Fatty bloom on wood sculpture from Mali

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Pearlstein, Ellen;


Studies in conservation, Volume 31, Number 2, p.83-91 (1986)


Bambara, bloom, Dogon, fatty acid, Mali, sacred objects, sculpture, wood


This study seeks to characterize the blooms found typically on wooden ritual and functional objects produced by the related tribes, the Bamana (Bambara) and the Dogon, in the country of Mali in West Africa. A preliminary examination of the surface material from four wood sculptures suggested the presence of fatty acid esters. Ethnographic literature on these tribes records the widespread practice of applying vegetable seed fats and oils to ritual and household objects. Nine fat and oil samples were obtained, including shea butter extracted by the author. These served as references for infrared spectroscopic and gas chromatographic examination of over 30 samples from sculpture surfaces. Results suggest that a white bloom on Mali wood sculptures may be the result of an ethnographic fat application, and is therefore important to the research potential of the object. The mechanism of fatty bloom formation is described, using cocoa butter as a model.