African, Côte d'Ivoire, Baule
Wood and pigment
17 1/2 x 32 1/2 x 9 1/8 inches (44.5 x 82.6 x 23.2 cm)
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift of William C. Bertolet, 2000
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About This Stool
The Baule (baw-lay) people who live in the Côte d'Ivoire (coat dee-voir) (Ivory Coast), a country in West Africa, carved and painted this stool. It is unusual because it has two parts: on top, a golden stool whose legs are covered with designs similar to those found in kente (ken-tay) cloth weavings; below, a powerful, spotted leopard who stands squarely on all four paws, carefully holding a small animal in its mouth. The smooth, large forms of the leopard’s back and tail make a sturdy, horizontal support for the smaller, elegant stool with its gracefully curving seat and intricate designs. The leopard is the "king of the forest," and this leopard communicates a king's power to kill as well as his ability to be gentle and compassionate—he is not eating or harming the animal held between his teeth!
Before the twentieth century, West African kings and important members of their courts commissioned stools for ceremonial use. According to some of these cultures’ beliefs, their souls were transferred to their stools when they died and the stools were kept in special shrines. In similar fashion, kente cloth made in Ghana (gahn-nah), a West African country, was made solely for kings. Because each kente pattern expresses a unique proverb or idea, the king wore patterns that communicated specific messages he wanted his people to know. Over time, the production of both stools and kente has become commercial and more widespread. Today, nonroyal Africans as well as African Americans often collect and display stools like this one to honor their African heritage and identity and for the sense of social status they confer.
This object is included in Learning to Look: 20 Works of Art Across Time and Cultures, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by the Comcast Foundation, The Delphi Project Foundation, and Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company.