CARING FOR YOUR AFRICAN WOOD CARVINGS

Customers are often astonished at the quality and shine of the carvings/sculptures in our gallery when they visit.  Many admit to having purchased some piece or pieces of African wood carvings during a visit to the Continent, but nevertheless say the quality of our stock are incomparable to what they own.  This is quite understandable.  All over African countries there are generic pieces of carvings produced for the tourist market and as simple decorative ornaments.  At Arts & Crafts of Africa we do not buy such low quality and common pieces of art – we meet and select the very best of the various artisans and actually commission them to produce work of excellent quality and finishing.  Our larger pieces of sculpture are usually one-off commissioned pieces.

All our carvings and sculptures are handcrafted, and a lot of sweat goes into each piece of art delivered.  It is therefore imperative and beneficial to the eventual owner of such beautiful pieces to be able to keep them in the excellent state of finishing that the artisan created.  We always offer maintenance advice to our customers at the time of purchase of any one of our stunning pieces.

There are various wood types used in the production of carvings/sculptures across Africa, depending on the availability and sustainability of the timber in each region.  Most commonly used are ebony, mahogany, teak, osese and iron wood.  Ebony wood is very common in West African countries and is excellent for carvings/sculptures because of its density, colouration (black, dark brown, mixed black/cream or brown/cream) and brilliant natural sheen.  Mahogany wood has colouration of mid to deep burgundy.  Teak, osese and iron wood are often used for carvings where colouring is required because of their ability to absorb dye.

Regardless of wood type, it is important to keep up the good look and vibrancy of the piece of art by keeping the wood nourished.  This is a very simple and inexpensive thing to do – all you need is shoe polish, a 1½” paint brush and a lint-free cloth. The colour of shoe polish required will depend on the colour of the piece of carving/sculpture.  For all round black carving use black shoe polish, for dark brown or mahogany wood use dark tan polish, and for the mixed black/cream or brown/cream wood, often the case with ebony wood, use mid tan polish.  Always avoid liquid polish however, as liquid will in time swell the wood.  Some customers have told me they were advised to use certain oils – I disagree with this, and always say to stick with the humble shoe polish!

Give the piece of carving/sculpture a quick wipe with a dusting cloth.  Apply the shoe polish not too generously (otherwise it will take you longer to buff it!) all over the piece with the paint brush.  Leave it to rest for about half an hour or come back to it after you’ve done anything else you need to do – you cannot over-rest it.  Then buff the polish with the lint-free cloth evenly until all the thickness of the polish completely disappears and you have a lovely piece of shiny carving in your hand…just as the artisan intended!  This procedure need only be repeated every four to six months to keep your wood hydrated and less likely to have cracks.  You may well find that sometimes during the cold winter months, lines may begin to appear on your beautiful carving, especially in ebony wood, don’t panic.  Treat the wood as advised and the lines will close up when the temperature gets warmer, they won’t completely disintegrate!!  It is always advisable to keep your carvings/sculptures in areas where regular room temperature is maintained.

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3 Comments

  1. Good and clear advice, was just given 7 beautiful wood carvings from an elderly couple who traveled extensively.

  2. ELAINE HAYES

    I have been given a Tree of Life sculpture made from a tree trunkwhich I believe is from Africa. It is quite large and carved into it is polished faces. The rest of it is rough bark. It’s not in very good condition but I would like to clean it and preserve it. I wonder if you have some ideas as to how I can do this.

    • Hi Elaine

      You can polish it in the way I described, only you need to be very careful to handle one branch at a time and one face at a time. If you do that consistently every 3-4 months you should be able to restore it to its former glory within a year really.

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