Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture
Top Zimbabwean sculptors promoted by Guruve would never dream of using soapstone – so what do they use?
Locally sourced hard serpentine stone is the ideal sculpture medium.
What are the sculptures made of?
The majority of stones used in Zimbabwean sculpture are locally sourced and belong to the geological family Serpentinite. They are sedimentary, having originally been laid down on a sandy seafloor, and metamorphic, since subsequent exposure to intense heat and pressure over hundreds of millions of years has transformed them into hard stone. Serpentines are rich in iron, so when the stone weathers it turns a rust colour.
In Zimbabwe, they occur as part of the Great Dyke, a horseshoe-shaped geological formation stretching through the north and east round to the centre of the country. The natural weathering processes are now exposing the rocks at the surface. Colours range from yellow and green, through brown to black.
Serious sculptors prefer the hardest varieties of serpentine such as springstone, fruit serpentine and leopard rock. These dense stones have extremely fine grains and uniform structure, making them ideal raw materials for sculpting.
Please note that all types of ‘opal’ serpentine are soft, not much harder than soapstone, and are not suitable for outdoor display in winter. Any website that suggests ‘opal stone’ is as hard as the opal gemstone is misleading the reader and revealing a basic lack of knowledge of Zimbabwean materials.
Non-serpentine stones from Zimbabwe also used for sculpting by the best artists include:
Mines tend to be small-scale open cast operations. They are too small to cause any environmental damage and form a valuable alternative source of income to rural communities.
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Shona sculpture movement – Zimbabwe’s art history
Shona spirit beliefs – how they inspire Zimbabwean sculpture
Common themes in Zimbabwean sculpture
Sculpture process – stages in the process from raw stone to sculpture
Life as a sculptor – comments and insight from Zimbabwean artists
Young sculptors at an centre for aspiring sculptors
Care and repair – helpful guidance on looking after your sculpture