Fono Blacksmith and Bronze Caster,
1933 – July 24, 1996
Gbon, Côte d‘Ivoire
The Fono blacksmith Songuimai Koné worked in Gbon, south of Kouto. He was the eldest son of the Fono blacksmith Gobé Koné, who died in Gbon about 1951, who also cast brass masks and figures. Songuimai Koné learned this craft as an apprentice to his uncle Ziémogo Koné (ca. 1916 – 1985) who was also a Fono blacksmith and brass caster. All three members of the Koné family - Gobé, Ziémogo and Songuimai - worked over time as smiths and bronze casters in the same compound.
During 1978, Songuimai Koné cast numerous bronze objects for Karl-Heinz Krieg and described the techniques used by his father (Gobé Koné) when casting brass (bronze) masks. The Koné family method of lost-wax casting is unique in that the wax was modelled over a fixed wooden form, a mask-like face carved in wood rather than the traditional practice of using a clay-form. In addition, Songuimai Koné decorated his masks with wax threads, partly braided or shaped into semicircles.
"My father covered the wax model with clay and put it into the sun to dry. After it had dried he removed the wax mask from the wooden form and proceeded to completely cover the mask with clay after which it was again placed in the sunlight to dry. He also left a small opening in the clay where the molten wax would run out and - after turning the form upside down - bronze metal would flow into the mold. After drying the clay mold, it was placed in the fire to melt the wax. When it had been sufficiently heated it was inverted over a bowl of water and the molten wax poured out through the small hole in the clay. This created a void where the wax had been originally (lost-wax technique). When the mold had cooled my father made a funnel shaped extension and attached it to the opening into the mold. This was also laid out in the sun to dry. Afterwards the funnel was filled with bronze metal scraps (and sealed with clay creating a ball at the top of the funnel). When the clay ball was dry, the mold was put into the fire and with the aid of bellows the mold was heated to a glowing red state that indicated that the metal had melted and was now in a liquid state. My father would at this point grasp the mold with a pair of pliers, give it a shake, turn it over and place it in a hole prepared next to the fire. The molten metal flows into the space created, out of which the wax had melted. My father poured water over the mold to cool it and then smashed the mold and cleaned the clay from the mask." (Songuimai Koné, 1978)
As the demand for his brass work lessened, Songuimai Koné worked more as a blacksmith, making parts for agricultural implements and modern plows. From what he earned from the blacksmithing and farming he could feed his family.
Private notes taken in the field, Karl-Heinz Krieg
Kunst und Kunsthandwerk aus Westafrika, Karl-Heinz Krieg, 1980, p. 26-28