(Originally published in Main Line Life on 12/10/08)
In the past couple of years I’ve noticed a growing trend of consumers in developed countries buying arts and crafts objects made by needy third-world artisans. Middlemen (some non-profit, some not) link poor village artists to a global, socially conscious buying community with a desire for original, one-of-a-kind art objects. Especially at this time of year, these bright, hopeful catalogs with their slightly odd handmade objects find their way by the dozen to my mailbox.
In the spirit of this global symbiosis, I have formed a new website: YouDeserveIt.Com. Here you can rest assured that your discriminating desire to acquire a singular gift will also help those who are most in need. I offer here a sampling of what our International Team of Acquirers of Rare and Unique Items has posted just for you.
South African land tortoise shell bowl – Naturally we don’t use the real thing (we are, after all environment-friendly!) But these lovely reproductions make wonderful bowls for serving chips and dip, or as that added décor on a dull corner shelf. The rich yellow and dark brown hues bring to mind the very same land tortoises described by explorer David Livingstone in his African travels (he did use the real thing.) $175.
Kafir snuff boxes – Authentic snuffboxes from the ancient Kafir tribe of South Africa, made of cowries and tiger-cat’s teeth. Great for organizing and storing cufflinks. $95. Tahitian palm leaf mats – Futons are so yesterday. These plaited mats made by Tahitian native women can be used for napping, or just sitting around the family room. Small ($325) or large ($550) sizes.
Fish-catching basket – Why fish the same old way everyone else does? Modeled after fishing cages used by ancient tribes of Lake Tanganyika, these deluxe cages of open basketwork are designed to entangle and trap the wiliest of fish. A floating marker of woven reeds attached to your line lets you know where your trap is at all times. (Note: this exact model was used by the famed 19th century British explorer Richard Burton.) Perfect for the father who has almost everything. $450.
Mother-of-pearl fishhooks – Don’t want to do the Hemingway fish-trapping thing? These three-inch hooks, made by real South Seas artisans, follow the natural curve of the shells they are carved from. Every one is different! To add to the native authenticity, a piece of bone is attached with pig’s hair to be used as a weight. No need for bait when the mother-of-pearl glitters and beckons. $75 per hook, or one dozen for $750.
Bamboo bells – In ancient Siam, bamboo bells were tied to an elephant to keep track of its whereabouts (although we don’t know how you’d lose an elephant!). These charming replicas are a lovely, handcrafted addition to any art collection. $350.
Bamboo leaf cloak – Anyone can wear a raincoat. But wait until your friends see you in your water-repellent rush cloak made by Chinese crafters from real bamboo leaves. Originally called a “so-e,” a garment of leaves. Also available: bamboo umbrellas and hats. $625.
Indian boomerang – Originally made popular by boar hunters in India in the 1800s, these heavy dark wood objets d’art are 2” wide, ¾” think and 2 ½ feet long. Due to their sharp edges, we recommend keeping these out of the reach of small children. We think they’re perfect for thumping those annoying neighborhood dogs that relieve themselves on your lawn. Or maybe even their owners. $925.
Basket bottles – These tightly woven basket bottles were originally used by nomads to store camel’s milk as they crossed the Sahara desert. These special reproductions are perfect for bringing to tailgate parties, storing up to a quart of your favorite libation. $295.
Egyptian papyrus scrolls – Own a little piece of the ancient necropolis of Thebes. Or at least own these classy replicas of the actual papyri found by the Italian explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni in 1817. Can easily be framed for better viewing. (Hieroglyphics transcribed by specially trained Egyptian art students.) $550.
Henry M. Stanley’s canoe – The centerpiece of our collection – for the adventurer in all of us. Of course we can’t give you the real thing, but this replica of the actual canoe used by world explorer Henry M. Stanley is as close as you can get. Handmade by native crafters with a painstaking attention to detail, these canoes are ready to take you to new adventures – we presume… $122,000.