History of Zimbabwean Shona Sculpture
African Stone Sculpture from Zimbabwe is often called Shona Sculpture, named after the largest Ethnic Group in Zimbabwe (about 82% of the population). Zimbabwe - derived from the Shona word dzimbadzamabwe which means “house of stone” – is the only country on the African continent that has large deposits of stone suitable for sculpting. In ancient times, stone was used extensively for building and for decorative purposes. The Great Zimbabwe settlement, now a World Heritage Site, is testimony to the skill and artistry of the ancestors of today’s sculptors. Built between the 11th and 15th centuries, at a time when Europe was just emerging from the Dark Ages, these accomplished stone masons used hand-hewn granite blocks to painstakingly and precisely build ornate towers and enclosures– all free of mortar. Parts of the settlement combine natural rock formation and dry-stone construction – the two blending aesthetically and functionally.
Artists draw extensively on traditional culture for their inspiration: the mythology, folklore, rituals, and beliefs in ancestral spirits that remain strong strands even in contemporary, urban Zimbabwean life. Women are also a significant source of inspiration: the nude torso, the dancing girl, mother, and child are depicted in a myriad of ways. The natural world and man’s relationship with nature are other important themes, which reflect the country’s deep rural roots.This art movement attracts, and continues to attract, sculptors from surrounding African countries – Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia. So, while the Shona people are still predominant, other cultural influences have enriched the creation of the sculptures that bear their name. Until 2001, Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of Africa. Since then, Zimbabwe has experienced one of the worst, most rapid economic calamities in human history. Unemployment and starvation rose to unprecedented highs in 2008. Circumstances have improved slightly, but not significantly enough to restore economic stability & sustenance. During economic prosperity, hundreds of artists depended on the large influx of tourists to purchase their creations. However, tourism has plummeted, forcing many artists to search for alternative means of sustenance. Many artists now sell their creations in South Africa which still has a thriving tourist industry, and some artists, through the help of exporters, sell their creations abroad.
This traditional design of the Shona culture caught the eye of Mark and Bonnie Barnes many years ago. They felt the sculpture symbolized the relationship between a nurse and his or her patient and referred to it as the Healer’s Touch. These beautiful pieces of artwork for DAISY Honorees have created an umbrella of economic protection and sustenance over the group of artists and their families we support. In the midst of economic disaster, each artist is incredibly grateful for the consistent support and peace of mind this work provides them in a country with such little hope and so few opportunities. The artists’ gratitude resonates through each sculpture, which in turns honors and recognizes the incredible work that nurses perform every day. Moreover, since the Shona people hold their traditional healers in very high esteem, viewing them as treasures in their community, there is no one better to carve such special gifts for our DAISY Honorees.
Watch as two artists demonstrate how they create The Healer's Touch sculptures for DAISY Honorees. If you have trouble understanding their voice-over, please click here to read a transcript.
These serpentine stone sculptures are hand-carved for us by artists of the Shona Tribe in Zimbabwe, and we import thousands if these from Zimbabwe each year. The sculptures are especially meaningful because of the profound respect the Shona people pay their traditional healers. Shona healers are affectionately regarded as treasures by those they care for, and the well-being and safety of the healer is of community-wide importance. This describes exactly how we and our Partners feel about nurses! As each one is hand-carved by a Shona artist, we thought it would be wonderful to see how these beautiful pieces are carved, knowing that the artists are working in very primitive conditions.
Press the play button to watch a piece of art be born out of rock.
In addition to the Healer’s Touch sculptures that our Nurse Honorees receive, there are also Large Healer’s Touch sculptures available for purchase. As with the smaller sculptures, each one of these statues is hand carved and one of a kind. The Shona artist starts out with a huge rock weighing approximately 350 pounds. When completed, each sculpture stands at approximately 3 feet tall, weighs upwards of 150 pounds and has its own unique color, shape and character. For a step by step look at the process to create a Large Healer's touch, please see below.
These magnificent carvings have been purchased by DAISY Partners and Sponsors as gifts to the various facilities that honor their nurses with the DAISY Award. The sculptures are installed in hospital healing gardens and lobbies. They are a constant reminder to all nurses just how special they are and how important and vital their work is.
DAISY's purchase of these sculptures has become very important to the people who carve these beautiful pieces. Given the desperate political situation in Zimbabwe, there are no tourists to buy their work. So, the money we send to Zimbabwe to pay for the Healers is a tremendous help to the artists and their families. Their letters of gratitude for this support are heartfelt and heartbreaking. "We know now that we will eat and keep our children in school and be able to gain a little strength," reads one of them, sent when they received a payment from us.
What this said to us is that the incredible work being done by nurses here in the U.S. is reaching around the world to help save the lives of these gifted artists. The artists, in turn, are creating these very sensitive depictions of the unique relationship nurses have with their patients.
If you are interested in purchasing one of these beautiful works of art for your healing garden or lobby, please contact your Regional Program Director. To view photos of Large Healers at some of our partner facilities click here.
The process to create just one of these large sculptures can take up to three weeks.
Step by Step
After getting the big block of stone (which weighs up to 350 pounds) it is pruned to size. Large chisels and mallets are then used to get it to the desired shape. This process normally takes about a week of very hard work.
This stage is where all the deep punch marks are removed, using a flat chisel and a rubber mallet. This stage also reduces the sculpture to the actual shape, proportion and size. It normally takes three to four days depending on the hardness of the stone and sharpness of the tools.
This is the general fine tuning stage of the piece. At this stage coarse and fine raspers are used. The coarse rasper removes roughness & other marks left on the piece from the chisel. The fine rasper reduces the coarseness of the piece. Depending on the hardness of the stone this stage normally takes 4 to 5 hours.
Water & waterpapers are now used to smooth the sculpture for the polishing stage. The waterpapers range from the roughest grit (60 Grit) to the finest grit (2000 Grit). This stage takes approximately two days to finish.
Applying polish and shining are the final stage. The stone is heated, polish is applied and the carving is left to cool. Then polish is re-applied and the sculpture is buffed to a shine with a clean soft cloth.
The “Care And Feeding” Of Your Healer’s Touch Sculpture
Your beautiful Sculpture is hand-carved in Zimbabwe from Serpentine, a mineral rock. The stone has been polished with wax to bring out the deep color of the stone. Should it suffer a scratch, it is very easy to restore. Apply Restora Finish (Neutral) to the entire sculpture with a sponge. Allow to absorb into the stone for several hours. Then apply Kiwi Neutral Shoe polish directly over the oil with a sponge. Allow it to dry to a haze. Buff your sculpture with a soft terry towel.
If you have any questions, please email us at DAISYsupplies@DAISYfoundation.org