring-shaped with flaring sides, circular engraving.” Lot 96: West Africa | “ivory, honey brown patina. The origin of such bare bracelets without decor can hardly be determined.” Lot 180: Côte d’Ivoire, Baule | “ivory, shiny patina, ring-shaped with flaring sides, min. dam., fine cracks through age; the origin of such bare bracelets without decor can hardly be determined. Among the Baule for example, it was a sign of wealth for a man to be able to offer such a bracelet to his “senior wife” when he married a second woman.”
At Christie’s on 19 March 2015, the Chinese art work in the collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth goes on sale. Five pieces are worth noting.
This greenish-white Jade Phoenix-form ornament from the Yuan-Ming Dynasty (1279-1644) might have been based on an earlier Song Dynasty example, which resides in the Seattle Art Museum. “Carved as a phoenix in flight, the crest feathers and tail carved in openwork, pierced for attachment in various areas, with buff markings in the stone.”
For sale at Christie’s
Seattle Art Museum
This jadeite and pearl-embellished gold hair pin comes from the Late Qing Dynasty, 19th Century. The decorative top is shaped like a petal. At the top-center is a jadeite bat, from which descend six natural pearls. The back is marked 田元祖斤.
In the last part of the Stone Age, Yangshao culture (5000 – 3000 BC) emerged along the Yellow River in China. In black opaque jade, someone polished this hair pin, carving a slender ovoid at the head. “A similar black jade hair pin from Shaanxi province, dated Neolithic, Yangshao culture, is illustrated by Gu Fang in The Complete Collection of Unearthed Jades in China, Beijing, 2005, pl. 4.”
Atop this pale greenish-white jade hair pin from the Yuan-Ming Dynasty (1279-1644) is a phoenix. His head is raised, wings spread, and his tail feathers curve up on either side of his body.
I love this olive-green jade circular hair ornament. It is 2000 years old, Chinese, has convex sides, and “the semi-translucent stone has areas of ivory-colored opaque alteration at one rim.” However, the design is modern, minimalist, and elegant. I don’t think it’s easy to hand-carve a perfect circle in any age.
Bonham’s is selling the Lauren Bacall Collection on 31 March 2015. She has a Chokwe comb with a seated couple from the DR Congo. I would like guess Humphrey Bogart bought this for her when he was filming The African Queen in the Congo, in 1951. She would have kept something like this without telling anyone where it came from, and would smile every time she looked at it, because that’s what love is.
At Zemanek-Münster in Würzburg, Germany, two pieces interest me.
From 6 April 1994 to 16 July 1994, over 1 to 2 million Tutsis were slaughtered in the Rwandan genocide. This comb is from the Tutsi of Rwanda. With an architecturally open design, a geometric pattern bordered in black paint delineates it from the tines. Tradition survived.
This Lega ivory anthropomorphic peg from the DR Congo would have belonged to a high-level “bwami” member. The ivory’s patina gives it multiple colors and power. Provenance: Jean-Marc Desaive, Soumagne, Belgium.
Finally, because I must, Sotheby’s is offering an Edwardian diamond and pearl tiara, “designed as an alternating series of floret motifs and knife-edge drops set with circular-cut diamonds and seed pearls.”
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I live an aleatory life. The butterfly effect brings the most incredible improvisations to what is supposed to be my quiet, reflective existence.
So it was, one twilight, I found myself talking to a hero, Edward Villella. He *was* the Prodigal Son. There will never be anyone else for me.
Edward Villella, Prodigal Son
He told me about the end of Apollo, how your joints move when you’re standing still, an inner movement the audience can’t see. Balanchine took the ballet apart for him and said “In this part of the music, think of an eagle swooping down or a matador with a bull.” “These incredible male images were layered upon each other,” he exclaimed.
Edward Villella, Apollo
He told me about learning to skew the angles of his body to extend Balanchine’s abstract ideas.
Partnering became a different art form.
Ballet was a conversation between minds.
You had to dig deep to find a character because the dancer had to connect image to gesture, and relate that to his own soul.
Edward Villella, Rebecca Wright, Harlequinade, 1975
It was such a privilege to “talk ballet” with him. The conversation went everywhere, and neither of us had to explain a thing.
In a PBS interview, he said, “In many ways I think of ballet as an art form that’s lost its conscience. Artistic directors are presently so concerned with financial considerations; fund-raising; recalcitrant, uninformed boards; and other problems that artistic vision often goes by the wayside.”
After he survived a board like this and returned to New York after 25 years at the Miami City Ballet, he was welcomed by Peter Martins, and asked by his friend Dick Button to choreograph for the Ice Theatre of New York (ITNY). Button wanted Villella to transfer Balanchine’s aesthetic to ice dance.
He did it in a piece called Reveries. He earned the trust of ITNY’s skaters, which made them try what was uncomfortable. They absorbed the quiet gesture of a man offering his hand. In ballet, the man doesn’t look at his hand. He looks into his muse’s eyes and asks her to dance. If she accepts, their relationship begins. ITNY’s skaters embraced Villella’s ideas wholeheartedly.
Cover photo of the ITNY’s website is Edward Villella’s Reveries
Then he adapted the fourth act of a Miami City Ballet piece he choreographed, The Neighborhood Ballroom, into The Three Smokers. It was done to “Back Bay Shuffle” by Artie Shaw and his orchestra: Jazz Age dance, white gloves, black tie, and pizzazz.
The Three Smokers will open an ABC television special, Shall We Dance on Ice, which will air Saturdays Feb. 21 and March 7, from 4:00 to 6:00 PM EST. He’s going to co-host it with Kristi Yamaguchi.
Photo credit: Andrea Chempinski of Scratchspin Photography
As Artistic Director, he had to convince television producers to make sure there was an arc of logic in the connections between pieces. Skaters are soloists. They come with a prepared routine, it gets dropped into an ice show shotgun-style, and the program ends up being a disoriented mess.
But that’s all people know. I was looking at the Stars on Ice comment box one night, and saw a teary eyed woman from somewhere writing about how much it meant to her to take her 86-year-old mother to this ice show, and thought this battle never began. The cultural walls between commercial sport, inexperienced audiences, and innovative art were fossilized.
I wouldn’t have the strength to deal with this, but Villella took on the job with ABC, and succeeded. He made the program one logical, artistic idea. He hopes people will see ice dance differently after watching this show.
Photo credit: Andrea Chempinski of Scratchspin Photography
I wrote an article about this special. When I submitted it to Gersh Kuntzman, features editor of the NY Daily News, he said, “It’s just not there. I’m sorry.”
“What wasn’t there?” I wondered. I worked so hard to try and fit into boxes, my body angles were skewed. But then I thought — Me, that’s what wasn’t there.
For all your fights to put art first, for all the times you had to come out before the show and tell the Miami City Ballet audience what to look for, for everything you did on the stage, for all you had to endure from that farshtinkene board of directors, this is my love letter to you, Edward Villella — the greatest male dancer America has ever produced, someone who made me see the world differently, someone who has continued Balanchine’s legacy with honor.
There are so many beautiful things for sale, each with their own story, that to condense a post into one subject is difficult. So I have a buffet of things today. Just click the picture or link to see more details about each item.
In the Sotheby’s Unsold category:
On 6 December 2002, this Henri Vever gold, enamel, and horn hair comb was estimated at $8,000 to $12,000, but did not sell.
On 13 June 2000, this French gold, enamel, and diamond Eugenie comb, c. 1870, was estimated between 6,000 to 8,000 GBP, but also did not sell.
Sotheby’s Upcoming Auction:
Up for auction on 14 November 2014 is this brass Alexander Calder hair pin, c. 1940 (Calder Foundation Archive number: A16974). Estimate $50,000 – $70,000. To me, this comb looks like a female body wired into a frame. The estimate is consistent with the Calder market, and I will be interested to know what it fetches.
Will it appreciate in value, as did Calder’s silver “Figa” hair comb?
“Figa” in Slavic and Turkish cultures is a hand gesture made to represent male or female sexual organs. The first and second fingers wrap the thumb. It could be used in response to a money request or a plea for physical labor. In Ancient Rome, the gesture was used to ward off evil spirits.
Calder gifted it to artist Frances J. Whitney, c. 1948 (Calder Foundation Archive number: A22629). I could just see her wearing it with a geometrically cut black dress to a charity ball, with no one else knowing what it meant but her. :-)
On 15 November 2006, it was purchased from the Whitney estate for $57,000. On 14 November 2013, that buyer sold it for 137,000.
At Live Auctioneers, another comb caught my attention. It is Russian, c. 1908-1917, silver, and made by Fabergé work master Anders Michelson (marked AM). The comb has eight tortoiseshell prongs and a beautiful hinge that fits over the entire top. Michelson used niello, a black mixture of copper, silver, and lead sulphides, to inlay the dogs and floral pattern on the tiara. The auction starts on 13 November 2014, and the opening bid is €300.
Michael Backman Gallery
Michael Backman Ltd. is selling a pair of gold and gilded silver-filigree dragon hair pins from China’s Qianlong Period (1735-1796). They have dragon heads, each of which have a turquoise cabochon. Openwork hair ornaments were known as “tongzan” and were worn from the Ming Dynasty onwards.
Also on sale is this comb from the Solomon Islands. It is a faa, or man’s woven comb from the Kwaio People, Malaita, Solomon Islands. Woven from yellow-orchid and coconut-palm-frond fibres, the comb was dyed with the geru root. Its teeth are made of fern wood.
The last lot I am going to feature from Michael Backman is this jaw-dropping collection of 38 Indonesian gold ornaments, c. 800 AD. It is a largest set of gold regalia ever collected for a statue in Central Java, Indonesia. The script on the chest cord translates as “‘The weight of the pailut with the diadem: 2 suvarṇa, 1 māṣa, 2 kupaṅ’”
Some Lovely Things on E-Bay
Never dismiss E-Bay. A Māori Paikea comb with an ivory patina to-die-for was listed by God-Save-Whom for $9.95 with no reserve. The description was “Possibly African.”
There is a
There are 6 bids on it, including 2 experienced bidders. It’s real tortoiseshell. As of this printing, there are 3 days and 11 hours to go on this auction.
There is also
The seller thinks it’s French. It could be French or Edwardian English because jewelers in both countries made these types of pins. The auction has 4 days to go.
Victorian diamond brooches came with different settings, so they could be worn separately or together as a tiara. Art Nouveau brooches could also serve multiple purposes. Indeed, some were designed as a tiara and ended up as a brooch. Such is the case with this bee-and-flower ornament designed by Rene Lalique in 1905/6. A pencil-and-ink watercolor on paper of a tiara topped with this ornament resides in the Lalique Museum Collection in Paris.
Yvonne Brunnhammer, “The Jewels of Lalique,” p. 195
However, during the design process, Lalique might have changed his mind. When the piece was finished, it was fitted to be a brooch or corsage ornament. Lalique used gold, translucent enamel on gold, cast glass, and brilliant-cut diamonds. He created part of a tree, where the branches attach to the center. The piece resides in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, and is also dated 1905/6.
Like the Japanese, Lalique embraced the insignificance of human beings in nature, giving animals, insects, plants, and trees more importance. His Symbolic designs stretched bare tree trunks to create a wooded network for the stories he was trying to tell. The wooded lake at Clairefontaine inspired this study for a comb. Tree trunks border a watery landscape. A leafy mass provides shade. The plants are detailed. There is depth of field, and branches reflect on the water.
Yvonne Brunnhammer, The Jewels of Lalique, page 154
His “Tree Branches” comb was made from carved horn with a patina, c. 1900/1.
Yvonne Brunnhammer, The Jewels of Lalique, page 155
Indeed, one can see a Japanese influence when viewing this gold-painted tortoiseshell comb with leaves and berries of black lacquer from the Edo era.
blog: Japonisme, by Lotus Green
In an article, “The Insect in Decoration,” by P. Verneuil in The Craftsman magazine, c. 1903/4, Lalique contributed a comb study of grasshoppers. Verneuil notes how artists had fallen for dragonflies, butterflies, and grasshoppers because of their unique shapes, and reflective wings and eyes, which had a “magical rainbow effect.”
When Lalique made the comb, c. 1902/4, he used carved and painted horn, as well as three triangular green tourmalines.
Yvonne Brunnhammer, The Jewels of Lalique, page 85
Whether he used cast-glass, enamel, jewels, or carved and painted horn, Lalique made these materials do new and different things. His jewelry was a watercolor of mirrored surfaces, reflecting plants and insects, and philosophically reflecting man’s negligible imprint on nature.
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At the First Battle of Panipat, on 21 April 1526, Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur founded the Mughal Dynasty. He was absorbed in the ethos of Persian culture, even through he was a Turkic-Mongol, descending from Genghis Khan on his mother’s side.
However, instead of repressing different cultures under its domain, the Mughal Empire accommodated them and collaborated with different ruling elites such as the Marathas, Rajputs, and Sikhs. This created relative peace and economic expansion during the 16th Century. The Mughal Empire reached its peak in 1700 with their sixth emperor, Aurangzeb, a pious Muslim.
The Mughal Empire during the reign of Aurangzeb c. 1700
Men’s turban ornaments were called Sarpech, “sar” meaning head front; “pech” for screw. They were given to the elite as gifts from the Emperor and inserted into the side of a turban. A turban’s jeweled plumes indicated royal status. The most popular motif was a large flowering plant. It could be found on everything from textile wall-hangings to jewelry. In addition, 17th Century ornaments had only one upward projecting unit.
Two Mughal pieces from the late 17th/early 18th Centuries: embroidered wall-hanging, Sotheby’s; sarpech, Victoria and Albert Museum
Here are some other magnificent examples of 18th Century single-plume turban ornaments from Jaipur in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
This sarpech is made of nephrite jade, gold inset with rubies, emeralds, topaz, gold foil, rock crystal and pearl. c. 1700-1750.
This gold and enamel sarpech was made by court jewelers c. 1700.
In West Bengal, a pair of jewels were made for the male turban. They were worn in the center instead of the side. In 1755, the pair was presented as a gift to Admiral Charles Watson by Nawab Mir Ja’far, whom he installed after the Battle of Plassey because Ja’far would not threaten the interests of the British East India Company.
From Murshidabad, India, a district of West Bengal, this painting depicts Nawab Alivardi Khan seated on a terrace in conversation with his nephews Nawaziah Muhammad Khan (Shahamat Jang) and Sa’id Ahmad Khan (Saulat Jang) and his grandson Siraj ud-daula, all wearing plumes in their turbans. It was made of opaque watercolor and gold on paper, c. 1750.
Finally, this magnificent sarpech was made from enameled gold in the royal workshops of Jaipur c. 1800-1850. Given that the Hindu deity Krishna is associated with the peacock, the ornament might have been made to adorn an image of Krishna, rather than for a ruler to wear. Paintings of Krishna also depict him wearing ornaments in this form.
The last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah II, was deposed by the British and exiled to Burma following India’s First War of Independence in 1857. The British government then assumed formal control of the country.
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Human fascination with birds begins when their freedom of flight captures our imaginations. We watch birds soar and glide freely, as their beautiful, feathered wings catch gusts of air. Can we explore birds’ connection to the human soul in other cultures?
The exhibition PLUMES investigates five civilizations: India, China, the Ivory Coast, Papua New Guinea, and North America to show how art reflects human reverence for each culture’s emblematic bird.
Click on the image to go to the exhibition
From India: The peacock is India’s national bird and holds an important place in Hindu epic poetry and mythology. In Rajasthan’s miniature paintings, peacocks provide companionship to wistful nayikas. They are heroines in the Natya Shastra, written by Bharata, c. 100 BC. The Creative Museum’s silver-gilded comb comes from Rajasthan. The well contains perfume, which drips into the user’s hair, and is adorned with two peacocks.
From China: Tian Tsui is the art of cutting and gluing the kingfisher bird’s iridescent blue feathers to gilt silver. The feathers are so small, it is a painstaking task. The term literally means “dotting with kingfishers” and has been a traditional Chinese art for 2000 years. The Creative Museum’s magnificent diadem uses tian tsui. The flowers are topped with three symbolic child figures with painted bone faces.
From the Ivory Coast: The hornbill kaloa bird is the mythological founder of the Senoufo people. One opportunity for young tribal men is to join the Poro Society, a school where most carvings and masks are made. Statues combine human and animal elements. The bird’s horned beak is elongated, as it touches the fertilized, swollen belly. This comb from The Creative Museum shows the beak-belly relationship, as a man wears a kaloa-bird mask, perhaps for an initiation ceremony.
From Papua New Guinea: The Dani People from the Highlands have a fable. Once, a snake and a bird engaged in a great race to decide the fate of human beings. If the snake won, men would shed their skins and live forever. If the bird won, men must die. The bird won. The Creative Museum’s male headdress from the Dani is made of cassowary bone and feathers, crocodile claws, and warthog teeth. It was most likely worn by a warrior.
From North America: The Tlingit are an indigenous tribe who live along the Pacific Northwest coast: now Oregon and Washington in the USA; British Columbia in Canada. Modern-day Tlingit also live in Alaska. Before Christian conversion, they were animists. Their totem poles narrated stories, legends, and myths. The Tlingit have raven clans and eagle/wolf clans. As the eagle’s beak is curved, The Creative Museum’s bone hair pin with a totem pole eye probably belonged to an eagle-clan shaman.
With these five distinct cultural interpretations, The Creative Museum’s contribution to the Plumes exhibit at the Museum of African and Asian Arts in Vichy shows how bird mythology lives on in headdresses around the world.
According to archeological finds by Heinrich Schliemann, an elliptical gold diadem with removable crown-ornaments was first discovered in a Mycenaean funerary mound called Grave Circle A, or the “Grave of Women”, c. 1600-1500 BC.
from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens
The Mycenaeans were an Indo-European people who settled in Southern Greece along the Agean Sea in the Bronze Age (1600-1100 BC). They came in contact with other cultures through conquest, creating a society based on a warrior aristocracy that Homer immortalized in The Iliad. The Mycenaeans were an agricultural people. However, after the Thera eruption weakened Crete’s Minoan civilization, the Mycenaeans conquered the sea-trading culture, c. 1420 BC.
A hypothesis: Sea peoples could have spread this crown design to land-trading equestrian nomadic tribes through commerce and war as early as 1420 BC.
Narrower bands comprise the next evidence we find. After Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, his empire spanned three continents. It was split up among his generals, the Diadochi, who at first wore white ribbons and then gold bands called diadems.
1) Diadotus Soter, governor of Bactria c. 250 BC, wearing a white ribbon. 2) Diadem, 300 BC, from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens
Before Alexander conquered it, Bactria (now in present-day Afghanistan) was located in the eastern part of the Achaemenid Persian Empire and connected eastern and western cultures through trade and war. The Silk Road, which began during the Han Dyansty, c. 206 BC, brought traders, merchants, and nomads to Bactria. In war, the Yuezhi, a nomadic tribe who supplied jade to the Han Chinese, moved south to conquer Bactria after they were defeated by the Xiongnu, c 124 BC.
This gives us a significant connection between the Greeks and Han Chinese, as well as the Central Asian and Scytho-Siberian nomads, when it comes to the gold crown from Tillya-Tepe in Bactria. It was found in the tomb of a nomadic Saka woman, c. 100 AD. A plethora of round gold pendants adorns the band and ornaments, which come off easily so they can be packed away.
The Silk Road is also how this multi-cultural-influenced design must have arrived in the Silla Kingdom of Korea, c. 400 AD. Lasting from 57 BC to 935 AD, Silla was renowned for its gold. Along with jade decorations, three prongs forming the Chinese character 山 “mountain” shape the front ornaments. This crown was excavated from the north mound of Hwangnam Daechong Tomb and resides at the Gyeongju National Museum in South Korea.
Crowns like this were cut from a thin sheet of gold and were so delicate, some speculate they were worn only for ceremonial occasions or made as a burial ornament. In nomadic fashion, here is how the crown pendants were detached from the band. I also see a Scytho-Siberian nomadic influence in the tiny mirrored gold pendants. What a startling impression that must have made when those pendants reflected sunlight, linking the king with the sun on Earth.
In the Ancient World, crowns represented nobility, conquest, religious significance, cultural tradition, and the exchange of ideas. Before the helmet design, they were made like this. Both ways of thinking seem so unrelated, but in tracing the history of this ancient design, we can map the development of ideas in a world we could hardly imagine.
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The Creative Museum just acquired another masterpiece by Auguste Bonaz.
Made c. 1920 in Oyonnax, five medallions of painted leaves and rhinestones rest in the middle of a curved frame. The medallions are held in place by vertical lines.
I thought this might be a good opportunity to peruse some of the Creative Museum’s other Bonaz combs. Here are two combs from his Art Nouveau period, c. 1910.
Two delicately carved and painted peacocks hold a green medallion in a comb shaped for their tails. How lovely it would look when worn with an embroidered dress.
There are gold accents on this dragon’s wings and head, and his eyes are made of yellow paste stones.
In his Art Deco period, c. 1920…
I call this comb “Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining.” Tines are used in a uniquely imaginative way, depicting both the rain pouring from the clouds, but also in their usual function at the bottom of the comb.
Black was the favorite color of the Art Deco pallette. In this comb, Bonaz put a turquoise cabachon in the middle, surrounded it with mosaic-like decorations, and lined everything with tiny silver dots.
Bonaz’s mantilla combs are unmatched. In this ivory one, the intricate decoration entrances the eye.
Celluloid was able to be shaped as far as the imagination could go, thanks to the comb-making machines at Oyonnax. In this comb, Bonaz suspends seven balls on an architectural frame.
The Musée du Quai Branly is as much a work of architecture as it is a museum that houses a collection of 300,000 artifacts from Africa and Oceania. Jean Nouvel designed four structures with 30 multicolored, protruding cubes. Each cube contains an exhibition.
They have a wonderful collection of combs and photographs that show how they were worn.
For example, the Buang are a Papuan people of the Morobe district of North-East New Guinea. In 1954, François Girard took this photo of a Buang man wearing a comb at the Mission de Françoise Girard during a feast.
The Buang carved and engraved bamboo combs, such as this one, which is similar to the one worn in the photograph.
Artisans of the Kuy people in Cambodia were known for their textile-weaving skills. They wove ikat, an elaborate silk fabric for women’s sampot hol-skirts, and pidans, which were wall hangings used for ceremonial decoration. This wood comb, c. 1870, was made for weaving. It is framed with a dragon and has zoomorphic and floral motifs. The comb itself is bamboo. The slats are cut separately and stretched by a linen thread.
This pidan resides in the Honolulu Museum. The whole textile chronicles Prince Siddhartha (the future Buddah). He leaves the family palace, accompanied by the gods Indra and Brahma. Then he cuts off his hair, meditates under the bodhi tree, and attains Enlightenment.
This striking comb with five long teeth, an engraved bamboo top, and two blue beads looks like a dancer. It comes from Seram Island, the largest island of Maluku Province, Indonesia. The comb dates from the late 19th to the early 20th Centuries and was donated by Jean-Paul and Monique Barbier-Mueller. It was probably made for a man.
This is an aigrette on top of carved bamboo. In the Telei language of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, it is called a kutopagu. Between the comb and feather is possum fur. The two pieces of the comb itself are made from bamboo root, and are connected with plant fibers. This is a male adornment typical of the Southern region of Bougainville with carved motifs the color of lianas: woody, climbing vines that twine around trees and are plentiful in rain forests. According to Emilus Karako, these ornaments are no longer made.