Monthly Archives: November 2011

Creative Museum: Fulani Hair Ornaments and Jewelry

The complexity and symbolism of Fulani coiffures, hair ornaments, jewelry, clothing, and tatoos reflect their history as a conquering people. They have 4 castes: noblemen, merchants, blacksmiths, and slaves.

Before the Europeans arrived, powerful empires ruled the African Savannah for over a thousand years. They were fueled by gold mines. In the 13th Century, the Empire of Mali (the Fulani people) conquered Ghana and created lavish royal courts. Timbuktu linked trade routes between the Arab lands in the North and tribal lands in the East and West. The result was a vibrant exchange of ideas, which made Mali a center of Islamic learning.

As the Fulani spread Islam across Africa, they enfolded a vast array of tribes into their culture. Not only was religion important, but tribes expressed their identity, wealth, status, and fertility in physical and ornamental beauty.

Felix Dubois, who traveled to Timbuktu in 1897, wrote, “I prefer to speak of the women of the city, that is to say, those of its aristocratic families… Their foreheads are charmingly adorned with bands of pearls and sequins, and the most accomplished hairdressers arrange their tresses in wonderful top-knots interspersed with ornaments of golden filigree. Earrings of the same precious metal dangle from their ears…”

The Creative Museum has added some Fulani braid ornaments to their collection.


For more scholarly research, please examine

The Creative Museum’s online exhibition on African combs, Facing Me, Facing You — and these books.

Africa Adorned

Hair in African Art and Culture

A World of Head Adornment

If you are inspired to wear some beautiful Fulani jewelry, I recommend the 24-carat-gold-plated seed pod earrings and cuff bracelet in the National Geographic store.

The Modern Geisha and her Kanzashi

This magnificent photograph from Michael Chandler shows a geisha wearing modern kanzashi, made of brightly colored fabric attached to metal, glass dice beads, text, and silver balls. What I love about her is the red lipstick on the bottom of her mouth, dark red eyebrows, and that she has styled her real hair. Her soft look makes her mysterious, yet irresistible, in the ageless tradition of geishas.

copyright: Michael Chandler. Please see Mr. Chandler’s complete set of modern geisha photos here.

The Creative Museum has many modern Japanese sets. My favorite is this blue silk wedding set.


For more scholarly research, please examine

The Combs and Ornamental Hairpins in the Collection of Miss Chiyo Okazaki

The Miriam Slater Collection

Creative Museum: Fabulous Auguste Bonaz

The Creative Museum has just acquired a new Auguste Bonaz comb. Clear celluloid is decorated in a geometric red design that changes with the light. You may also notice the brilliance of Joel Olliveaud’s photography, where the dark grey shadow matches the diagonal edge of the comb, before the light softens at the bottom. This Bonaz is one of his best and a truly magnificent choice. Bravo.


For more scholarly research, please examine the Creative Museum’s publications at the Musée d’Angouleme:

Chinese and Japanese Hair Ornaments

En tête a tête

Jen Cruse: Mid-19th Century Elegance: Hinged Comb with Bejeweled Heading

This gilt brass comb has a hinged decorative heading composed of pink, yellow and white golds and set with small garnets, emeralds and turquoises. The intricate crafting of the heading depicts leaves and flowers springing from two vases, placed on either side of a framed central malachite cabochon. The backward leaning teeth allow a tiara effect when placed in the coiffure.

Probably British made, the piece dates to the 1840-50s. Width is 4¾ ins/12.1cm. Height is 3⅛ ins/8cm.


For more scholarly research, please examine

Miriam Slater: Kanzashi – the difference between art and the decorative

For the kanzashi collector, it is helpful to be able to discern between that which is decorative and pieces which are art. Auction prices often confirm the fact that the more art qualities a kanzashi has, the more collectable it becomes. Decorative hair combs (which are often quite beautiful in their own right), will not possess the depth of expression that is seen in more artistic pieces. Art is distinguished by its originality, a sense of aesthetics and clear, purposeful expression. Often, within in it, one feels the presence of the maker – there is the sense that the piece has its own personality.

In the top comb set we see lovely decorative flower design. But on second glance we find a demonic figure hiding in the right side of the stick. The inclusion of ugliness with utmost beauty makes a statement about life that is beyond the decorative –the comb set has now become evocative and more poetic in mood. In the second comb, the artist reaches beyond the decorative in this complex, beautifully executed design. On it are two separate landscapes, each one on golden, smooth lacquer fan shapes. Around these shapes, darker, roughly carved water forms flow. The movement of the water gives a feeling of excitement to the piece, especially when contrasted with the smooth texture of the fan shapes and the serene designs within them. The water even cuts into the fan forms, just as water does in real life, showing that the artist who made this gave a lot of thought to the play between the two opposing elements: surging water and serene landscapes. When an artisan goes the extra mile to create something exceptional, the result is often that ever-elusive thing we call “art.”


For more scholarly, research, please examine

Okazaki Comb Collection, by Sumiko Hashimoto

Gina Hellweger: Manchu Hair Pins

The Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912) was the last dynasty before the Republic of China. The conquerors came from Manju, or Manchuria, now known as the Northeast provinces. The Manchu people adopted Han Chinese cultural traditions, which can be seen in their Imperial hair ornaments. Kingfisher feathers from the Han are combined with coral, jade, pearls, and beaded shapes to form fantastically ornate creations.

Our new author, artist, and collector, Gina Hellweger and her family spent 6 of her 45 years abroad in China. Indeed, she lived in all the areas where she collected combs. Her Chinese collection “is a pleasure for the eyes because you can listen to nature.” I think when you see her taste in Manchu hair pins, you will hear the same passionate wind. It is my pleasure to welcome her to our community.


For more scholarly research, please examine

Abelam Comb from Papua New Guinea

The Abelam people live in the East Sepik province of Papua New Guinea.

The longest and third largest river in New Guinea, the Sepik is surrounded by swamps, rain forests, and the Prince Alexander Mountains.

Living in the rain forest,

the Abelam hunt cassowaries: large, flightless birds, native to New Guinea. Only three species still exist today.

Hunting supplements their diet of yams, taro, bananas, and domestically raised pigs and chickens. The farmer who grows the largest yam, perhaps 90 inches long, gains tremendous status for his village. Mindjas, or yam spirits, are put on top to show them off.

In Abelam mythology, mindjas are sensitive to strong emotions such as fighting and sexual activity. Therefore, during growing season these actions are not permitted. At harvest festivals, different villages come together. Men use yams to compete for status as well as engage in trade, while women prepare huge meals of yams cooked in coconut milk and mixed with greens. The meals are served with pigs or chickens, roasted over fire pits. Making more food than a rival village can eat or carry home is also a sign of status.

This antique ceremonial Mindja comb could be from the Arapesh, Abelam, or Boiken people. It is made from the tibia bone of a cassowary. The face, grimacing through its piercing eyes, portrays ancestral spirits, or nGwaalndu. Warriors wore these combs before battle, so they could absorb their magic power. Although the comb has an irregular shape, it is complete. The edge is serrated and pierced with suspension holes, which were used to attach the ornaments of animals, now extinct. It sold for 9,850 Euros at Sotheby’s in 2007.


For more scholarly research, please examine

The Creative Museum: By Hook or by Crook

The Creative Museum has acquired a comb of mysterious origin. The sea-shell top is attached to a silver base. The family thinks a sailor or convict could have carved the castle separated by the sea from a village.

I think they’re right, but I’m going to guess further. There is a phrase, “By Hook or by Crook.” It refers to the Oliver Cromwell’s Siege of Waterford in 1649. With the Rebellion of 1641, Ireland had a brief period of self government, which supported the Confederate Catholic cause. Protestant royalist settlers caused much tension. Cromwell ended the Rebellion with a naval strategy to take Waterford by Hook (the village on the east side of the harbor) or by Crook (the village on the west side).

A sailor, convict, or refugee might have taken a sea shell and carved Slade Castle in Hook, County Wexford and a similar castle in Crook, County Waterford. The harbor comes in between.

The comb’s base looks English to me. Although I don’t think it was carved in 1649, maybe it was done by an Englishman who had to leave Ireland by force and took a photograph, as it were. When something is unique and was made to remember a personal life experience, we can only guess.


For more scholarly research, please examine

Ebay Dealer Valuations

So often we see antique dealers on Ebay value a masterpiece for almost nothing. The prime example this year was the 17th Century whale-bone Paikea comb. However, sometimes dealers price items astronomically. Currently, there is a Buy It Now for $1950 on a coin-silver American comb, which is a lovely piece. It has an eagle, the American flag, and the carving is set off by two tulips. Beautifully themed, but $1950? The theme does not supersede the material and the comb’s lack of provenance.

If documentation could prove a First Lady of the United States wore that particular comb at an historical event, it would attract American history collectors. A bigger market might find a buyer at that price. But without such a once-in-a-lifetime connection, I’d pay around $200 for the patriotic theme, even though it was on coin silver. I’m interested in other opinions on value. What would you pay?


For more scholarly research, please examine

The Dazzle of the US a multimedia presentation by The Creative Museum

The Comb, by Jen Cruse

Hair Combs: Identification and Values by Mary Bachman

Isidor Kaufmann Painting: The Newlywed

Isidor Kaufmann was born in Arad, Hungary (now Romania), in 1853. Leaving for Vienna to study art in 1876, his assimilated Jewish clients coveted their commissioned portraits. Viennese Jews looked down upon their fiercely religious, backwater brethren in the shtetls, so it is ironic that Kaufmann is best known for his realistic portraits of shtetl rabbis in Poland, Russia, and Hungary c. 1890. Their stony gazes reveal the fight to keep their dying culture alive.

Kaufmann chose realism in the middle of Gustav Klimt’s “Vienna Sucession,” the Austrian version of Art Nouveau. Emperor Franz Joseph I owned “Der Besuch des Rabbi” (Visit of the Rabbi), which now hangs in the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

However, he also painted his daughter Hannah when she got married. One of those portraits is going on sale at Sotheby’s on December 14, 2011, with an estimated value between $250,000 and $350,000.

This is the second one. Look at her kipah, or wedding hat.

Attached to the masterfully ornate fabric is a hand-made seed-pearl tiara. There is a circular center, above which is a spray of seed pearls, shaped into individual hearts, and attached to the top. To the side, a chain of hearts reaches the front-sides to hold the kipah in place. One of the chains of pearls becomes a border around the bottom. Hannah’s parure is completed by pearl earrings and a five-tiered seed-pearl necklace.

Even though he probably painted his daughter in Vienna, her gaze is as fierce as the shtetl rabbis’. Perhaps she knew she was defending a culture, which would be threatened by extinction, too.


For more scholarly research, please examine

Rabbiner, Bocher, Talmudschuler: Bilder des Wiener Malers, Isidor Kaufmann, 1853-1921 (German Edition)

Isidor Kaufmann art prints: Portrait of a Rabbi and Girl with Flowers in her Hair

Tevye’s Daughters: Collected Stories of Sholom Aleichem