African Art, Home Decor and Gifts from Nontando – Profile on Masks

of Art” if often an applicable description for the West African Masks you will find at Nontando. For the creator of our masks, they consider them as a ritual instrument or cult object for his particular culture.

Every mask you find here plays an integral role in the culture of that particular group of people. The masks have a traditional use; it has an origin and a fundamental significance. A new identity is created with the creation and wearing of an African mask. Its goal is to a reaction; hence many of the masks from Africa can be of an exaggerated expression.

African Masks are made to be used. Used primarily for a ritual, which may include rituals of myth, rituals for increase, agricultural festivities, funerals or burials, ancestor cults, initiations and royal and family ceremonies.

Masks can take on a number of forms and shapes. The most common are face masks, helmet masks, headdresses and crowns. For each respective form and shape, the size can vary.

Materials used can also vary though wood is most often used. Depending on the origin of the mask, you may find a combination of materials used which may include brass, copper, fibers, raffia, and cowry shells. These additional materials are often used to increase the efficiency and power of the mask.

Many of the carvers work initially under the guidance of a master carver and are often selected by the peoples of his tribe. Carvers are regarded as artisans that possess special gifts and talents. The most common tool used is an adze though carvers do also use a chisel, knifes and an axe. When the master carver dies, his best pupils often inherit his tools, which for some, was also a means of transferring the skills of the master to his pupils.

Masks can take on different characteristics including naturalistic features, human features, frightening expressions, abstract features, animal features and superstructures.

Tribal styles vary by country by tribe. Nontando attempts each year, on our annual buying trip to the African continent, to showcase a diverse selection of these styles, which primarily originate from the likes of Mali, Liberia, Cameroon, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Upper Volta, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Congo, and also Tanzania and Zambia.

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African Art, Home Decor and Gifts from Nontando – Profile on Beadwork

Beads and beadwork have tremendous symbolic meaning across all regions of Africa. From the Zulu of South Africa were beads are used as a message of love, to the kingdom of Benin were the use and wearing of beads is strictly worn and controlled by royalty.

Colors and patterns of beadwork adornment come to signify wider issues, from place of origin, to marital status, to religious beliefs, to fashion, even to political allegiances.

Ndebele beadwork is associated with the female status and female creativity and often displays the life-cycle stage of the wearer. The Yoruba of Nigeria associate beads with the power of gods and kings. In Kenya, the Massai used beadwork as a means to identify social institutions in the form of body decoration.

African beads can comprise of brass, copper, gold, silver, iron, various gemstones, wood, seeds, shells and glass. Beads from Africa can date back to as old as the 15th century with the arrival of European traders, following the Portuguese exploration of the African coastline.

Beads are traded widely within Africa, with specialist bead dealers and bead markets still found. African people often create new uses ranging from a single strung bead, through simple and multiple strands to beaded regalia and furniture such as royal thrones. Bead workers also produced beaded robes, cushions, staffs, and other items intended to demonstrate royal wealth and power.

Beadwork most often appears in many color combinations and can be worn by children and adults of both sexes. For the Zulu tribe, it is most often first worn by young adults as the vast majority of Zulu beadwork items are primarily associated with courtship and relations between the sexes.  In general, the more variation of color would indicate the more specific, and therefore personal, the message it could convey to the recipient.

The Massai of Kenya has its origins in the familiar triad of basic colors, red, white and black. As other color of beads became more readily available in the twentieth century we found that different Kenyan groups such as Kikuyu, Kipsigis, Nandi and the Massai, were often distinguished by the prominent use of a particular color.

ImageImageImageThe interplay of similarity and difference of beadwork across Africa and its peoples reflects and responds to the fluidity of ethnic identities across the region.

Nontando completes another African buying Trip, an exercise in more than just African Art

Since its inception in 2003, “finding unique products at prices that our customers can afford” has been the driving force behind Nontando’s annual buying trips to the continent of Africa. 

Gary Stern, owner of Nontando, explains, “Our online and retail customers see the final product, yet our buying trips are about so much more than product, trade and transaction”. Stern explains, “For many of the folks I deal with in Africa, especially the artists, communication and the means thereof, is something very new”. “For many years”, Stern continues, “Many of the folks we deal with in Africa, had very limited ability to communicate in the past due to the lack of technology and other resources.” Stern continues, “This is starting to change, which really helps with the planning and organization of our buying trips”. “Technology is more accessible, more affordable and folks in Africa are becoming more comfortable and knowledgeable and see the benefits in their day to day lives”. On his most recent buying trip in August 2012, gave one his suppliers from Cameroon a digital camera. “He now has a wonderful opportunity to showcase his products internationally and he is seeing the potential for him to reach a global audience”, Stern explains.

“Every year I go back I try and instill the importance of establishing partnerships and building contacts. The artists that have created business relationships internationally have quickly recognized the benefits and potential”, Stern says.

“For me, my buying trips are about so much more than product. Building relationships was and still is paramount”, Stern explains. Stern and Nontando do not measure their buying trip successes on products alone. “Establishing and building relationships for the long term is so important”, explains Stern.

Buying trips can be very challenging but the pros outweigh the cons every time. Getting that cultural and geographic taste and experience, and gaining the in-depth firsthand product knowledge of the items you are bringing back – nothing can replace this!

“Time is limited and logistics can be a challenge,” says Stern.

Nontando normally goes for a period of 3 weeks to African annually and travel to different regions each year. Because of this, preplanning and communication is critical. Stern continues, “I have yet to go on a buying trip were I have not had to make some rapid decisions on a couple of surprises,” he explains.

Some of these surprises can be of a positive nature. Often, I will cross paths with an artist and/or a product that I had not planned for. Product uniqueness has and is a vital component of Nontando’s buying and product strategy and for Stern, it is so personally rewarding when he fortuitously comes upon these opportunities. “Regardless that you may travel with a plan the ability to make decisions on the fly is critical,” explains Stern.

Quality

Depending on the type of product being sourced, and the region it’s being sourced from, the ability to assess the quality is of paramount importance. Stern says, “Selecting and handpicking each of our products is a vital component to our buying trips. Over the past 10 years I have heard many stories from customers that had acquired products from other businesses and also on their own personal travel only to be disappointed with the quality of the item”, Stern says.

“Doing this for over 10 years now has giving us this experience and knowledge to be able to sort the good product from the bad product, avoiding the potential to get ripped off”, Stern says. “We pride ourselves on quality and authenticity and our buying trips is the main cause in achieving this”, Stern says.

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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”.