Zimbabwe Shona Sculpture

Shona History

Knowlton Collection
Point Pleasant, Pennsylvania USA

The Shona people comprise well over 70% of the population of Zimbabwe.
In 1956 Frank McEwen arrived in Rhodesia (later to become Zimbabwe)
to become the first director of the new National Gallery. Mr. McEwen had been an art critic and curator at the world famous Musee Rodin in Paris.
To his amazement he discovered that isolated artists far away from Western influence had begun their own contemporary movement and soon became known as the homeland of some of the world's most praised stone sculptors.

In 1971 there was an exhibition of 100 sculptures in Paris at the Musee Rodin.
It turned out to be an exceptional success. Shona stone art was now exposed
to the world. As Pierre Descargues of the French Culture wrote in his review "The Shona sculptors appeared to pick up their tools where their ancestors
of several hundred years before had laid them down". Great Zimbabwe, the largest stone structure in sub-Saharan Africa, was built by Shona ancestors
at a time when Europe was just emerging from the Dark Ages. Shona sculpture transcends time and place. It is deeply rooted in the spiritual beliefs and ancient traditions of the culture from which it continues to emerge.

The carvers use only hand tools made of iron, tin, old car parts, forks and other used implements that allow them to work with the stone. The majority of artists live in the country where there is no electricity. Instead they create with Nature itself using sand to grind out smooth surfaces and fire and bee"s wax to polish the stone to a gleaming shine.

The method of creativity is very different than in the rest of the world.
Shona artists often say that while dreaming they are visited by their ancestors and allow the sculptors to release the spirit within the stone. The spirits guide the entire sculpting process. They claim to be the person who releases the spirit in the stone. Shona art is not worshipped or is functional. It is purely decorative and openly shared with the people in the artist"s town or visitors. They are humble, sensitive artists who do not have enlarged egos but instead pay homage to their past ancestors.

Powerful symbols in Shona sculpture is the mudzimu or ancestral spirit.
They are just part of a host of spirits who control every aspect of Shona life.
The Shona believe that there are spirits in all things. That is why there is a metamorphosis that so often shows up in the sculpture. Human and animals
can change form temporarily or permanently to transform into spirit hosts.
The sculptors recognize that the changing forms can be metaphors for spiritual themes, especially those that explain creation, ancestral power and everyday life.

Shona stone comes in diverse types of stone colors ranging from jet black
to green semiprecious veridite to white stone veined in blues and greens.
They also are available in small 4" high pieces to 7 feet high towers of inspiration. Collectors usually start with one single purchase but somehow become connected to the spirit and begin to widen their collections.

The Knowlton Collection is possible because Ms. Peggy Knowlton curated the work after traveling to Africa almost every year from a young age and befriending the most famous artists in Zimbabwe. This collection is considered one of the largest in the United States.

Notable Quotes

"Shona sculpture is a profound expression of human connections
that transcend geography and time"
from the book Spirits in Stone written by Anthony and Laura Ponter

"The evocative nature of these sculptures, which reflect the spirit
of the Shona people and their ancestors, is bound to impress, stimulate
and inspire. No one looking at them can feel indifferent... It may be difficult
for some people to wake up to the fact that, quite suddenly, a small country
in the heart of Africa is making a major contribution to contemporary art".
Lord Chelwood

last update
2 April 2016 ~ 13:24 EST
Knowlton Collection
4961 River Rd., Point Pleasant, Pennsylvania, 18950, USA

Mailing address:
763 Almshouse Rd, Doylestown, PA 18901

Thomas Gamache


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