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Thomas Ona Mother and Child
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Design, Ethnographic & Ancient Art

Thomas Ona Mother and Child

A charming sculpture of a native lady dressed in a matching blouse, sarong and head scarf, her baby firmly tied to her back

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Thomas Ona Mother and Child

Yoruba, Nigeria

2nd Quarter of the 20th Century

Thomas Ona (1900 - 1952)

Height 29 cm (11.5 in)

Thomas Ona was fascinated by costume and portrayed both Yoruba and Colonialists with their accoutrements of power. Although his subject matter is innovative the figures are carved in the traditional manner in soft wood using an adze and a knife. The proportions are also long-established as the Yoruba people regard the head as the most important part of the person so it is always many times larger than life-size. However, whereas traditional Yoruba carvings are sculpted from a single piece of wood, Ona's carvings are frequently made from a number of pieces and whereas traditionally vegetable dyes would be used, Ona coloured his sculptures using red and black ink and white shoe polish, often leaving some areas, including the flesh, in the natural wood colour. Although Ona's carvings have sometimes been identified as satirical, Ona told Bascom*, circa 1940, that "his works simply showed how he viewed the world around him" (see biblio), and indeed if one compares the treatment of the facial features, particularly the eyes, to those of ibeji from Ijebu-Ode, one can quite clearly see that they are carved in a traditional manner and are not caricatures.

Thomas Ona was born in Ijebu Ode and moved to Lagos, some 100 or so kilometres away where he made many wood carvings mainly for the British Colonialists and visiting travellers in the early part of the 20th Century. His carvings of Yoruba included traditional roles such as mothers and children as well as new colonial occupations such as policemen and postmen. The colonial carvings were equally varied with many administrators, lawyers, missionaries, even Queen Victoria. His work is now held in Museums the world over.


Private British Collection


Africa; Relics of the Colonial Era by Michael Graham-Stewart, pub.1991

The Mlungu in Africa, art from the colonial period 1840 - 1940 by Michael Stevenson and Michael Graham-Stewart, pub. 2003 (see p.99 for an almost identical couple)

Modern African Figurines by William Bascom (Professor of Anthropology, Berkeley) pub.1957

*see Article by Ira Jacknis, Research Anthropologist, Phoebe A Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley

Through African Eyes: The European in African Art, 1500 to Present, by Quarcoopome, pub. 2010, Detroit Institute of Arts

Museum Collections:

British Museum

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow

Fowler Museum at UCLA

Brooklyn Museum

Phoebe A Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley - the collections hold a similar boat group.


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