The Link, Summer 2019
| by Joanne Culley |
Fran Fearnley was volunteering in South Africa in 1998 when she was asked to represent Durban’s University of KwaZulu-Natal at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. The fair took place in the sculpture gardens attached to the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and that’s when she first saw Shona stone sculpture. She fell in love immediately, travelled around the country meeting artists, purchased some sculptures and arranged to have them shipped to Canada.
However, when she returned to Canada in 2000, no sculptures had arrived. So, when a former South African colleague had to cancel an exhibition of Shona sculpture in the U.S. due to logistical difficulties, she offered to show the work on her property. And that was how ZimArt’s Rice Lake Gallery was born.
“…this unique outdoor gallery showcases Shona sculpture…from over 50 Zimbabwean artists.”
Spread out over three acres, this unique outdoor gallery showcases Shona sculpture, named after the largest tribe who practice this art form, from over 50 Zimbabwean artists. This exceptional work is created using over 200 varieties of serpentine stone found in the Great Dyke mountain range in Zimbabwe.
“This work looks so beautiful in a natural setting,” says Fran Fearnley, owner and curator. “The sculptures depict a range of subjects on universal themes – from representative family scenes of mothers and children, loving couples, animal and mythical figures, to abstract forms.”
Fearnley travels to Zimbabwe to buy the work directly from the artists and each year she invites a Zimbabwean sculptor to spend the season at the gallery. They meet with visitors, demonstrate their art, lead workshops and are featured in the annual August exhibition. This season’s artist-in-residence, Wimbai Ngoma, is an accomplished sculptor who has been teaching workshops in Germany for close to a decade.
ZimArt hosts two-day introductory and five-day advanced stone sculpting workshops during the season. Working outside under tents, using hand tools, Ngoma will teach participants how to create their own stone carvings with traditional techniques for finishing and polishing the stone. Former students have described the workshops as “a magical experience” in an “inspirational setting.”
The artist-in-residence program can be life-changing. “Not only do the artists go back and pursue their full-time careers as sculptors, they also usually purchase homes with their earnings to secure their livelihoods into the future,” Fearnley says.
The hope is that the artists use their Canadian experience to build their careers. For example, both Stephen Murenza, who was in Canada in 2012, and Givemore Mashaya, here in 2010, are now travelling extensively in the U.S. and Europe to represent themselves and teach workshops.
Fearnley offers the gallery to the community for compatible workshops and events. This year she’s hosting the first dry stone walling workshop led by John Shaw-Remmington, life-drawing sessions by Anne Hoover, and designer Annie Thompson is bringing her sustainable fashion to the gallery in June. Other events are in the works. And, as always, the gallery will be hosting school groups in the fall.
“We welcome everyone to come for a visit, bring a picnic and relax among the sculptures,”says Fearnley. “It’s a great way to introduce children to art as they can move around freely, and we encourage touching with care.”
“ZimArt’s Rice Lake Gallery has become a destination for visitors from far and wide. I am so grateful that we’re still going strong 20 years after our first show. People have told me it is an absorbing, transformative experience to see the sculptures in a natural setting, with no distractions. It allows for an instinctive response to the work,” Fearnley says.
With so many tragic stories about Africa in the news, Zimbabwean sculpture presents a life-affirming story of an art form that provides a glimpse into a vibrant cultural heritage.
ZimArt’s Rice Lake Gallery is located at 855 Second Line, Bailieboro, 15 minutes south of Peterborough, 20 minutes north of Port Hope. The gallery is open daily, 11 am to 6 pm, from June 1 to Thanksgiving and other times by appointment. Admission is always free. There are picnic facilities available, and all the sculptures are for sale. For more information, call 705-939-6144 or visit zimart.ca.
Their 20th annual exhibition and sale, Rice Lake 20, runs from August 3 to September 1. There will be live Zimbabwean music by Nhapitapi to open and close the exhibition.
Joanne Culley is an award-winning writer and documentary producer living in Peterborough. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Peterborough Examiner and Kawartha Cottage magazine. Additionally, she has published a book, Love in the Air: Second World War Letters.