Vivienne Croisette came upon her calling as a curator, promoter, and international dealer of Zimbabwe sculpture in a circuitous way.
With no formal art training, the British-born curator, who left home at the age of 16, met a sculptor when she was 19 and began promoting his work in South America. It was after she had moved back to England and found work promoting artists in an international exhibition organized by Art Space Gallery that she met the sculptor from Zimbabwe.
The artist showed her African stone sculptures created in his home community and invited her to visit. She never left.
A Garden of Wonders: Stone Sculptures of Zimbabwe, is at Toledo Botanical Garden through Oct. 29. The show is free and opening night is from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday. The evening will include Jazz in the Gardens from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and food trucks. Parking is in the main lot. Maps of the show are available.
All sculptures are for sale as are more than 300 pieces of carved jewelry, hand-woven baskets, and other smaller tabletop pieces in a Marketplace area at the gardens.
“I was blown away by the quality of the work. I was driving him nuts because I was asking so many questions,” she said. “He invited me to Zimbabwe and I was going to visit for three weeks. That was 17 years ago. Being in the artists’ world, it just happened. And I love it.”
Croisette started marketing the work of Zimbabwe sculptors worldwide, and now she brings her traveling exhibition, A Garden of Wonders: Stone Sculptures of Zimbabwe, to the Toledo Botanical Garden. The show includes more than 100 large stone sculptures created by multi-generational artists in eight different regions of the South African country and was brought to Toledo through a partnership with Toledo GROWS, the garden’s community garden outreach program.
A Garden of Wonders opens Friday with a jazz party and art preview from 5 to 9 p.m.
Croisette and her husband, Joseph Croisette, own Zimsculpt, an international art dealership based in the capital of Harare that promotes as many as 500 Zimbabwean artists from almost two dozen art centers. The sculptures, often called Shona sculpture after the largest tribe engaged in the artistic practice, are all carved by the artists from a single piece of locally sourced stone.
The larger garden sculptures weigh anywhere from 400 to more than 1,000 pounds and cost between $800 and $3,000. At a Marketplace area set up as part of the exhibition, visitors can also see and buy smaller tabletop sculptures, hand-woven bowls, and hand-carved jewelry made from semiprecious, smaller stones.
The show was last installed in the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden from April through July and has been shown in almost two dozen locations, including England, Bahrain, Canada, Michigan, Florida, and North Carolina.
“Each place has something magical about it. Each place is different and has its story and its history,” Croisette said.
In Toledo, the exquisite pieces are secured to wood stumps scattered among plants and flowers throughout the 66-acre campus. Admission is free; Toledo GROWS will get 10 percent of the proceeds from any sales during the show.
When they are not on the exhibition circuit, the Croisettes travel their home country, visiting artists and purchasing their work upfront for the collection. There are almost two dozen art communities in Zimbabwe, each with as many as 80 artists, and sometimes the couple is on the road for months at a time.
Vivienne Croisette, who started Zimsculpt in 2000, uses profits to reinvest in more artwork, and to promote the artists internationally through the shows. Five percent of proceeds go to Inter-Country People’s Aid in Africa, and she pays to bring the artists overseas with her.
“We don’t want to make a massive profit,” Croisette said. “It’s trade, not aid.”
Works in this show include an abstract sculpture carved from opal by artist Stuart Chapenga, and a large piece by artist Boet Nyariri that, in intricate detail, depicts a mother and child. A large bird perches on a stone, the work of Lacknos Chingwaro, an artist who comes from a family of sculptors and who works in the religious community of Mukaera.
Leonard Gondongwe, who studied under well-known artist Nicholas Mukomberanwa, sculpted the images of two people from African cobalt stone, the colors of which range from purples to greens.
“Each artist is independent,” Croisette said. “Each of their styles is their own style. We encourage them to be unique. Everything you see in this display is original artist’s work.”
The artists use hammers, chisels, and other tools to create their sculptures by hand. They employ a method called washing to finish the stone by sanding the pieces for hours using wet and dry sandpapers. Sculptors heat the stones with blowtorches or other devices and apply a wax to achieve a high gleam on the stones.
Artists in residence with her at the Toledo show are Aron Kapembeza, a leading springstone sculptor in Africa, and Passmore Mupindiko, who creates stone sculptures in Tengenenge, one of the oldest artist communities in Zimbabwe.
Mupindiko, 41, who was born in Marendero, Guruve, has been traveling with Croisette and the exhibit for about 10 years. He first learned the craft of wood carving from his grandfather when he was 7 years old. He still does wood work, but his main medium for the last 20 years has been stone sculpting animals, particularly birds native to his home.
Kapembeza, 35, learned to sculpt from his great-aunt, Colleen Madamombe, a famous artist in Zimbabwe. He has been traveling with Zimsculpt for four years.
His aunt taught him the basics of sculpting before encouraging him to move forward with his own style.
“I worked for Colleen for about four years before I started doing my own things,” he said while polishing a stone sculpture at Toledo Botanical during the installation. “I do specialize in human figures, mostly ladies, because I do respect [them] so much. Back home, ladies are the ones who work very hard for us, while men are sometimes sitting under the tree drinking beer.”
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