The Shona Sculptors

 

What are the sculptures made of?

The majority of stones used in Zimbabwean sculpture are locally sourced and belong to the geological family Serpentine. 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 center 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 spring stone, fruit serpentine and leopard rock. These dense stones have extremely fine grains and uniform structure, making them ideal raw materials for sculpting.

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.