A Box made of Vegetable Ivory

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Age and Youth: vegetable ivory and ochre.

Vegetable ivory or tagua nut is a product made from the very hard white endosperm of the seeds of certain palm trees. Vegetable ivory is named for its resemblance to elephant ivory. Species in the genus Phytelephas, native to South America are the most important sources of vegetable ivory. The seeds of Metroxylon amicarum, from Micronesia and Hyphaene ventricosa, from Africa are also used to produce vegetable ivory.

Wikipedia

Vegetable Ivory nut. The outer surface has been somewhat removed. You can see the stem at 6 o'clock.

Vegetable Ivory nut. The outer surface has been somewhat removed. You can see the stem at 6 o’clock.

A client brought sone vegetable ivory which he wanted me to carve into two faces. The ‘ivory’ carves well but is very absorbent, which means that it is difficult to polish without leaving the colour of the polish itself impregnated in the material. Traditionally it is stained or painted.

First the hard outer shell has to be cut through.

First the hard outer shell has to be cut through.

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He wanted me to carve two faces, old and young. I found that the shape of the nuts somewhat determined the shape of the face I could carve unless I opted for a very small face – I went with this, and found that the ‘old’ face became ‘old’ on a different sense – it began to look like a human ancestor, with a sloped brow and eyebrow ridges. I opted to stain it with ochre, which I had found in the Northern Cape. You can see a little piece of it in the box. I made a small silver hinge.


 Here are the two faces:

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