A tale of shadow puppets
  • Readers ask about Haitian watercolors & wooden mask
  • Readers ask about African American art, matchbooks & dolls
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    Auction Finds

    Readers ask about African mask & shadow puppets

    Friday at Auction Finds is readers’ questions day. I try to guide readers to resources for them to determine the value of the items that they own. I’m not able to appraise their treasures, but I can do some preliminary research to get them started. So, these are market values, not appraisals for insurance purposes that I suggest for items that have been determined to be of great value.

    This week’s questions are about an African mask that a reader found in the trash and Indonesian shadow puppets. I also got a whimsical question about the numbers book.

    African mask and carving

    An African mask that had been placed near a dumpster and retrieved by a reader.

    Question:

    I found these items discarded near a dumpster. I have examined the mask and it shows signs of wear. It is almost polished where it would ride on the face. Also the holes show signs of where strings were attached. The statue has a price tag and both items have a number on them. I did call the local police and told them of my find. If you can tell me anything about these or where to go to find out more. I am in Seattle.

    Answer:

    Unfortunately, I’m not an expert on African masks. I can easily recognize some of them, but I’m not familiar with the one that you found.

    Since you live in Seattle, may I suggest that you check with the folks at the Northwest African American Museum there. The museum may have someone on its staff who can help you. If not, the staff may be able to direct you to someone who can – even a professor of African art at a university in the city. Also, the Seattle Art Museum or its African Arts Council may be a resource.

    Via Google, I came across the websites of two art galleries in Seattle that specialize in African art – Akanyi African Art Gallery and Kibo Gallery African Art. I assume that they are still in operation.

    African mask and carving

    A reader found this African carving discarded with the trash.

    The other alternatives are for you to look through photos of African masks on the web or spend a few hours in a bookstore or library thumbing through some art books.

    Before you go to any of them, I would suggest that you do more research on your own to make sure the mask is not a tourist piece that someone brought back from vacation. Most of what I come across at auction is exactly that and is hard to authenticate, but I try by doing some research via Google. But I’m still not sure if the ones I’ve purchased at auction are authentic, either.

    I wrote a blog post about how to authenticate masks on your own and it’s not easy. Even some with wear and holes on the side could also be faked to look that way. I have an African nail fetish sculpture that, according to the auction house where I bought it, had been in the collection at an African American museum in Tacoma, WA. The only such museum I could find in that city was closed in 2005. I also have a mask made by a Haitian artist named Roger Francois that’s obviously not an African mask.

    Reader’s reply:

    I read about how to tell if they are authentic. It says to look for wear at the string holes that hold it on your head and look for shiny or polished areas inside where the mask would ride on your face. This mask has both the string holes (that) show signs of wear and polished inside at the chin area. I appreciate your suggestions and will check with the museums.

    Indonesian shadow puppet

    Indonesian shadow puppets sold at auction.

    Question:

    I have a collection of Indonesian shadow puppets. The collection contains wayang kulits, wayang kliticks and wayang goleks. Three of my wayang kulits are supposedly from the mid-19th century. They are called goldleafs because they had gold dust sprinkled on them. I am interested in getting them appraised.

    Answer:

    I wrote a blog post three years ago about Indonesian shadow puppets after coming across six at auction and not knowing what they were. The auction house had mistakenly called them Burmese. They were large flat paper figures, painted and gilded, with rods protruding from their bottoms and each arm. They sold for $500.

    Shadow puppets are made by skilled craftsmen using methods that go back 1,000 years. They are used in the traditional theater called Wayang Kulit, also the name of a type of puppet. They are most prominent on the island of Bali and Java.

    In the theater, a skilled dalang uses the puppets to tell stories while a traditional orchestra called a gamelan plays. Here’s a YouTube video of what the audience sees in the theater and what is happening behind the scene. Here’s a collection of shadow puppets at the Simon Fraser Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Canada.

    As for the reader’s question, you didn’t mention if you wanted to appraise your collection so you’d have some general idea of its worth or for insurance purposes. I would offer two different approaches for each. You also didn’t mention how large your collection was.

    If you’re looking for an appraisal for insurance purposes, I’d suggest you try the website of the American Society of Appraisers. The site offers a way for you to find an ASA certified appraiser in your area. It’s a good idea to see if there’s one who has been featured on the site –  a sign that that person is good at what he/she does.

    Indonesian shadow puppet

    A framed Indonesian shadow puppets sold at auction.

    Do some research on the list of names that turn up in your area, and choose one whose expertise is closest to what you collect.

    If you’re looking for a ballpark idea of some pieces in your collection, I’d suggest my blog post on how to determine the value of your items. Also, try locating a reputable shop in your area that sells Indonesian or Asian arts to give you an eyeball appraisal. You should be able to find one by Googling, but be sure to go one step farther to check out the shop. That shop may also offer suggestions on appraisers to check out.

    You might also try a reputable auction house in your area. Some auction houses have free days where you can bring in your items and the staff will give you an eyeball appraisal. If the staffers are unfamiliar with shadow puppets, they may be able to direct you to someone who is. Auction houses like Heritage Auctions in Dallas also offer appraisals if you send them photos. I’m not sure how quickly they get back to you.

    Also do what I suggested to the reader in the question above: try finding an expert in Indonesian arts at your local university.

    Question:

    I need numbers for lottery. Both my daughter and I had dreams last nite.

    Answer:

    I’m happy  that you and your daughter have dreams and can remember them once you wake up. I don’t dream very often but when I do, I can never clearly remember what I dreamed about.

    But I don’t give out numbers (I couldn’t anyway because you didn’t mention what you dreamed). Here’s a blog post I wrote about where you can buy a dream book and look up the numbers.

     

     

     

     

     

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