A FAMILY STORY IN STONE


Before me stood a woman with bright eyes and strong arms.  She spent her days—rather, she spent her years—chiseling and hammering carefully to sculpt hard stone into polished expressions of her life story.  Agnes Nyanhongo, of the Shona People in Zimbabwe, Africa, is living a story of three generations of stone sculpting that began with her father, Claude, and now extends to her son, Stalin, as well. 

Her rich family history is one she treasures and has come to appreciate in this modern world where, for most, the traditional extended family unit is little more than a distant memory of days gone by.  Such complex expressions as matriarchal strength, the intimate devotion between sisters, and family conflict are depicted in the still, quiet stone.  Each sculpture provokes deep consideration.

I had the privilege of walking with Agnes for a while among her stone creations on display at Chapungu Sculpture Park at Fairchild Botanic Garden in Coral Gables.  Moving from one magnificent stone to another, pieces measuring a few feet up to ten feet, she shared her life’s work with me.

First, she chooses the stone:  usually springstone, leopard or nyanga stone.  The raw unfinished rock may sit for days untouched as she considers it.  Then, as she begins, she says it will speak to her, revealing itself to her, inspiring a particular shape and form.  “You have to have faith,” she says; and, there must be a “humility in the artist.”  “Sometimes a piece breaks off accidentally and it changes it… into something else.”   Agnes said that sometimes she may see three different images before the final form is known.

 

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Working slowly and methodically she will transform a rock into something breathtaking and unique.  The front face of the stone, known as the “blanket”, is utilized as a natural contrast area to the creation, such as when indicating patterns or shapes or clothing perhaps.  Giant and silent, the large stone sculptures seem to magnify the affections of our lives:  My Daughter and I.  Woman of Wisdom.  Grandmother Fetches Water.  Divided Family.  Her work is profound in its simplicity.  Be sure to consider the photos carefully. 

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Father, daughter, brother, son. This family tradition will no doubt continue forward into the next generation to tell the stories of life, love and devotion that we all share. For Agnes, a single mother, her gentle story of African life is one that she is gifted to reveal in the chipping away of the hard surface of a stone.

Ms. Nyanhongo is leading 5-day workshops through May, 2013, held Tuesday through Saturday, at Fairchild Garden to learn this sculpting art.  Tools and stone are included in the class fee.  No experience is required.  For reservations and details call 305-667-1651 ext. 3322.

More on exhibit from the Nyanhongo family…

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by Kathleen Martin  3/06/2013