Mark Valentine has it tough. When I asked him what his business focus was he answered simply, “I’m a collector, and I’ve turned my hobby into my business.” He started some 20 years ago and has developed his passion from acquiring African artworks to collecting from all over the world. This means that he travels extensively, and he will shortly be leaving for a trip into outer Mongolia. He keeps extending his boundaries in search of the original and the unusual, and avoids Trade Fairs because “then you end up with the same things as everyone else!”
He has recently moved his business premises from Bramley to Kramerville, where he has two large showrooms fronting a spacious warehouse. I picked my way between and over a vast collection of different items that included carved giraffes, crocodiles and fish, wall hangings, grass baskets, unique and attractive benches, arrows, spears and knobkerries, carved figures and masks, horns and wooden antelope heads, large mirrors, wooden flasks and casks, jewellery, beadwork, pictures and a whole lot more. One of my favourites was the dugout canoes which fascinated me. I wondered what my family would say if they found one in the pool, filled with lush green plants shading some drinks and snacks!
Mark says that their business is split almost half and half between local and international outlets, with a small percentage of individual buyers. They send out between 200 and 300 items every day and their business has continued to flourish recently despite the general economic downturn.
What appealed to me so much was that I was not looking at curios that were mass produced in a factory somewhere for the tourist trade. Many of the items that I studied seemed to bear the imprint of the person who made them. They told a story of culture, beliefs, craftsmanship or rugged usefulness. There was something of life about many of them, a life that involved individuals with their hopes and fears, pains and joys. Spears were for hunting or defence, not for show, and on some the rough shafts bore the stains of use. Arrows looked as if they had known flight and impact. Small figures had a symbolic meaning. Heavy, carved round stones were for protecting the grain bins, and small pipes were for smoking. Behind each was a person, many knowing poverty and hardship, who were making their own way along the journey of life. I would never meet them, but a part of their life had impacted mine and needed to be respected.
If you are interested in history, people, Africa and unusual crafts and items you will take pleasure in wandering round. And if you are fortunate enough to find Mark there you will enjoy talking to him and hearing some of his stories. For those looking for something different to put in their homes or offices, something that has a story behind it, you might well find it here.
Keep your eyes on Kramerville. Mark tells me that a local version of 44 Stanley Road is being planned!
Some things only empty the wallet – others extend the mind and spirit.