The Hard Stones of Zimbabwe
Sculpture in hard stone is all forms of art
in reverse, in as much as it is subtractive, rather than additive (paint
added to canvas, clay added to an armature). Michelangelo once said, "The
angel is already in the stone. It is the job of the artist to remove just
enough material to release her."
The Shona Fine Artists use basic hand tools - simple, hand-made chisels, hammers, rasps and sandpaper - to craft their pieces. The stone, moreso than with almost every other sculpture movement, dictates what can and can't be created. Every work is an exploration into the stone, hard physical labour with surprises, frustrations, disappointments and revelations. Sometimes the stone rebels. Impurities, an accidental blow, internal fissures, incredibly hard seams... the stone imposes its will over the artist. Every day in the workshop is an adventure in the art of subtraction
Some of the stones used:
Verdite: An extremely hard, beautiful stone, mica and chrome based, Verdite comes from only one mine in all of Africa. It comes in several different colours, deep green is the most popular, and now the most sought after, but also golden, brown, yellow and variegated. It accompanies corundum, one of the hardest substances known to man, which runs through the stone, making the act of carving verdite one of the most difficult challenges for a sculptor.
Butter Jade: Also known in Zimbabwe as ButterChete. There is a South African version of this stone, different in colour and texture, which became exorbitantly expensive. Jacob Chikumbirike, a sculptor, spent two years searching Zimbabwe and finally found a small deposit of the stone, a light yellow with distinctive parallel lines of black running through it, and staked a claim. He initially mined 35 tonnes and has subsequently mined another 10. Due to the incredibly small amount of this stone, it is now one of the most
Kwekwe Fruit Serpentine: Coming from only two farms in Kwekwe, a town a few hours Southwest of Harare, Fruit Serpentine, or Kwekwe Stone, occurs as boulders, which the artists use long steel poles to pry from the ground, as opposed to mining. It is a beautiful, multicoloured stone, very dark, almost black in places, with areas of dark brown, red and even a deep blue at times.
Leopard Stone: This striking stone comes from the Nyanga district in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. The hardest stone the Fine Artists carve, it was only discovered about 5 years ago as a carving material. Its yellow colour is interspersed with spots of dark green and black, hence the name. There are only a handful of artists that carve this stone successfully, due to the difficulties caused by the hardness of the stone and the calcite veins running through the it.
Cobalt Stone: A very hard, challenging stone that only comes from two small quarries about two hours Northeast of Harare. The predominant colour of Cobalt Stone is a deep pulm red, often having passages of beige, brown, yellow and pale green, that enliven the surface.
Spring Stone: A very dense black stone that occurs in a number of sites, especially the Great Dyke range that bisects Zimbabwe east to west. It often has slightly softer ochre areas and striations that give visual variation to the deep grays and blacks of the heartstone. It is especially favoured for large works, as it can be quarried in solid pieces weighing a number of tonnes.