The Tucson African Art Village
Tucson African Art Village - What is it?
The Tucson African Art Village started around 20 years ago, it started out very small and has grown every year.
The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show takes place in Tucson at the end of January/beginning of February every year.
A few African Traders started coming to display African goods at the same time the gem and mineral show took
place, and every year more and more Traders came to participate. It eventually grew into a larger event and now
every year there are nearly 90+ African Traders from around the US, Canada and Africa that come to participate.
The show has an organizer now who coordinates everything, and in my opinion it's a great event that is worth going
to if it looks interesting at all to you. The key thing is to plan in advance because the Gem and Mineral show literally
packs every hotel and it's hard to get a room or a rental car. The market gives you a chance to see a wide range of
quality of African art all in one place, and it gives you a chance to meet some of the wonderful and friendly African
Traders from across the country. 2005 was my first time to go to the show, I missed it in 2006 but I'm planning on
going out on January 27th and 28th this year.

Below is my experience from the 2005 Tucson African Art Village

At the bottom of the page you'll find information about the 2007 Tucson African Art Village.

2005 Tucson African Art Villaget - 24 Hours of African Art
The reason I called this 24 hours of African art is because it all started out at 4am Thursday Feb 3rd when I woke up
to get ready for my flight at 6am and my journey ended at 4am the morning of Feb. 4th.

I made it into Tucson at 9am and was at the event by around 9:30. I was supposed to meet up with Derek McDonald
at the event, but he had some last minute things come up and couldn’t come out. I did meet up with a collector from
Tucson who took me around and introduced me to everyone there which was awesome!

The African Market event is held in a large field off of I-10 and S. 22nd near downtown Tucson, and the event
coincides with the Tucson Gem and Mineral show which I was told is the largest gem and mineral show in the world.
When I first walked into the area where the African Market was being held I just stopped, looked around, and was
amazed. I felt as if I had been transported to another country. I was simply amazed at the amount of tents that were
set up with the traders offering their wares. The smell of the food, the sound of the music and the atmosphere of the
people walking around and the interaction going on was fantastic. I wasn’t going to meet up with the local collector
for about 40 minutes so I had a chance to do a quick walk through of the area.

A few things caught my eye right away and I made mental notes of them and kept walking. I called Lee Rubinstein to
give him my initial reaction of the event, and I’m sure that he wishes that he wasn’t my first call of the day because I
had my phone in my pocket and it ended up redialing him about 13 times throughout the morning. I guess he at
least got to hear what was going on! I made my first pass through and the event was pretty much what I had
expected, there were some less than average pieces, some average and above average pieces, and a few great
pieces. There were a lot of huge bronzes from Nigeria and Cameroon that I didn’t get to take pictures of that I
thought were interesting.

I met up with Joe (the local collector) who only knows me through my website, and he greeted me like I was a long
lost friend. He has very good friendships with almost all of the traders out there and they all love him. I felt like I was
walking around with a dignitary, it was great! We started off with the first tent and made it to every tent in the event
and he introduced me to every trader (at least a hundred, maybe more?) in the whole show by the time we were
through at the end of the day. I showed him a few of the pieces that really caught my eye and got his thoughts and
he showed me a few pieces that he had his eye on as well. He would get a kick out of the fact that most of the time I
was drawn to the pieces that he was interested in before he told me what they were.

He had told a lot of the traders that I was coming to the show yesterday so a lot of them were already aware of who I
was before I was introduced. There were a few of them that carried some really fantastic pieces, and I decided that
on our 2nd loop it was time for me to start making some decisions on what I wanted to pick up. I mainly went to this
show out of curiosity, and to establish contact with some of the traders that I thought carried some of the better
items. I did come to the show with the intention of hopefully picking up a few interesting items for myself as well.

The show has just about everything you can think of from tables of beads and cloth to rows and rows of masks and
statues, bronzes, terracottas and much more. It ranged from the very old to the newer contemporary items and
everything in-between. Some of the traders that carry some of the nicer pieces also had a stash of their best items
covered up in a corner under a table. I am sure that many of you that have had experience with traders know that
this is a marketing ploy to add mystery and intrigue to some of their nicer pieces. Some of those pieces were shown
to me behind a sheet that someone would hold up so the pieces would be visible to anyone else. Not a lot of these
pieces, as nice as they were, are items that I have a taste for. I did however see 2 of the MOST beautiful Lobi pieces
I have ever seen, they are indescribable. I also saw one of the most beautiful old Kuba cups that I have ever seen.

An interesting observation: Traders were sitting around buffing and polishing some pieces and applying oils and
different substances to others.  Some would stop when you walked by, and others would keep right on doing it.
It was just an interesting observation because I saw people applying things to pieces right in front of me that might
were intended to make the pieces appear older and used. Of course, there were some objects of very good quality
there as well.
Click on any photo to see larger version
African art dealer Oumane Fofana in 2005
Some of my favorite things in the show were a grouping of polychrome puppet heads that were
amazing. Not the type of items that a lot of people have an appreciation for, but after looking at
these pieces up close I found them amazing.
This piece is one that caught my eye right away, it’s not something that I normally would collect, but there was just a simple fascination
with this piece. I did some back and forth with the trader on it but didn't buy it while I was there. I finally decided that I wanted the piece
and my friend Joe talked to him and the trader ended up bringing the piece to Denver to me. I was really excited about this piece, I
couldn't keep my mind off of it after I left the show and I was excited to get it into my collection! The African Art Village is where I fell in
love with African puppets! The photo on the right is from my website.

CLICK HERE to see the African puppets in my collection.
Below are some random pictures of the market. There are probably at least 100 or more tents like
this set up. Unfortunately I didn't take nearly the amount of photos I planned on taking. I had
planned on taking pictures of the items that a few of the traders with really nice pieces had, but I
ended up talking more than taking pictures.
You can click on any image to see larger version.
The piece below was one of my favorite pieces in the show in 2005. It is a boat from Cameroon.
The front part of it is in the picture below and it is attached to the boat with the people rowing it.
Click on any photo to see larger version
Duala (Coastal Forest)
Because life for the Duala people of Cam; roon's coastal forest centered on river and maritime trade, the canoe became a
symbol for Duala existence. Long narrow canoes, relied on for cargo transport, were decorated for use in regattas and
festivals. Canoe models with prow ornaments, some of which found their way into European and American museums, were
made by the Duala during the German Colonial period, from 1884 to 1914.

Canoe model
Wood, pigments, fiber 78 3/4 in. (200 cm)
Field Museum of Natural History

Several people have told me that they have never seen anything like the canoe that I took photos of so I wanted to post
an example for reference.
I flew out that morning with an option to stay the next day but I decided I already did enough damage and
made the contacts that I wanted to so I decided I would try and get back to Denver. I thanked Joe for
graciously spending his day with me, it was fun to have someone like him to walk around with and talk about
what we saw.

I then called the airport taxi to come and pick me up and to my surprise they said they probably couldn’t pick
me up until very late at night. I was going to try and fly stand by back to Denver so I called the airline to
check seat capacity and they advised me that if I wanted to fly back that I would have to pay around $200
extra but there were no more flights left back to Denver that night. Frustrated I tried to get a hotel but I think
that every room in Tucson was booked for the gem show. I finally decided that I’d haul my pieces to the
airport with me and I’d stay there and catch the first flight out. I managed to get the airport taxi to pick me up
and I made it to the airport around 7pm.

I decided that they were probably not going to let me on the plane with the pieces the way I had them boxed
up. I talked to the ladies at the ticket counter who gave me some tape and some scissors so I could cut my
box down and make a box for the Chokwe piece that I could carry on the plane. I asked them about taking
the Songye figure with the pointy horn on the plane and they said that it probably wouldn’t be a problem. I
asked them about flying standby the next morning and told them I was going to be spending the night in the
airport that night and they pulled up the flights for the night, smiled, and said they could get me home that
night through Las Vegas Nevada and it would put me in around 3am and they wouldn't charge me a dime

I made it thought security with my Songye figure in hand, with a few strange looks but nothing else. Caught
the flight to Las Vegas and was very relieved. I had a 2 hour layover in Vegas so I decided that since
everything was starting to go my way I should play a little money in the slot machines. I set my Songye figure
down in the seat next to me and played a quick $20 in the 1 armed bandit slot machine. Did I mention the
$20 went very quick? I had illusions of pulling the handle and winning a small jackpot that would play for my
trip and my purchases but it didn’t happen. Las Vegas Nevada is also one of the only cities I know of that
when you go to get cash out of an ATM machine, the "Quick Cash" option is $200 instead of the normal
$20-$40 you are used to seeing. People also tend to look at you a little funny when you're toting around a
Songye figure with a horn on it's head.

I almost didn’t get on the flight coming home because the lady at the counter taking boarding passes said I
had 1 too many things to carry on. I managed to fit the Dan mask and the Songye figure into my backpack
and asked her if she was happy with that, and after a big frustrated huff she let me on the plane. It was
almost 1am at this point so I think people, including myself were a little on edge. When I was walking down
the isle on the plane I had 2 people tell me that I shouldn’t be allowed on the plane with the figure in my
backpack (the Songye with it’s horn). I didn’t have much patience left in me by then and I felt like threatening
them with the piece but decided it wouldn’t be a good idea. I smiled, then scoured and sat in my seat, took
my Songye figure out of my backpack and put it on to my lap and fell asleep. I got back in Denver around
330am, rolled into the house and back into bed about 4am….the same time I woke up the previous day to
start my little African art journey…

That is why I called this "The Tucson African Art Village…in 24 hours or less!"
" 24 Hours of African Art (plus a little gambling!)"

The African market is an interesting event and I would suggest it to anyone who is interested in going, if you
have the time it is worth the trip! Manage your carry on items a little better than I did, get a hotel room and a
rental car well in advance and enjoy seeing the largest event of this type in the country!

A little information about the 2007 African Art Village
In Tucson in late January and early February there is the Tucson Gem and Mineral show and the African Art
Market happens during the same time, in 2007 it is Jan 27 - Feb 11th. All of the traders set up a small
African Art Village with tents and display their wares. The location of the market is Interstate 10 and West
22nd street (see directions below)

There is a huge range of items and a wide range of quality, and there are usually between 50 and 100+
traders there. There isn't much information about it online if any at all.  

If you plan to go it is best to make a hotel reservation NOW. In 2005 I made a last minute decision to go and
couldn't get a room. I thought I would be able to just get a room when I got there, but when I got to the airport
there were NO rental cars available so I took a shuttle and then I could not get a room for the night because
almost ALL hotels get booked for the Tucson Gem and Mineral show, it is probably the largest one in the US
if not the world. Also, rental cars during this time are almost non-existent but there are shuttles from the
airport to the event if you don't drive yourself.

CLICK HERE to get a map with hotel locations near the African Art Market.

The 2007 show starts January 27th and runs through Feb 11th.

If you have any questions about the show, you can contact the organizer:
African Art Village
I-10 & W. Starr Pass Blvd.
1134 S. Farmington Rd., Tucson, AZ 85713

Information: Charlotte Mack, (520) 869-7895; e-mail
Dates: January 27-February 11, 2007
Hours: 7:30 a.m.- 7 p.m.

I am planning on going out on January 27th and 28th this year.

Link to a map:
Rand African Art
home page
African art dealer Oumane Fofana in 2007 with 2 of my favorite puppets he had.
Below are a few additional photos I took at the show this year (2007)