Saturday, December 1, 2012


 Handheld figure by Robyn Gordon

I set out to carve a figure that fits comfortably in the hand and which would eventually develop a patina from handling it. It has a long way to go :-)

 Power figures by Robyn Gordon

I love the patina on wooden objects which are used daily.

Photo by David Lacina. Click here to see more of David's photos.

Look at these beautiful headrest/stools which are still used all over Africa. They are carried around by tribesmen wherever they go (hoping, perhaps for a cat nap under a tree) .

 How Kenya's Turkana men sleep by Victor Englebert. See Victor's blog here.

African headrests are carved out of a single piece of wood to the correct height and size to fit the user's head. The headrest should keep the head off the ground and keep the hair-do from being mussed.

Photos by Eric Lafforgue. See website here.

They are also used to sit on.... especially if the terrain is thorny.

 Hamer Grandpa, Ethiopia by Manon van der Lit.  Click here to see more of Manon's photos on Flickr

Carved dolls are handled daily by young women who wish to be blessed by the fertility deity, in the hopes that one day they will conceive beautiful, healthy, fat babies. They are worn tied in front ......

..... carried on the back ...

Akuaba Doll, Ghana. Photo credit: Herbert M. Cole.  More information here.

.... or played with in much the same way as my daughters played with their dolls.

Dassenech girl with doll by Eric Lafforgue. See website here

In Angola the Mucubal babies wear Ombeleketha talismans on their backs until the baby is walking.

Mucubal baby, with talisman  by Eric Lafforgue. See more of Eric's wonderful photos on Flickr here  or on his website here

With daily handling the patina of these objects deepens with sweat and natural oils. Some times goat fat is rubbed into the wood.

Agere-Ethiopia's photos on Tumblr. See more here.

It's easy to tell the difference between newly carved objects and those which have been used constantly for food preparation and storage.

Eric Lafforgue. Website here.

Hands of Samburu Tribeswoman by Keren Su. See more of Keren's work here

Walking sticks develop a lovely smooth sheen where the hands constantly grip ...

Agere-Ethiopia's photos on Tumblr. See more here.

..... and then there are the guns which unfortunately also develop a well used sheen.

Agere-Ethiopia on Tumblr. See more here.


  1. robyn, i like the way my bone folders age with use. i have a stone i like to hold, i wonder if it's color has changed? i don't know-

  2. oh, and i can hardly imagine wooden headrests!

  3. oh, robin - your work and your rich posts always leaving thinking, savoring and feeling 'more'... i thank you so much for sharing all of your gifts... putting your work into this context was so moving... and your hand helds? boy, i know where one could develop a lovely patina from constant handling...

  4. Fascinating post. Your handhelds are wonderful. I would gladly help you achieve the patina :-)

    Short story - I bought one of those fertility dolls - unknowingly at a flea market (California) from a man selling African pieces. I didn't have a clue what it was - just drawn to it. We were trying to adopt without much success - until that doll. Luke entered our lives about 10 months later! Quite a powerful blessing!

  5. lovely post Robyn.
    i think this is why i love to use found objects in my work.
    the 'patina' obtained only from years and years of use on the wooden, metal or paper found objects are a huge part of the story told when these desperate pieces come together.

    your 'hand held' pieces will achieve the much desired 'look' in time, and their beauty will be enhanced.

  6. mmmmmm a post on patinas with all these beautifully warm images. I'm struck by the differences between our lifestyles and what we think of as comfort and those who carry their own wooden pillow that doubles as a stool.

    Wish I could come sit in your studio and watch you carve for a while!

  7. So in love with this post. I find myself drawn to wood and I love your handhelds. I loved seeing some of the history behind the talismens too. As for those headrests . . . . as much as I love wood I think I'm sticking with my pillow. :0)

  8. Interesting to think about a sculpture that is meant to be handled and develop a patina - and one in a museum that one is not suppose to touch. And then a painting, being an illusion, is meant to stay that way, a fixed moment in time, whereas the beautiful headrests and fertility objects or talismans change. Musing as I write, but I like thinking about this. Yes, there is functionaly vs. non-functional thing, but it is more than that...

  9. les grigris ...personnages formidables dans leur écrin..
    tu me surprends toujours! salutations depuis la suisse

  10. What a wonderful post Robyn! I always love to see pictures of your amazing world that is so different from mine. May your carved figure develop a lovely patina!

  11. Robyn, I Love your handheld, Some lucky person will spend years giving it a fine patina. I love anything that is old and worn and has years of love stamped all over it, I want to make my paintings like that, I don't want them to be precious, I have not figured it out yet, but I will. xoxo

  12. Robin, comme vous savez toucher le coeur de la matière là où il rejoint celui de l'humain!
    Se dévoile alors, en osmose avec la main de l'artiste une nouvelle forme.
    Porteuse de mouvement dans son apparente immobilité. Porteuse de sens.
    Merci de tout ce que vous nous donnez à voir.

  13. Especially loving the hand held with nails, which rather defeats the urge to hold it..ironic. Loving the photos of all- gorgeous!

  14. What a completely fascinating and beautiful post. Your power figures are extraordinary!

  15. Patina is the story oh how well it was used and, Sometimes loved. I love the nail hair on the second one. I would rub his head. :-). No, I love all of them.

  16. There is something warm and primal about your hand helds. I am drawn to them. I could definitely see communing with them when feeling sad or seeking inspiration.

    something definitely speaks from all these precious objects and their patina. in my mind I contrast that to the modern world's ever seeking the new and shiny.

    your post makes me feel grounded and warm (in this cool, rainy place I write from)

  17. I have such a deep love for the patina on wooden utensils. I have a whole drawer full used by my Mom, grandma’s, and me and Kurt. I love the spoons and little ladles stained by red berries or golden curry.

    As Zendot Carole said, there is something grounded and warm in these lovely wooden objects that is soulful and comforting. The perfect blend of human and nature. Thank you.

  18. A fascinating and enlightening post. Love your dolls. Thank you.

  19. Beautiful photos, your carved doll is divine.

  20. Ah Patinas! I once read a book about art forgeries and all the interesting ways they got 'patinas' to give their artwork an aged appearance. Nothing beats time and use of course, but apparently interesting things can be done with an oven and manure ;)

  21. I love the look of that little fellow with the face and legs, I love patinated wood.

  22. I have seen some of those headrests on Antiques Roadshow lately. I have wondered if they really use them. They look so uncomfortable. Then I remember back in the 60's when we would go to bed with rollers in our hair. ha... Life doesn't change much from continent to continent. Love those hand held talisman. A friend of mine wears her little bag on a chord. I am sure it has a name. It has changed in color over the years.

  23. as ever your post is wonderful in the true sense of the word! I love your hand held dolls especially the one with the nails!

  24. If patinas could be seen on how often a blog is viewed, 'stroked,' (and appreciated, if not loved), then yours surely would have a deep, rich one.
    I love the colors of the fabrics, beading, (and chipped nailpolish?) next to the worn, bare but patina-ed wood.

  25. Somewhere in the linear future someone will covet this very handheld power figure for its patina and the power it will gather from all its absorbed hours with hands and intention. We must trust this to be.


  26. I must say that your hand carved fertility figurines approach very much the "hand held" patina.

  27. Always so interesting here Robyn...those head rests are a wonderful idea and so versative; and the dolls; and the vessels and walking sticks. I love them all. There is just something so beautiful about these much loved and used objects.
    Your hand held figures are beautiful...I can imagine holding one in my hand, a talisman.

  28. Velma, these objects feel like old friends don't they?! Your bone folders, my chisels .... they begin to fit perfectly into ones hand.

    Thank you Mary-Jane. I wonder who suggested I carve hand held figures ;-)

    Judy S, what a wonderful story! A goosebump moment reading your comment.

    Rebeca, finding old worn tools at the markets always gives me a thrill. To hold the handle of something used by a carpenter and wonder what stories it could tell.

    Crystal, I get a crick in my neck at the thought of using a headrest as a pillow but I suppose it's something one gets used to from a young age.

    Kathryn, lol... yes I'm sticking with my pillow too.

    Valerianna, your comment give me food for thought too. It's such a pity that these objects will eventually be redundant. Seeing them in use is thrilling. I had always seen the headrests stacked on top of each other at markets and then when I saw one of the sellers lying asleep on the grass with his head on the neckrest i could feel the magic.

    Elfi, you also surprise me with your art. You have wonderful ideas.

    Thanks Heather, my world is quite different to the world in these photos. South Africa is more modern than the rest of Africa where the tribal people use headrests and fertility dolls but we do get to see these items at markets.

    Thanks Annie C, I suppose the longer we use and keep objects around us they will show the signs of use. It will be interesting to hear what you come up with.

    Francine, thank you! Your comment is a beautiful poem. I'm so grateful that Leslie told me about translate/google.

  29. Thanks Linda Sue, that's why I put the spiky figure in a box:-)which I must admit doesn't quite fit as comfortably into the hand as the other one.

    Seth, thanks so much. I really enjoyed blogging about so many favourite artifacts.

    Thanks PJ, indeed the patina could tell a story.

    zendotstudio, thank you! Warm, primal and grounded makes me happy.

    Leslie, until a little while ago I had my moms wooden spoons stained with soup, curry and jam. So many happy memories.

    Jo, my pleasure :-)

    Ro, thank you.

    Shayla, yes... lol.... I know about the manure. I think I will go the long way round and let time take it's course.

    Penny, nothing like the sheen on old worn wood to invite one to touch it.

    Lisa at G, lol .... I have never tried sleeping with rollers in my hair.

    Thanks Lyle, I thought you might enjoy the one with the nails :-)

    Robin, I like the thought of my blog having a rich patina... thank you!

    Mansuetude, trusting it to be :-)

    Thanks Wim.

    Jacky, ... and the wonderful thing is when these wooden objects break they are not thrown away but mended with wire or goat gut stitching.

    Thanks so much Judy.

  30. I can't imagine lying my head on one of the wooden pillows, but wood probably has move give than I realize.

    What a wonderful feeling it will be for someone to hold one of your dolls in their hands.

  31. Really fabulous Robyn, I would love holding and feeling the warm smooth beauty of one of your dolls! It would panini in no time :-)

  32. What a sweet little talisman, that first figure you carved. I may have a go at shaping a piece of driftwood which is already weathered by the sea.
    I have my mother's and grandmother's biscuit bowls in which they made biscuits for breakfast every day. The patina is as you described, smooth and worn by hands, showing color changes from the fat they used in their recipes.
    Friends laugh at me when I swear I'll never re-finish my wood floor because I love the patina they're developing from thousands of footsteps. And then there's old silverware!

  33. such a lovely post Robyn... and then there is the patina of weather and time. Last year an enormous branch fell under the weight of snow. The remains had to be cut for safety reasons. In the past year I've watched the bare oval that had once extended into a branch change from a bright color, to a softer, worn, warm brown. I enjoy watching it change from my bedroom window....though I do miss the bough that is no longer there.

  34. Dear Robyn, I am in love with your wooden figures that can be held by a hand and worn with love and wonder. And the photographs are truly beautiful here, the fabrics, the faces, the worn wood. Thank you again for all you share.

  35. Linda, I don't think I could sleep with a wooden pillow .... though maybe I would try it out watching TV on the floor.

    Karin, hey, so lovely to see your profile pic out in blog land again!

    Jo R, yes, silverware gets that lovely patina with edges smoothed. I tend to agree about wooden floors remaining unvarnished.

    Thanks Laura, looking through the eyes of a photographer like yourself we remember to slow down and notice the changes in nature.

    Roxanne, thank you. I love seeing artefacts similar to the ones I collect, actually being used.

  36. Laura, your comment reminded me of a quote i had read somewhere. I've just remembered and looked it up.

    "Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured." - Hermann Hesse

  37. Hi R - one of the things I missed over the last few weeks has been the ability to stay in touch with our blogging community. Our internet access was a bit dodgy so we could do bits and pieces but not a lot of opportunity to browse and savour posts like your A Gathering We Will Go and this one on the things people use and put their patina on. I'm glad I'm back on the mountain to get my inspirational input from you. Thanks. B

  38. Stunning photos and awesome concept. I love the idea of your carving continuing to evolve after it's been carved.