"Generally speaking the design behind an African Mask is often associated with the tribe and region it represents", Stern continues, " Be it a helmet mask or a mask with some form of headdress or a body Mask, you can pretty much determine from the applicable design the tribe and area where it comes from".
" We put great emphasis in collecting masks that are true ceremonial masks, much of which were made prior to the 1980's and the bulk of them tend to come from the mid-1960's", Stern says, "You can see the difference in many of the more modern pieces from today. That is why it is critical that we can deal direct with our sources as well as handpick our masks". Stern believes that the genuine ceremonial masks will become less accessible in the years ahead.
" Based on my travels and dealing with peoples from different regions of Africa, ceremonies associated with masks are not followed with the same fervor and enthusiasm as it used to be in earlier times. Events associated with mask ceremonies happen much more seldom as in the past and in many more modernized areas it is not practiced at all today". Stern continues," The social fabric has changed in many regions and this has influenced the culture of certain groups of Africa, often, as I had mentioned earlier, it is often the tribes and peoples whose identity has remained the same, where much of the today's finest African Art will originate". "Often this will be some of the most extreme and hard to get to places in Africa", says Stern.
" Each year on our travels we place great emphasis in seeking African Art and Masks from areas that will not win a popularity contest for places to visit", Stern says, "Quite often this is where some of the finest Art comes from". Stern cites an example of meeting an Artist from Liberia on this African travels recently and now is able to source from this region, "Prior to this I had very little knowledge about Liberian Masks and I had never previously acquired any art from this country", Stern says, "The pieces are beautiful of the highest quality, but just as important there still seems to be a strong tribal identity in certain areas of this region".
Stern remarks how many of his buyers are often very interested in pieces that are not readily available in every shop window. " I have been amazed of how knowledgeable our customers are with regards to the culture and heritage of many of the tribes these masks represent". continues Stern, "Over the past 9 years I have had folks walk into our store with books and other reading material and go to great lengths to learn more about the history and symbolism behind the mask that they purchase". "It is wonderful and this often initiates them seeking Art from many other tribes and region across Africa", Stern says.
" I occasionally with get a call from a designer in a major US city seeking a mask or carving from some tribe and/or area that you may never had heard of", Stern tell us, " So it is often a new discovery for us as well and with some of the contacts and sources we have established in Africa, having being born and raised there and travelling back on our buying trips for the past 10 years we most often find that piece. "It is one of those challenges I really enjoy, as it is most often an opportunity to create new relationships and sources and learn about a new ethnicity or tribal society that I may have not come across before".
Stern continues, " As it is with us, it is also a thrill for our customers to uncover and learn about that small tribal group and its respective cultures and symbolism, it underlines, for me, the incredible diversity that represent the peoples of Africa and I have always wanted to bring our customers a true representation of Africa through a diverse selection of Art, be it from a small remote village in Western Africa to a urban city in Southern Africa".
Stern and Nontando will be embarking on another of their buying trips to Africa in 2012
and plan to bring back another collection of fine and unique African Masks.
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Nontando, operating since 2003, has the largest and best selection of African Art, Gifts and Home Decor in Florida. www.nontando.com was launched in 2009 has attracted customers from all over the US, becoming a popular choice for designers and decorators.