Clothes, accessories and works of sculpture can signal the wealth, power and position of their owners. Elaborate clothes and hats and heavy jewelry made of rare or valuable materials, such as gold, copper alloy or glass beads, indicate both the financial security and the discerning eye of the owner--a message reinforced in the quality and quantity of prestige items.
Imported glass beads were highly prized trade items within the Bamum kingdom, and they became an essential part of local art styles. Here, they were sewn onto plant fiber and attached to a gourd to create this colorful bottle used for serving palm wine. The dramatic beaded covering transformed a basic container into a dazzling emblem of royal status.
Long-necked gourd bottle completely covered with glass beads, including its bird-shaped stopper and high round base. The beaded decorations, affixed to a plant fiber foundation, are a study in light-dark contrasts in their arrangement of linear and curvilinear patterns. The predominant color scheme plays shades of light olive green and yellow ochre beads against dark blue, black, light blue, brick red and rose colored beads. Large and small pin-wheel beaded designs emphasize the swelling body of the gourd. The long neck of the container is ornamented with three registers of diagonally arranged beaded patterns--two of them repeating the predominant color pattern on the body of the gourd, while the middle register emphasizes yellow ochre contrasted with darker strands of beads. The wood stopper is in the shape of a broad-beaked bird and is composed largely of alternating, diagonal bands of pink, blue, black and green beads. The beak and underside of the tail are distinguished with red beads; a mix of white and dark blue beads define the top of the bird's head. The eyes are indicated by two small buttons. The inscription "JVS 104" is painted in white pigment on the undecorated wooden section of the stopper. The beaded designs on the attached base are arranged in a checkerboard pattern composed of five registers of alternating red and white beads and a contrasting register of light blue and white checkered squares. The base ends in a final band of dark blue beads.
Jef Van der Straete, Belgium, ca. 1950s to ca. 1980
Private collection, Belgium, ca. 1980 to 1999
Pace Primitive, New York, 1999 to 2000
African Mosaic: Selections from the Permanent Collection, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 19, 2013-ongoing
African Mosaic: Celebrating a Decade of Collecting, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 19, 2010-November 13, 2013
Recent Acquisitions 2001, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., May 6-October 7, 2001
National Museum of African Art. 2010. African Mosaic: Celebrating a Decade of Collecting. Exhibition card. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, no. 2 (detail).