Art of the Bamana Blacksmith

by Patrick McNaughton
Indiana University

Door locks just finished by a smith in southern Mali. Photo by Patrick McNaughton.

Door locks are prominent among the sculptures made by Mande smiths. They are mounted on wooden doors, and the narrow horizontal extension slides into a hollowed-out portion of the doorjamb. Wood or iron keys are inserted into the horizontal member (which is also hollow) to move iron pins up out of the locked portion so that the horizontal piece will slide freely back and forth. Frequently the vertical members assume highly abstract shapes of animals, for example, people, or even protective spirits. The patterns of embellishment can be extremely elaborate and satisfying.