Tribal art specialist Ian Shaw is among the exhibitors at the upcoming Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair in Battersea.

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1 How did you get your start?

I initially spent nine or 10 years as a collector in Africa while completing my research on tribal areas, mainly in west Africa, selling two or three pieces each year to fund my travels and my research. From around 2002 more collectors came to me on my return and bought from me. In around 2007 I travelled to Brussels and I was delighted to meet the number of excellent dealers there with generations of knowledge.

I initially collected figurative work from Africa but over the last 15 years I have progressively been attracted to the myriad of textiles from the region. The natural hand spun cotton and natural dyes created in the region demonstrates hundreds of years of knowledge, not only of weaving but also the entire creative process.

2 What is one great discovery you’ve made?

One of my finest discoveries was a very rare 19th century Kente textile from the Ewe people of the Volta region of Ghana. This piece has been woven from hand-spun cotton and demonstrates classic autumnal hues now virtually impossible to find in the region. This piece has been much loved by the original owner, demonstrated by decades of wear and repair to the loosened seams. This is by far the oldest Kente I have ever had the good fortune to own.


A 19th century Kente textile from the Ewe people of the Volta region of Ghana discovered by dealer Ian Shaw.

In terms of my personal collection, I have a very rare seated figure by the Ashante master carver ‘Osei Bonsu’. Osei Bonsu was commissioned in the early 1900s by three Paramount Asantehene to carve for the Royal Court in Kumasi which is the traditional Ashante Capital. This seated figure is of a regional chief demonstrating great sculptural skill and sensitivity. This piece is in my gallery room at home in Glasgow

3 What is something you’d love to get your hands on in your area - a ‘holy grail’ object?

I would love to find is a 19th century Ashante ‘Akua ba’. This figure would have been carved for a young girl when she reaches maturity, and she would carry it with her at all times until she has her own children. Traditionally the prettier the carving the prettier her children will be.

4 Do you have a collection of antiques in your home?

We have a gallery room at home and this is our major current project to present our sculptural work and textiles together in as sensitive a manner as possible.

5 What is your favourite appearance of an antique in a play, film or book?

There is no doubt about this answer. In the 1964 movie Zulu at the Zulu wedding ceremony Chief Cetshwayo is talking through a young interpreter to the pastor de Witt. Cetshwayo is holding a rare Zulu staff of office. The image has stayed with me since I first saw the movie as a child in 1965. It was more than likely a prop made for the scene but for me symbolised the movie.

Tel: 07923 924603