Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I am often asked about the symbolism behind my carved doors so I decided to write a post about it.

This door is called Ancestral Secrets. It is based on the shape and concept of the Dogon granary doors from Mali. It is a door of protection... protecting whoever or whatever lies behind the door, whether it is grain, wealth, information, knowledge, herbs, medicines, healing secrets, survival secrets, household secrets, precious things, people, family etc.

As in the authentic granary doors, I have rows of ancestor figures to stand guard, to watch over the owner of the door. They also stand as a link between man and God.

The central motive is a metal CROSS and carved wooden FACE.

This type of cross is a universal beware, no entry sign to stop unauthorized people from entering. This includes uninvited guests or intruders .... someone who would steal the secrets.

The face within the cross symbolizes the centre of the world, the NAVEL OF THE EARTH. In Africa a large navel is a sign that a powerful spirit has left the womb. The four arms of this cross symbolize the 4 directions, the 4 corners of the earth as well as the 4 elements.

The central face also stands for the SUN which brings light into the darkness and nurtures life. It is ascribed great healing powers. In Africa (and other countries) offerings are often made to the Sun. I have incorporated the offering bowl into the bird which is flying toward the sun.

Birds are messengers of God. They also stand for fertility, love, clairvoyance, power, danger, discipline, prudence .... and laughter. The pigeon is a symbol of reciprocal love.

The Senufo people consider the snake to be a symbol of rebirth as it sheds it's skin annually. It is also a teacher of healing. Healing within the family ... the tribe. Offerings are often brought to snakes. (See the bird offering bowl opposite the snake)

The keeper of tribal secrets. It is protected by its shell and because it can carry its house of secrets wherever it goes it is considered highly intelligent.

* Key and Lock:-
Secrets are kept under lock and key.

* Arrow heads:-
Another sign of protection.

* Small leather packages :-
Hunters will wear little packages of herbs and magic around their necks or sewn onto their hunting jackets. These will give the hunter protection, strength, courage, wisdom as well as making the hunter invisible to the enemy (or animals they are hunting). I have attached these muti packages to the door to give these qualities to the owner of the door.

* Leather Purse:-

* Black and white patterning:-
Represents the contrasts of dark and light,
good and evil,
male and female,
ignorance and knowledge

White also stands for purity and protection.

* Various markings:-
Record births, deaths, livestock etc.

More about the symbolism here.


  1. This is my favorite piece of yours so far, Robyn! So full of symbolism and beauty. It's just too marvelous for words.

  2. Amazing work, Robyn...the symbolism makes the viewing that much richer...

  3. just fabulous Robyn! it is a stunning piece of work! i particularly love the way you have incorporated the offering bowl into the bird, which I immediately assumed was a dove! magnificent!

  4. This is beautiful, ALL of the work that you do is, but the fact that it has real symbolism behind it, reflecting long held beliefs makes it all the more magnificent. People should believe more in this kind of magic, our lives would be much more rich and interesting if we did.

  5. Stunning! Entering a house with such a door would surely demand one's presence, attention and humility... awesome.

  6. wow. this is fantastic....such meaning and work!! not to be morbid, but for some reason i'm thinking about the Egyptians and their burial rituals. i'd like a coffin made that is all tricked out with protections even though i dont believe in afterlife i just think it would be a cool thing to go down with.

  7. Fascinating story behind this stunning masterpiece that truly commands! This is such a magnificent work of art.. is it in a residence? The surrounding walls look as though it's in a building of importance..
    Your pieces define inspiration!

  8. This is so wonderful to learn about! And now I have a new perspective on the little leather pouch in my piece! Thank you for sharing.

  9. just looking at the door itself--
    the whole is in such harmony it seems to be vibrating in flight, in power, song--

    love the symbolism.

    what you say of the pigeon, for me here is a mourning dove which always nests in pairs, always comes to the house and cooos like a softened innocent owl.


  10. Thanks for sharing the meanings (or possible meanings) behind the symbols. We all need to see such things in today's world of two-dimensional symbols: no parking signs, facebook icon, the big yellow arches for McDonald's.

  11. Magnificent!
    I do hope they are using it for their actual front door! I can't imagine anything better.

  12. This is probably my most favorite of all your posts ever Robyn! Thank you so much for guiding us through your simply amazing door, and all that lies behind it. You've taken my breath away.
    love, Karin

  13. Fascinating, Robyn. So much knowlege and experience in your symbols. Thank you for explaining. What a treat! I have to mention that the texture of that face is thrilling.

  14. This door takes my breath away with it's beauty and spiritual grace. I am so glad to know the symbolism and how you come to a place for creating for someone. Just marvelous. xox Corrine

  15. Gorgeous door Robyn. I could have guessed you are a symbolist. Makes your art all the more richer knowing there is intent behind it.

  16. ...oh dear!...mine's white UPVC....with boring glass panels and cobwebs :-(

    ...I'd MUCH rather a door like this one :-)

  17. This piece is mastery itself, so proud and potent. I can only imagine how our homes would feel would that we could enter through such a portal day after day.
    I love your descriptions of all of the symbols and am deeply touched by the collective ancestral wisdom thst is available to each of us as we look beneath the surface of the ordinary (to find that everthing is extraordinary) this work conveys

  18. this could be in a museum..
    thank you for drawing me into each symbol. the weatheredness, the touch must feel like centuries held within: this is how it looks to me.
    symbols of life for all.
    amazing amazing a ma zinggggg work.

  19. This is so beautiful. I'm sure its new owners are glad they asked you to make it for them. Knowing the symbolism makes their home an extra special place, too, a place of peace and joy.

  20. I feel so enriched with the knowlege of all the symbolism. It allows me to appreciate your work even more. This is beautiful even without knowing all the symbolism.

  21. A truly stunning and beautiful piece of work Robyn. I've always loved the idea of symbols and spells for protection and stories about mystical gatekeepers.

    If I could, I'd have you make every door in my house! Fabulous.

  22. Wow I love the door and the symbolism explanation really amazing!

  23. Thank you so much for such a wonderfully detailed post about the symbolism surrounding this magnificent door - WOW. Lucky owner :>]]

  24. Thank you so much for your
    post . I admire your work and it
    is nice to know your symbolism.

  25. What an amazing post - absolutely magical! I've found your blog some days ago and I can't stop wondering, sighing and smiling out of delight, while "exploring" it. It reveals a completely different world to me! I love the language of symbols...

  26. the explanations of each symbol make your carvings even more interesting.In particular the interest and knowledge you have of your own country.I know a few of the various aboriginal symbols, but found to my dismay not many.
    Of course I dont expect to know them all but i must do a bit more research, although I suspect as they had a nomad existence, then taken over by missions many have disapeared.
    You keep stretching me!

  27. Great


  28. I see strong magic here, Robyn, both in the art itself and the spirit you used to create it! Magnificent!

  29. This door just blows me away, Robyn! Thanks for sharing the symbolism of this amazing piece of art. If I came to someone's house and this was their door, I'd never go inside, not because of the door's protective powers, but because I'd just want to stand there and stare at the door! ;~)

  30. Wow!! I think such a door would make me feel very protected living behind it. Thing is, it's so stunning I would just sit on the doorstep and look at it!

  31. What a wonderful post. I plan on sharing with my IB "Visual Art" students. I'm sure they will find it fascinating.
    Thank you for sharing.

  32. How lucky they are to own such a wonderful work of art with so much meaning. You put so much effort into your work Robyn, it's outstanding.

  33. Thanks Deej.

    Willow, thanks so much.

    A Creative Dream, African symbolism intrigues me. The animals in particular because they are usually metaphors for human behaviour.

    Cat, I was quite pleased with how the offering bowl turned out.

    Valerianna, I've always wanted to carve a full size door. One day!

    Paula, Have a look at these >>>

    Heather, the little pouches incorporated into your totem are filled with good wishes.

    Lisa, The photograph shows the door in my courtyard where I carve but in 2 weeks time it should be in the States.

    Mansuetude, you say the nicest things. Thanda.

    Kim, in South Africa we often see modern symbols like the coco-cola and marmite labels or even no parking or stop signs incorporated into art. At the moment huge Marmite or Lucky Star Pilchard paintings are the rage .... and very effective too.

    Thanks Weaver.

    Pamela, lol .... you would have to bend down pretty low to get through the front door. I've used the door concept but basically it is for decoration .... unless someone made a cupboard for it.... or a granary.

    Karin, that is wonderful to hear!

    Shayla, my husband really loves the face too.

    Corrine, the someone it's going to is pretty special.

    Thanks Katherine.

    Chris, my front door is quite boring too .... but I may do something about it.

    Donna, symbolism is rather exciting isn't it? If you take the time you can find it everywhere.

    Neva, that is my intention to make it look as if it has a history.... I'm so glad you can feel it through these photos. The photo of the whole door is not the best.

    Jo Reimer, the new owner chose this door after I made it and everything seemed to fall into place for her due to all sorts of circumstances. It was meant to be and I couldn't be happier!

    Lisa at Greenbow, I must say I enjoy knowing the story behind art pieces too.

    Jo Archer, now thats a thought!

    Thanks Amy.

    Marie-Aimee, thank you.

    Jala, I'm enjoying this!

    Sweetpea, I feel very lucky that the door is going to this particular person. She is a joy!

    Kathyd, I've enjoyed sharing the symbolism and I had no idea just how much bloggers would enjoy hearing about it.

    Rossichka, you have made my day, thank you.

    Penny, I am so intrigued by the Australian aboriginal art and have a wonderful book about it though I would like to read more about the ancient cave paintings.

    Lin52, thank you.

  34. Thanks SKIZO.

    Sharmon, I appreciate your comment, thank you.

    Zappha, I'm smiling .... in fact grinning with all the great comments...Wow!

    Annie, that's why it is for hanging on the wall :-) But I'm really thinking of carving my front door now.

    Adventurous Art teacher, really? I feel honoured, thank you.

    Thanks Ro.

  35. la traduction google n'est pas évidente ... alors je ne comprends pas tout... mais les photos sont très prenantes et la couleur magnifique..

  36. This is incredibly intricate and infused with deep holiness...thank you for sharing all of your secrets with us. Gorgeous work Robyn!

  37. This is so powerful and knowing the symbolism makes it even more.
    Your work WOW...WOW.
    I could go on and on..
    Take care,

  38. I love reading about the symbolism in this piece. I've enjoyed catching up with you, Robyn!

  39. Robyn,

    As others noted--this is a truly sumptuous post to go with your door; both are amazing entry ways into the invisible world surrounding us. I'm fascinated how your draw in (literally) symbolism from tribes across Africa. I look forward to learning more as I read your posts:)

  40. Its good to be reminded Robyn of how deeply valuable and important to protect was something like grain for instance. Imagine if we had this value for the things in our life that sustain us truly... not trinkets but things that really matter!
    I like those carved figures - its uncanny that they look not unlike amphoras in a way...vessels used for storage all around the mediterranean- I dont know about further south...
    I think your studio must be a fascinating place! Such a delight to be treated to this revelation of what's behind the work... thank you!

  41. Oh my Robyn...I find your work so incredibly beautiful and also profound. Your carving has such an ancient and timeworn quality and the symbolism just adds so many fascinating layers to your work. Wood carving of the quality and beauty that you do seems almost like a lost art...a very unique medium to work in, as well as a style that has a primal quality, yet you are a contemporary artist. I'm so curious to know how you began this path. It would be a fabulous read to know a little about your artistic journey....I'm wondering if you would feel comfortable sharing it with your ardent admirers?
    Best, Cynthia

  42. I loved reading the insight and meaning behind this piece. Art certainly can speak volumes.

  43. Dear Robyn,

    I looked at this particular posting two days ago and failed to comment until now.

    Your work is absolutely fantastic but there is a more important element I wish to comment upon. It is in regards the symbolism and their meaning, for I find this equally important as the work itself.

    I find that work that is not only carefully planned and executed but also fulfills to combine the symbolism of mythology and folklore carries on a most ancient tradition of oral storytelling around a campfire, keeping tradition and history alive from one generation to another.

    I thank you for sharing your process with us.

    Warmest regards,

  44. Thanks Sylvia!

    Elfi .... photos, couleur and magnifique, I understand. Thank you!

    Laura, this is work I love to do and I'm so thrilled that you and so many blog readers have enjoyed the symbolism.

    Katelen, knowing the symbolism does make it more interesting doesn't it?

    Thanks Beth.

    Karine, I get the feeling your are so busy. Nothing like being totally involved with your art is there?

    Hannah, the symbolism in African tribal art is so exciting. I've been studying it for years and forget that not everyone knows about it. With my pieces I add my own symbolism to it and it seems to work.

    Sophie, I will try to find photographs of the most amazing African amphoras to show you. You are so right about valuing what matters. There are times when I really yearn to return to a simpler way of life ... but then I wouldn't have access to this phenomenal world of the internet. Googling and blogging have been the most wonderful unexpected surprises in my life. Though I have had the internet for 4 years now I still can't get over it ..... and can't get enough of it.

  45. Cynthia, in my sidebar there are a few interviews I have done about how I started etc. Textures Shapes & Colors and Artnlight sum it up pretty well. Thanks for being interested. I do like what you have had to say in your comment especially about the primal/contemporary aspects of my work.

    Azirca, its surprising how often I chat to people here in my town who don't see (or even want to see) the symbolism in art. It's all about the decoration rather than the layers of meaning within the work.

    Egmont, I have been wondering how you are are getting along and have missed your thoughtful comments. I hope all is well. Thanks so much for sharing your impressions here. Oral story telling plays an important part in my life and my art. My husband is the most incredible storyteller and he is invited on "safaris" because of his storytelling abilities.

  46. Robyn---my ancestors look at me each morning! Wonderful, wonderful door! Does one grace your entryway?

  47. robyn, I cant tell you how many times I have been back to look at the door! It is wonderful and the new owners will be very proud to show it off! thank you for sharing the details with all of us. what a learning experience! lyle

  48. This is a post I will have to come back to again and again. I love that you share with us the meaning of this amazing door, and all of it's symbols. Especially about the birds. I hope your Saturday is lovely and filled with inspiration. roxanne

  49. Robyn...Thank you for pointing out the interviews on your sidebar...I am so enthralled with your posts when I visit, I neglected to check out your interviews. So interesting to read how you started carving at such a young age...growing up in Los Angeles, it is difficult to imagine not having electricity or TV, but I think it would be a very rich, creative and imaginative environment.

    Carl Jung talked of the collective unconscious...innate dispositions we all have that are represented by archetypes, often represented by symbols. Your work, so compelling and universal, seems to tap into the collective unconscious, and I think it is one (of many) of the reasons why your work is so appealing and mysterious and beautiful.

  50. I particularly love the bird with the offering bowl. Thanks for explaining the symbolism used. It deepens the experience of viewing your art.

  51. Cynthia, I had the best of two worlds because we had the farm in the Drakensberg where there was no electricity but it was the most rich and wonderful life and because my step father had a business in the city we also had a house with all the mod cons in town. ... except for TV because South Africa just didn't have TV until much later.

    Toni, someone always has to have the piece I have on my wall so i end up letting it go thinking I can always make another, but of course the next one I make has a different character. I've managed to hold on to the one for 10 months now since there is such an outcry from my family when I try to take it down.

    Lyle, glad you have enjoyed the symbolism.

    Roxanne, someone could write a book entirely about bird symbolism.

    Thanks Marilyn.

    Leslie, the symbolism does add to it.

  52. So beautiful Robyn, the next best thing to viewing this door would be to touch it, to run fingers and hands over the for sure!

  53. Wow!! Loved this post Robyn!! i will actually have to go back and read it again!! I agree with Blue Sky Dreaming and would love to run my fingers over that door!!

  54. mmm..

    very magical stuff going on here..

    I especially love the herb bundles..

  55. Oh my goodness, Robyn. This door is stunning! Can't even come up with enough adjectives to do it justice. It's truly a masterpiece! Looks like something you might find in a museum.

    I loved reading about the symbolism, thanks for the explanation.
    Gaby xo

  56. Simply awesome, Robyn. It would stop me in my tracks simply to encounter it - your explanation of its symbolism takes one many steps deeper.

  57. A facinating and informative post! I love that there is so much meaning in the beauty of your carvings. They're true treasures!

    I've been enjoying catching up here:)

  58. Magnificent! Doors and doorways were already so symbolic and now you've made them magical. Everybody should have such a door to keep them protected. There is nothing so marvelous as an artist who puts so much thought in every aspect of her creation. Thank you for being such an artist, Robyn.

  59. Totally fascinating - your work is magical!

  60. Wow! The door is amazing. I love all the details and the meanings behind them.

  61. This is great. The symbolism isnt that far away from pagan symbolism here in the UK. some rune meanings and symbols are very close. The strongest rune for protection is a multi stemmed cross.

    I am humbled looking at your carvings. Regards Dave X

  62. oh my Robyn-- so much symbolism and meaning in every aspect of your carvings-- shows how connected your spirit is to your work-- thank you for sharing your thought process behind your creations

  63. Robyn-this door takes my breath away! It is simply stunning! And all the rich sybolism that adorns and imbues this piece of art is just...words truly fail me. You are truly blessed with your talents Robyn. Oh the magic of creating this...and the magic of us all seeing it! I would love to run my hands over the whole

  64. Such a superb work of art Robyn. It should be appreciated by a much wider audience. The symbolism is rich and fascinating.

  65. Mary Ann, I have a thing about running my hands over wood as you can imagine. Smooth or weathered.

    Thanks Manon.

    Grrl, talking of herbs. We pick khakibos to put in the dog baskets for fleas. Apparently it came from Australia in horse feed. I must try and find out its Australian name.

    Gaby, thanks so much!

    Avus, glad you enjoyed the symbolism. Thank you!

    Lucky Dip Lisa, we've missed you!

    Curio, that's what art is all about isn't it?

    Thanks Caroline.

    Claudine, I enjoy the symbolism too. Thank you.

    Dave, there are so many symbols that are similar throughout the world. It's interesting delving into the symbolism.

    Donna, I'm quite amazed at how interested so many people are.

    Thanks Soroya, hope you are feeling better soon.

    Thanks Cathy.

  66. what an amazing panel! I love it. It is so mandalla like. a self contained universe. great symbolism!

  67. Thought id stop by and say hello. Richard from the Amish community of Lebanon,pa.