With their practical and technical knowledge, African metalsmiths and casters create utilitarian objects and elaborate works of art. Archaeologists now estimate Africans have smelted ore, traded metal and cast or forged tools, weapons and objects for 5,000 years--long before European contact. After foreign trade routes were established, the arduous process of refining raw ores, which required large amounts of charcoal, was replaced by the less labor intensive pattern of buying iron rods and ingots of copper or brass that could be melted at the forge. At other times imported metal objects were melted down and recycled. With the increased availability of raw materials, the production of imaginative and intricate tools, weapons, jewelry, sculptures and currency flourished. Many individuals and communities stored, traded and displayed their wealth in the form of jewelry and nonfunctional currency blades rather than as coins or bar ingots.
In Bamum and other Grassfields kingdoms, wearing copper alloy bracelets was considered a prerogative of the king and members of the royal family. Together with the python and elephant, the leopard was closely associated with kingship. In fact, leopards were considered alter egos to the ruler. Spiders, by contrast, are incarnations of wisdom and are commonly associated with divination.
Openwork c-form copper alloy bracelet cast in the lost-wax method with motifs of leopards and spiders.
Gallery dealer, Paris, ca 1960
Jan Meijer, Paris, ca. 1960 to ca.1975
Philippe and Helène Leloup, Paris, ca.1975 to 2003
Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., April 22, 2013-February 23, 2014; Fowler Museum at UCLA, University of California, Los Angeles, April 19-September 14, 2014; Bowdoin College Museum of Art, October 15, 2015-March 9, 2016
African Mosaic: Celebrating a Decade of Collecting, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 19, 2010-November 13, 2012 (deinstalled March 14, 2013)
Milbourne, Karen E. 2013. Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa. New York: The Monacelli Press; Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 106, no. 81.
Moffett, Dana and Stephen P. Mellor. 2003. The Curator-Conservator Collaboration: Remembering Roy Sieber." African Arts 36 (2), pp. 54-55, no. 18.