Two African artists lean over their carving tools in the hot summer sun. From a fragment of stone, one man fashions the slim figure of a woman with stylized limbs, typical of a Zimbabwean sculpture. The other looks on with interest; his many finished pieces are mounted in the courtyard: bird sculptures and figurines carved from pitch black chlorite or green soapstone.
It could be a scene out of a marketplace in Zimbabwe, but in fact, it took place last weekend on Clark Road in Gibsons at the Rock ‘n Art Gallery of sculptor Don Watson and Birgit Breuer. The two visiting artists, Patrick Sephani and Passmore Mupindiko, are master carvers in Zimbabwe, part of a burgeoning sculptural scene in that African country.
Sephani is the second generation of artists in his family and creates art that is expressive of mood and emotion.
Mupindiko originally started carving in wood, making saleable items such as salad bowls and spoons after his father passed away, but he had to leave school to provide for his family. He became a professional stone carver after an encouraging customer pointed him towards the Tengenenge Arts Community where he honed his skill. His subjects in stone include leaf bowls and representations of such birds as the guinea fowl, found in his country.
The two have been teaching sculpture workshops on the Coast — a five-day camp for kids who turned out an impressive array of work, and an intensive workshop for adults, many of whom had never carved before. Participants learned step-by-step how to create a sculpture by sketching, drawing, clay modelling and then stone sculpting. Most worked on shaping human figures — the family is a prominent and valued theme for the Zimbabwean teachers.
“They talk a lot while sculpting, telling stories as they go,” Breuer said. “The family scenes also tell a story,” showing a piece depicting three generations of African women passing on their culture.
The teachers were invited to Gibsons by Watson, an artist most of his life, whose dramatic eagles and orcas shaped from golden alabaster or polished chlorite reveal his West Coast themes. The Rock ‘n Art Gallery is his showcase and his works currently sit among those of other African stone carvers, including some dramatic large pieces. A Grip on Life is a depiction of a giant fist in highly polished springstone by Tizirai Gumbere. Breuer explains that the harder the stone — springstone is the toughest — the more skilled the carver.
Philip Kaviya has managed to pull a face from his hard stone, a verdite that shows red ruby ore within its rougher surface. Soul Mates by Wellington Karuru is carved from opal stone and shows a contemporary flair in its stylized sweethearts.
Mupindiko and Sephani will be moving on to VanDusen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver to demonstrate their work as part of the annual show, ZimSculpt. The gallery with Watson’s own work and various African stone pieces remains open from 9 to 11 a.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. in the summer or by appointment at 604-886-6591.
Proceeds from the two-day exhibition at the gallery will go towards the Kids Art Studio project at Cedar Grove Elementary School.