The beautiful female figure shown above was part of the Myron Kunin collection and listed in the catalogue as Dan. A client asked me to do some research on it before considering to bid on it and I hereby gladly share my findings. Although Sotheby’s mentioned none, I was able to discover a handful other figures from this workshop. Distinctive for this style is the treatment of the face and the particular position of the hands: one horizontal, one vertical – unique for this type of sculpture. Only the height of the neck, shape of the breasts and scarifications on the torso differ among the different sculptures from this workshop. Similar details, such as the rendering of the toes, among all figures, could indicate that they in fact were all the work of one single artist, but without handling the statues, it’s of course not possible to come to a definitive conclusion.
My research became interesting when I discovered the above figure in the collection of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. The museum’s archives hold an old picture of this female figure, taken by Frederick P. Orchard (based in Liberia) and indicating a precise geographic origin for that figure: Towai in the Kwida Section of Liberia, on the border with Ivory Coast. I was able to locate this place on a map in Schwab & Harley’s Tribes of the Liberian Hinterland (which I discussed recently here) – Towai is indicated in red on the map below. Comparing it with the map from the same book concerning the different peoples living in the area, it became clear this was not Dan, but Kran territory!
The Peabody figure was also published in Tribes of the Liberian Hinterland (1947, fig. 71) with the note: “wooden figure by a Kran man”, so the Kran provenance for the figures of this workshop hereby got confirmed. The Dan (‘Ngere or Gio’ on the above map) do lived close by of course. It’s interesting to know that, among the Mano and Dan, the Kran had the reputation of being the best sculptors – so it’s not unlikely Dan patrons commissioned this talented Kran artist to make figures for them.