Nontando, your source for African Conversational Art, Masks, Gifts and Home Decor, now 9 years old!

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Nontando, opened its retail store in 2003 in Sarasota, Florida. In 2009 Nontando’s online operation, http://www.nontando.com was launched. Over the past 9 years, Nontando, owned and operated by Gary Stern, who was born and raised in Africa, has become the number one choice for African Art, Decor and Gifts in Florida. With the online operation, Nontando, has attracted customers all across the US and internationally and has become a popular choice for designers and decorators seeking quality African product at affordable prices. Nontando’s buyers travel to the continent of Africa annually, hand selecting products covering a wide array of categories, including Stone Carvings, Wood Carvings, Lighting Fixtures, Leather Hide Products, Music and Musical Instruments, Jewelry, Masks, Textiles, Metal and Wire Figurines, Copper and Brass Range, Pewterware, Giraffes, Shadow Boxes & Frames, Ceramics, Kitchenware, Ostrich and Porcupine Assessories and more. Nontando often deals directly with the African artists and is continuing to strive to bring unique products to the American consumer.

“Our annual trips to Africa gives us an opportunity to assess and select from a diverse selection of product lines to bring to the US market” said Gary Stern, CEO of Nontando. “The innovation and creativity is phenomenal”. Stern believes the US and international consumer have become to appreciate the quality and beauty of African Art.
” Greater exposure and marketability of African Art has allowed the consumer to get a much better appreciation of this art form” said Stern, “It is wonderful to meet artists from all corners of the African continent that are coming up with new ideas to bring unique and beautiful products to the marketplace”. Stern personally does much of the travel and buying in Africa himself but says the rewards are endless. “The scope is plentiful and bringing these talented artists to the forefront of the US marketplace is very satisfying” said Stern.

The owner of Nontando does see challenges with his company’s direct buying and importing approach, “International importing and shipping has its obstacles and having imported each year over the past 8 years the process has not been smooth sailing”, Stern said, “Regardless, we still would not do it any other way. “To find these treasures and bring our customers the best quality product at affordable prices, our buying approach is the way to go” Stern said. He recognizes that the importance of price affordability in today’s challenging economic environment. In 2006 he bought the commercial property that Nontando’s retail business operates from. He limits the use of wholesalers and middleman in his buying strategy. Operates the storefront himself with no employees. Maintains and manages his online business himself. Manages the importing and shipping process in-house, hence reducing the need for 3rd party support and maintains a tight budget on marketing. “All these factors help to limit overhead, with this strategy we can be very competitive with our pricing strategy and bring affordable products to our customers”, Stern said.

Over the past 9 years, Nontando has expanded its product lines and will continitue to do so.
Nontando has a few exciting new products and service offerings in the pipeline.
They accomodate for a wide range of consumer. Stern said, “You can visit our store and find a unique gift for a few dollars, or you can find an electic piece of home decor”.  With the lauch of the website, designed and written by Stern himself, a new frontier has opened. “Its still in its infancy but the initial response has been amazing”, Stern said,”We are very excited thus far with this sales channel”.

Nontando defines the beauty of African Masks

Gary Stern, owner of Nontando (which means of “full of love” in the African language of Xhosa) has a wide smile on his face when we start discussing African Masks. “Thanks to masks, I have been able to forge some fantastic relationships throughout the African continent as well as within the United States”, Stern remarks. He continues, ” Each year when we travel back to the African continent, I place great importance of finding unique and specials pieces”. Many of Nontando mask buyers are collectors, designers and artists. ” We have had many unique requests over the years seeking masks that may cover the entire region of Africa”. This has resulted in Stern and Nontando establishing relationships and building sources in some of the most remote and rural parts of Africa. “Often some of the best pieces often come from areas of Africa that are not frequented  by many folk”, Stern says.”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.

Nontando, operating since 2003, has the largest and best selection of African Art, Gifts and Home Decor in Florida. http://www.nontando.com was launched in 2009 has attracted customers from all over the US, becoming a popular choice for designers and decorators.