Ethnographic Art for the Discerning Collector!

Displaying Tribal Art

Collectors use a variety of techniques to spotlight their prized art pieces. Displaying native art is a far more subtle and complex process than simply shining a bright light on your artwork. The following helpful hints will help you create a showcase worthy for your native art collection.

Utilizing display cases is one of the easiest ways to safely display your art. Protecting primitive artworks from both accidents and external contaminants, a display case also provides a formal method of showing off your items. For textiles, you can hang rugs and quilts from wall hangers which distribute the weight of the textile across the hanger. This prevents you from puncturing the fabric or fastening it in a damaging way. For storing smaller works of art, stands for masks and dolls prop them up, allowing for excellent display. Measure your pieces to make sure you purchase a stand of the correct size for the best display options. The preferred presentation is one in which the display stand is minimally, or not, visible, allowing all details of the piece to be shown.  There are various opinions as to whether or not drilling into a piece to secure it is acceptable, as it can be considered alteration of the piece.

Lighting is another area of art display that is important for extending the life of your piece. Battery-operated picture lights can be placed in places where outlets are impractical. Track lights can illuminate a number of pieces at once, and are favorites in museum displays. Spotlights are also useful for lighting a piece from below. Be sure to consult an art conservationist or restoration artist if you’re concerned about your particular art pieces. It’s very important to keep in mind that certain kinds of light will damage specific materials more than others, so be sure to consult a specialist if you have individual questions about your works. 

Display stands can be viewed at www.spectrumartsinc.comImage .

Caring for tribal art

Collecting tribal artwork, or primitive folk art, can be fun and exciting. If you build a collection of art pieces and you don’t have enough room to display them, the following tips will be helpful as you progress in your hobby.

After your artwork has been cleaned or restored, you should place your pieces in a dry place that’s relatively cool. If the temperature in your storage space becomes too warm or too cold, the consequences can damage your hard-won artworks.

Another way to ensure your pieces are preserved safely is to wrap them in acid-free tissue paper. Apart from general protection, this will prevent dust or dirt from settling on your pieces which can cause long-term damage. If you’re dealing with fabric-based art, layers of acid-free tissue paper should be inserted between any of the folds in the piece.

Acid-free boxes that are durable enough to protect the artworks inside are the ideal home for primitive folk art items. Cushion the item on all sides, preventing it from abrasion. You can also add silica packets to the storage drawer to reduce the chance of humidity damaging your artwork.

If you’re concerned about a unique artwork that seems to fall outside of this advice, or you want more personalized considerations for your art pieces, seek out a professional art conservationist for more detailed instructions.Image

Collecting art from various peoples across the world is a fascinating hobby. Wooden sculptures come from a wide variety of different tribes and civilizations, and you can find many interesting pieces right here at Spectrum Arts. But if you’re looking to purchase Native American, New Guinean, or African sculptures, you need to be careful with how you regularly clean your precious artwork. While we’ll be focusing on cleaning African tribal sculptures, these tips work well for any sculpture or traditional artwork made from wood.

The first step to cleaning your African sculpture properly is to carefully remove the dust that’s accumulated on it. Spraying an industrial cleaner may damage the wood that was used to carve your sculpture and maltreatment of your wooden statue could destroy it outright.  Instead of commercial cleaning agents, use a dry cloth to wipe the dust off of the statue.

Next, you can put a wood safe soap – not a generic soap – into a bucket of water. Then soak up the soapy water with your cloth and you can then carefully and gently clean the statue with the damp cloth. Make sure you remove all of the dirt and grime that’s accumulated on your wooden statue.

Now, take a second dry cloth and soak it in tap water. Use this cloth to clean the statue and remove any of the soap that remains on the artwork. Finally, use a dry towel to remove as much water as you can and place the statue in an area with good ventilation. This will make sure that any excess water will dry quickly. Remember to never allow soap, water, or any combination of the two to linger on your African sculptures because it can cause serious damage.

If you have any questions, or you’re not sure how to treat your wooden statues, consult an art conservationist or restoration artist. Remember these tips and you’ll keep your wooden sculptures clean and display-worthy for many years to come.Image

ImageSitting and thinking about what to post this week brought to mind questions I am often asked: “Where does one start with a collection of tribal (or any) art?  How do I know what to buy?  Will it be worth more in the future?”
There are many aspects to consider:  will the pieces be solely for decoration, or are you looking for something which may appreciate in the future?  What is your budget?  Is this investment art? 

Do you want one or two statement pieces or are you trying to amass a collection?  Will you collect a specific type of item (ex. masks of the world)?  Will you collect a particular tribal or ethnic group’s work or will you collect a particular type of item (ex. shields of African tribes) or artist, or area of the world?  Is provenance important to you?  What is your space availability?  Do you have the proper conditions for storage/display of the objects?  What is the availability of the items you wish to collect (must you travel, are there galleries specializing in your interest area, are you a flea market picker, an EBay peruser)?


First and foremost, the answers can be found with a bit of research—nothing heavy duty—simply visit available galleries, museums, internet sites (ex., and shows (ethnographic, antique).  Talk to the dealers, curators, gallerists.  Ask about the type of pieces that interest you.  Find out where they originate from, what they are related to, what their value potential may be.  Ask about good reference books, go to, Barnes and or any of the other major booksellers with a search engine.  Type the subject into Google, Bing, or any of the multitude of search engines on the web.  Check out the major auction houses and galleries online.
Finally, be very aware of your budget!!!  Choose the best piece you can afford without guilt.  Look for fine quality art/craft.  Approach the purchase with the idea that the piece in some way “speaks” to you, that you like it well enough to display it, whether or not it appreciates in the future—that way you will never feel cheated or have buyer’s remorse.  Never pay more than you think it is worth to you.
As you acquire more knowledge, you can refine your collection by upgrading the quality or rarity of your pieces.  Now you have officially gained the title of “Collector”!!!

In the Beginning….