The Yoruba began creating magnificent sculpture out of terra cotta clay in the 12th through 14th centuries. Bronze figures were made during the 14th and 15th centuries. To create bronze sculptures, artists first made models out of clay. When the clay dried they would put a thin layer of beeswax over the clay and engrave details in the wax. Next, they covered the wax with more layers of clay until they created a thick mold. The mold would then be heated over a fire until the middle layer of wax melted. The artist poured the bronze into the top of the mold through cubes. The bronze now took on the form of the wax that was once there. When the bronze cooled and hardened the outer layer of clay was broken off and the sculpture was completed. These life like sculptures may represent kings and gods.
The Yoruba began to create more abstract wooden sculpture as their major art form later on. Many African cultures choose to create sculptures of humans in an abstract form rather than a realistic one.
Women are the potters in Yoruba society. They make many different types of pottery including pots for cooking, eating, and storage. Palm oil lamps are also crafted. Unique pots are made in honor of Yoruba deities. Pottery is only made in towns where clay is available. It is sold to neighboring towns that do not have access to clay.
Leather and Beadwork
Men are responsible for leather and beadwork. Goat, sheep, and antelope skins are used to make things like bags, cushions, and sandals. Leather scraps in different colors are often pieced together to form designs. Beads are used to decorate crowns, hats, bags, and other items worn by kings and babalawo. Popular bead designs include, human faces, birds, and flowers.
Blacksmiths and Calabash Carvers
Blacksmiths are very important to local towns and are responsible for making tools that many other professions use, such as hoes, axes, knives, chains and hammers. Calabashes (dried gourds) are carved by men and are used to serve food or drink. Goods carried to markets are often carved from calabashes. They are also used as containers for storing medicines and food. Calabashes are also carved into musical rattles.
Calabash carver’s tools
Men are responsible for woodcarving. Woodcarving is the most important art form in Yoruba culture. Men use knives and adzes to carve wood. Divination trays and many other sacred objects are carved out of wood.
Men and women both act as weavers and dyers. Weaving is done on different types of looms. Weavers create hundreds of different patterns on their looms. Wild silk and cotton are used to make cloth. Indigo, a native plant, is often used as a dye to color threads.
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