Article published Jan 15, 2003
Carved from the heart
Bermuda-based collector brings the fine art of Africa home
by Nancy Acton
Photos by Tamell Simons


Face of Africa: 'Man' , carved by Zimbabwean sculptor Jacob Chikumbarika from cobalt stone, is one of many pieces brought to Bermuda by African fine art dealer Dusty Hind.


    Lazarus Tandi, Rutendo Jethro Dodzo, Jonah Runanga, Patrick Kutinyu, Jadai Jonasi - the tongue-twisting names of these Zimbabwean artists tumble from his lips as effortlessly as the names of the stones out of which his large collection of original, one-of-a-kind African sculputres were carved. Four years ago, such words were as foreign to him as say, Indonesian - but that was before Dusty Hind sold his advertising agency, Aardvark, and retired to devote himself full time to his long-standing interest in African sculpture. And what an inspiring time it has been.
    Today, Dusty Hind travels extensively through Africa, visiting the network of top-flight artists he has built up over the years, sites where the many varieties of stone are quarried, oftentimes buying blocks of raw stone for the artists to carve, and finally selecting from their finished works the items to be shipped to Bermuda.
    Even a cursory glance at the huge collection which surrounds him every day in his gallery confirms that Mr. Hind has a discerning eye for African sculpture - and small wonder, for as a young man in his native Britain he majored in sculpture as part of his design degree.
    “I have carved stone, created lifesize statues, etc.,” he says. “At art college we were taught to think out our composition in two dimensions, so we first drew it out in pencil on paper, then made a maquette (small view in clay), before finally beginning to carve, taking stone away from a block to create the piece. I have always been interested in three-dimensional art since my early days.”
    Mr. Hind's love of African art stretches back two decades to the time when he “fell in love with the traditional old art, mostly in wood - the functional objects, figures, masks, objects of celebration that were used in old Africa”.
    So profound was this love, in fact, that as a founder member of the Bermuda National Gallery, he was involved in bringing the first major African exhibition to Bermuda, and also helped to form its permanent collection of African art.

African beauty: 'African Maiden' by Zimbabwean artist James Tandi is 39 inches high, weighs 400 pounds, and was sculpted from varigated verdite.

    About four years ago, Mr. Hind, who has travelled many times to Africa on safari, grew to understand Zimbabwe's Shona fine art movement, and “became passionate” about its wonderful stone sculptures.
    In that country, there are thousands of sculptors carving abstracts, but there are only a few hundred who are carving naturalistic/realistic pieces. They are called fine artists, of which only 40 are true masters, and they emerged in the 1980s. They are producers of the very best work there is, yet not one of them has ever attended art school or college. Rather, their knowledge has been passed down to them through generations of their forebears, and their level of expertise is astonishing.
    “Among the 40 fine artists there are only about 15 surnames,” Mr. Hind says. “Of the Chikumbarika's (Joshua, Jacob, Caleb and Israel), Israel is probably one of the finest sculptors on the planet right now.”
    Many of these fine artists specialise in carving one subject only, such as human heads, elephants or giraffes, while others are more varied in their output.

Jungle splendour: This magnificent sculpture by zimbabwean artist Jadai Jonasai entitled 'Grooming Leopards' is carved from leopard stone.
    Zimbabwe's art movement began in 1960 and was founded by Joran Mariga, who involved other members of his family in sculpting.
    So successful were they that the movement grew and grew until in the 1970s it held famous exhibitions in the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and also in New York. In fact, Mr. Hind relates, “The New York Times critic stated at the time, ‘If I was to name the top ten sculptors in the world today, five of them would have unpronounceable names and be living in Rhodesia', which was the colonial name for Zimbabwe.”
    As wonderful as fame generated by the Shona fine art was outside the African continent, however, there was a down side.
    “Every kid with a hammer and chisel then started to chip away at the very soft soapstones and rapoko stones, which are pumice-based and very soft and unsatisfactory, and they flooded the market with this ‘airport art',” Mr. Hind says.
    So the fine artists, with whom he deals exclusively, set their own criteria: they would only carve realistically, and to the very highest standards, from the very hard, beautiful stones which are available in Zimbabwe. True to their word, from that day forward this exclusive group has consistently turned out superb pieces which can take many, many months (as opposed to hours) to carve, and of their number Mr. Hind estimates that only about 40 can truly be termed “masters.”
    “Of the thousands of ethnic groups in sub-Saharan Africa, it is my belief that only the Shona people of Zimbabwe, which make up about 80 percent of the population, truly have the heritage and relationship with stone that dates back to between 1250 and 1550 AD,” Mr. Hind says. “Old Zimbabwe was built between those dates, and has the only major stone building to come from antiquity in central and southern Africa, so the Shona have this relationship with stone in their blood.”
    Zimbabwe is rich in various types of stone, each of which has its own distinctive characteristics - some of it rare and available in one area only. Cobalt stone, butter jade, leopard stone, Spring stone, lemon opal stone, lepodite and verdite are just some of the varieties to be found.
    Good green verdite, Mr. Hind says, is “three thousand five hundred million” years old, and was once ground up by the Shona as a fertility potion.
    Much like Italian marble, stone is mostly hewn from open mines in huge blocks using less than sophisticated equipment. To the passing layman the stone is all but invisible under the mud. Yet to trained African eyes, who can read the terrain like the back of their hand, it is instantly recognisable for what it is. Certainly, the finished sculptures bear no resemblance to the raw product, being highly polished to reveal the infinite beauty beneath the surface.
    Invariably, Mr. Hind's trips to Zimbabwe (where he is accompanied everywhere by a driver and bodyguard) include visits to mining sites, where he sometimes buys huge blocks stone for the artists to work on.
    Passing through London en route to Africa, he will also buy tungsten carbide chisels and other tools to facilitate the artists' work on the hard stone.
    Good as the fine artists are, however, as befits the former owner of an advertising agency, Mr. Hind has actually taken some of them on safari to help them develop a more critical eye for accurate anatomic detail in a particular animal, and has then followed up with colour photographs as aides memoires.

Mighty tuskers: This true-to-life sculpture, entitled 'Elephants' and carved from brown verdite by Zimbabwean sculptor Vika Ngwenya captures the beauty of these majestic African pachyderms.
    Like trained artists elsewhere, the best African sculptors will first study a block of stone because its shape and quality will determine what will be carved out of it. Because the stone is so hard and full of impurities, however, two-dimensional drawings on paper are pointless.
    Instead, they might carve a small maquette before going on to a larger figure, or, if they find the right stone, some will simply go ahead and carve a final piece, which can weigh 300-400 lbs. Alternatively, an artist may start off with one subject but end up with another due to the dictates of the stone as he progresses.
    While Mr. Hind notes that some varieties of stone are becoming difficult to find and obtain due to economic difficulties and finite quantities, he is happy to say that the 40 recognised fine artists are also passing on their expertise to the next generation.
    “That is important because, sadly, 35 percent of the adult population in Zimbabwe is HIV positive, and I have lost three of the artists I dealt with and two masters to the AIDS virus,” he says. “When you and I look at AIDS we regard it as an horrendous epidemic that is a death sentence, whereas to many Zimbabweans AIDS is just another illness that is not going to kill them as fast as many others which are prevalent in sub-Sahara Africa.”
    Meanwhile, Mr. Hind continues to indulge his passion for African art by shipping in some of its finest examples to Bermuda and elsewhere, and notes with amusement that the Christian name of the person in charge of packing these treasures for export is ‘Enough' - apparently chosen to mark his position as the youngest and last of eleven children!
    This weekend, Mr. Hind will travel to Zimbabwe for the eleventh time on the first of two or three annual trips to the African continent, and for the first time he will be accompanied by his son and The Royal Gazette cartoonist Michael, who is now understudying his father as a businessman.
    Having been on personal safari to South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania, as well as Zimbabwe, with his wife Barbara many times, Mr. Hind defines his love of the continent as “like peanuts. Just as you can't eat one peanut, so also you can't just go there once”.
    “Africa is over 11 million square miles. It is the vastness and the diversity of cultures. For many years I went fishing off Bermuda on the banks, and the vastness of the ocean was somehow cleansing. Being out in the bush in Africa is also cleansing for the soul. It puts into perspective just how small each of us really is in the grand scheme of things. I think perhaps we lose that from time to time, living in such a small community.”