Nigerian Thorn Carving

Cotsen 36485, 7.3 x 14 x 18.7 cm.

Cotsen 36485, 7.3 x 14 x 18.7 cm.

Above is a classic example of a modern Nigerian thorn carving from the early 1990’s. Made principally by the Yoruba people since the 30’s, these miniature folk art pieces (sometimes more appropriately referred to as “tourist art” depending on their intended market) usually feature scenes and aspects of everyday Nigerian life. This particular carving depicts a classroom scene where diligent pupils are learning their ABC’s.


The thorns used for these carvings come from 2 varieties of trees: the ata tree and the egungun tree. The thorns grow up to 5 inches in length and their relative suppleness makes for easier carving. They come in three colors: cream, rose, and brown; all three of which are exhibited in our little classroom scene. Though the carving above is mostly composed of recycled wood, the thorn wood provides the color and life of the piece.



Classroom scenes of all sorts are a collection interest of our benefactor Lloyd E. Cotsen. We find them all over the collection, in all sorts of mediums. For the occasion of Mr. Cotsen’s 75th birthday we published Readers in the Cotsen Children’s Library (Princeton : Cotsen Children’s Library, 2005). This accordion style pamphlet (available here in the gallery) included one such memorable classroom scene from our collection:

page 22, reproduction of Oranges and lemons : a book of pictures and stories for children (Cotsen 22656, page 18)

page 22, reproduction of Oranges and lemons : a book of pictures and stories for children (Cotsen 22656, page 18)

If your thirst for classroom related material is still unsatiated, I’d recommend Jeff Barton’s blog post: School Days in Children’s Books about depictions of school scenes from 18th and 19th Century children’s books.



Mechanical Magical Patterns

full view

Cotsen 38582

Above is a hand-operated mechanical magic lantern slide. We might describe it as “kaleidoscopic” but it’s technically not a kaleidoscope, It’s a chromatrope. The device doesn’t contain a cylinder with mirrors that reflect an image in order to create the changing patterns. Instead, the slide is in fact 2 painted slides. As one turns the brass and wood handle, the brass rim rotates the 2 slides in opposite directions creating repeating designs.

Many companies were creating mechanical magic lantern slides it the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. Judging by its condition, our chromatrope slide was probably made in the 20th Century, but it reveals no indication of its manufacturer.

Regardless of who made it, our mechanical slide is a great example of a chromatrope with a very simple but stunning visual pattern.

See for yourself by clicking the image below!


click the image in order to view a moving .gif