Stones Used in Zimbabwean Sculpture

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.



The best-known springstone mines are in the Mvurwi area of northern Zimbabwe


Leopard Rock

Leopard rock comes from a few small mines in Nyanga, eastern Zimbabwe, and gets its name from the black spots on a pale background


Fruit Serpentine

Colourful fruit serpentine comes from the Kwekwe area, south-west of Harare


Cobalt Stone

Cobalt Stone is a purple and green variety of serpentine, mined in the Chiweshe area of northern Zimbabwe


Common Opal Stone and Domboshawa Opal Stone

Another very common type of serpentine is what is colloquially known as ‘opal stone’ (a very soft pale green serpentine) and comes from Chiweshe, north of Harare. Also pictured is the white variant known as ‘Domboshawa opal stone’ from, you guessed it, Domboshawa.

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:


The mineral verdite which is an intricate swirl of shades of green



The quartzite mineral lepidolite which in pure form is a perfect lilac/purple


dolomite marble

Dolomite marble which is identical to that found in the Italian Alps and is very hard with large crystals


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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Related links:

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