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Tomb Artifacts from China's Han Dynasty
(206 BCE to 24 CE)
Artifact NotesCollector's Notes
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Collector's Notes

by Ruth Waters

The question can be asked, "Are collectors born or are they made?" In my case, I still don't know. As a child, my Mother forbid me to bring into our small living quarters those dirty bottlecaps, tops from ice cream cups, marbles and other assorted so-called junk an eight or nine-year-old would pick up on the street way back then.

But I knew the day would come when I would be master of my own domain. If I should choose to collect anything, my boundaries would only be my passion and the means needed to satisfy it.When my goals of making a living, meeting my lifelong mate, and starting a family were under way, my wife (who was a professional artist before we met) began to decorate our walls with her own work and the work of other artists. When time permitted, I joined her in the pleasure of gallery hopping, thus expanding our interest to many types of art. After that, the only constraints were time, money, and space, a familiar complaint.

In 1969 we were introduced to African tribal art, about which we did not have a clue. This was a new challenge in collecting. We were accustomed to art with the artist’s name attached. Now you purchase African art either from a reputable dealer or take the responsibility upon yourself as to its authenticity when buying from a variety of strange sources.You accomplish this by learning as much as you can about tribal art (or any other unsigned collectible) from books, lectures, galleries, museum exhibitions, and, today, the Internet.

After absorbing all of this knowledge, in the final analysis, when making a purchase you should still ask yourself, "Do I like the piece? Do I want to own it?" and finally, "Can I afford it?"

We collected African art for almost thirty years, and it enriched our lives. Not only did we enjoy the art stuff, but we learned more about Africa, the continent, than we could have in other ways. A prominent collector of African art was once asked how he came to collecting tribal art. He answered, "How does one fall in love?"

Having donated all but a few pieces of our own collection of African art to art museums when we moved to California a few years ago, we are now heavily immersed in discovering the art and history of China. Again, our information comes from all sources available.You are bound to make mistakes in collecting. Learn to keep them small by starting with relatively inexpensive pieces while you study and learn.

So what do you think, are collectors born or are they made? And incidentally, how does one fall in love???


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