This February, we’re celebrating Black History Month by featuring artisans who inspire us with their work and their incredible stories of triumph. West African artisan, Ernestina Oppong Asante, shows us how one woman defied gender expectations to carve a place for herself among the greats.
“Though carving has long been regarded as the preserve of men, I am glad that I have been able not only to infiltrate but to also make an impact on the trade,” Ernestina says.
She studied under the respected carver, Kwame Duah, and soon she was designing her own wood carvings, masks, and drums. By 1995, she had built her own workshop, employing four other carvers.
For Ernestina, collecting raw materials is a celebration of the land itself. Each piece has its own provenance.
“From Nakese in the Eastern region, I acquire a type of hardwood known as tweneboa for carving the drums. For the pegs I use the odum tree. I use goatskin, cloth, iron rods and strings. The animal skin is from the Northern region of Ghana and its environs. It is soaked in water for two hours to soften. The skin is firmly pulled through the iron rings to cover the mouth of the drum and this ensures that it comes out with a good sound. The drum is then left in the sun to dry after which it is tested for sound and tone quality.”
Beyond her art, Ernestina is a breaker of boundaries. She is not held back by other’s expectations or judgments. She forges ahead, always with love in her heart.
Her husband, Daniel, had been a taxi driver before Ernestina encouraged him to learn the trade, then lured him into the business. Now they carve together, allies in love and in art. Her house is brimming with children who are not biologically her own — nieces, nephews, her husband’s children from a previous marriage — yet she has raised them with the unflinching love of a parent.
In every way, Ernestina is deserving of awe and admiration. The moment she flashes her million-dollar smile, you realize that greatness lies in the incredible humanity and grace she brings to every aspect of her life.
Ghanaian Musicians Threadwork Art, “Happy Times”
African Wood Mask, “Monkey Joe”
Ghanaian Threadwork Art, “Adinkra Symbols I”
Wood Djembe Drum, “Groundnut Shells”
Threadwork Art, “Market Ladies”
Hand Carved Wood Oware Table Game, “Home”