In the Far East, the craft of carving ivory has been revered for centuries. Ivory is prized for its close-grained texture, hardness, subtle shades of color, and smoothness. The method of carving ivory and the tools used are very simple and have remained relatively unchanged. Beautifully designed objects were created for definitive purposes, be they utilitarian, symbolic, or ritual.
As trade was established between the East and West, the demand for oriental objects grew. Craftsmen produced a myriad of objects for export trade such as combs, fans, brushes, snuff boxes, cigarette holders, boxes of all shapes and sizes, bird cages, letter openers, and games. Ivory carvers did not, however, neglect their preferred medium of expression, the one most appreciated by the connoisseurs of their art — ivory figures.
The preferred subjects of these highly realistic pieces were old men, warriors, farmers, sages, beggars, fishermen, peasants, and mythical beings. These carved ivory figures show the true essence of the craftsman — an attention to detail in the creation of a perfectly-formed, flawless object of beauty.
The Ransom Center has in its holdings oriental carved ivory figures from the Lyde and Charles Devall Collection.