Out of Africa

By Karen Parr-Moody

 

GasLamp's collection of items from the mysterious continent of Africa are exotic, but sophisticated. No one's going to walk down a hall here and say, "Why, I'm going to hang that primitive weapon right above my collection of Blue Willow!" We aren't talking dried gourds, either. 

 

We are, however, talking about authentic African pieces that can transform a home into something from the world of Karen Blixen, that turn-of-the-century grande dame who penned Out of Africa. Being from Denmark's landed gentry, Blixen sailed for Kenya in 1914 with steamer trunks full of the accoutrements of a society lady. Upon arrival in that bewitching country, she fell in love (with both the land and British adventurer Denys Finch Hatton), ran a coffee plantation (abysmally), and entertained (on Limoges china, naturally). Her décor wove a tapestry of both African and European artistry to form the hybrid of colonial chic: There were animal skin rugs, ivory carvings and a prized Swahili chest nestled among European antiques and oil paintings in gilt frames. Today, decorators can create a modern version by blending together sea grass mats, teak tables, wooden sculptures, vibrant beadwork and basketry, then setting the mix against whatever background they choose.   

GasLamp antique dealer Elizabeth Burton specializes in items that could populate the realm of colonial chic, such as the batik fabric in a bamboo frame, seen above right ($135; S-104). 

 

"I don't even know why I'm drawn to African art," she says. "Maybe since I'm from Lebanon, it's in my blood, since it's right around the corner from North Africa. My parents traveled to Africa a lot; I have pictures of my dad with belly-dancing women in Morocco and dancing with men in the Congo. He was kind of a character like I am. He related to all different sorts of people." 

 

Artisan pieces can certainly be found at Burton's booth or in her new showcase, which currently features African or African-inspired items, such as the female bust in the photo, left ($15; S-104). 

 

"It's porcelain or ceramic, with a really high gloss so that it looks like it's metal," Burton says. "I love that piece!"

 

 

 

Burton's parents started going to Africa in the '60s, and she has photos of her mother wearing "groovy outfits" while standing in front of mosaic fountains in Morocco. "I love the colors in Africa, the beadwork with the reds, yellows, oranges and purples. And I just generally look for pieces that are unusual and handmade. I'm drawn to African and Asian things, and probably French, more than other pieces. I don't like traditional and stuffy. I like colorful, funky, artisan pieces."

 

Another piece inspired by Africa is this vintage Kosta glass hippo, right ($35; S-104). This hippo is just one animal in a zoo-themed series that was designed in the 1970s by Erik Höglund, a Swedish painter, sculptor and graphic designer. From the years of 1950 to late 1970, Höglund made public art works, but he returned to glass design in the late '70s, working for Pukeberg, Pilchuck, Transjö, Åhus, Vrigstad and Strömbergshyttan.

 

African décor is a riot of earthy colors and natural materials, including carved wood such as that found in the male figural sculpture, left ($35; S-104). This sculpture would be particularly easy to blend into a variety of décor styles for several reasons. The color is stark, tonal, and somewhat glossy, so that it could be a counterpoint to busier patterns. While it is primitive, its clean lines make it seem modern; this would lend a strong, masculine feel to rooms that skew feminine. And it fits into any décor where whimsy is encouraged; just look at that face! 

 

For a walk on the wilder side, the African tribal mask, right, comes complete with colorful beads hanging down the side ($88; Booth B-201). This carved mask was brought back from that continent during the 1940s. 

 

 

 

While the large conga drum, left, is not among Burton's merchandise, it still speaks to her African inspiration ($250; B-2012). "What inspires me about African art is music," she says, adding that she also sells instruments in her GasLamp showcase. "That's what I think of when I think of Africa: the drumbeat." 

 

Conga drums, in general, are Cuban instruments thought to be derived from the Makuta drums used in the sacred dance-drumming ceremonies of Central Africa. But while African drums made from hollowed logs, the Cuban conga is staved, like a barrel. 

 

Incorporating African décor into a home creates an eclectic and luxurious atmosphere for Old World style with an exotic twist. With its roots in tradition, accessories found in African-themed décor add a richness and warmth to the rest of a home. 

Burton's parents started going to Africa in the '60s, and she has photos of her mother wearing "groovy outfits" while standing in front of mosaic fountains in Morocco. "I love the colors in Africa, the beadwork with the reds, yellows, oranges and purples. And I just generally look for pieces that are unusual and handmade. I'm drawn to African and Asian things, and probably French, more than other pieces. I don't like traditional and stuffy. I like colorful, funky, artisan pieces."
Burton's parents started going to Africa in the '60s, and she has photos of her mother wearing "groovy outfits" while standing in front of mosaic fountains in Morocco. "I love the colors in Africa, the beadwork with the reds, yellows, oranges and purples. And I just generally look for pieces that are unusual and handmade. I'm drawn to African and Asian things, and probably French, more than other pieces. I don't like traditional and stuffy. I like colorful, funky, artisan pieces."
Burton's parents started going to Africa in the '60s, and she has photos of her mother wearing "groovy outfits" while standing in front of mosaic fountains in Morocco. "I love the colors in Africa, the beadwork with the reds, yellows, oranges and purples. And I just generally look for pieces that are unusual and handmade. I'm drawn to African and Asian things, and probably French, more than other pieces. I don't like traditional and stuffy. I like colorful, funky, artisan pieces."

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