Shona sculpture is perhaps the most important new art form to emerge from Africa in this century.’
—Newsweek, New York

‘It is extraordinary to think that of the ten leading sculpture carvers in the world, perhaps five come from one single African tribe, the Shona. These marvelous Shona sculptors from Zimbabwe speak for Africa but they also speak for us all; they restore a dignity to art which it is in danger of losing.’
— The ‘Sunday Telegraph’ art critic

‘Now that Henry Moore is dead, who is the greatest stone carver in the world. In my experience there are three outstanding contenders. And all three come from Zimbabwe.’
— Michael Shepherd, Art Review

‘...unlike art found in much of the rest of Africa, Shona sculpture ... has become a wholly indigenous modern art form created exclusively as a form of artistic expression.’
—New York Times, New York

‘Picasso was an admirer of early Shona sculpture; now evidence is surfacing that he was influenced by it, too.’
—Town & Country Magazine, London

‘The world's best unrecognized sculptors.’
—The Economist, London

‘This is the birth of a great national art, capable of speaking about the whole of Creation, from personal and family to the world of spirit, soul and self. It is a thrilling adventure of contemporary art.’
—Arts Review, London

‘During the past decade, Zimbabwe Shona Sculpture has become the most collected form of African art. It has found it’s way into important repositories such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Rodin Museum, and into the homes of the Rockefellers, the Prince of Wales and Sir Richard Attenborough.’
—The Oregonian

‘If the perfection of art is measured purely by emotional expressive power, then this art is beyond perfection.’
—West Indian World

‘This art has meaning. This art is imbued with extraordinary, intense spirituality. It will get in you and work on you forever.’
—Frank McEwan, First Director, National Gallery of Zimbabwe

These marvellous Shona sculptors from Zimbabwe … speak for Africa, but they also speak for us all; they restore a dignity to art which it is in danger of losing.
—The Sunday Telegraph, London

This is the birth of a great national art, capable of speaking about the whole of creation, from personal and family feeling to the world of spirits, soul and self. It is a thrilling adventure of contemporary art.
Irish Sunday Independent, Dublin

Origins and History of Shona Sculpture

Zimbabwe stone sculpture is often called Shona sculpture, is contemporary stone sculpture named after the tribe of most of the sculptors. Zimbabwe is the only country on the African continent that has large deposits of stone suitable for sculpting. The Great Zimbabwe settlement, now a World Heritage Site, is testimony to the skill and artistry of the ancestors of today’s sculptors. It was built between the 11th and 15th centuries using granite blocks to build ornate towers and enclosures all free of mortar.

The art movement began around 1956 and was initiated by Frank McEwen who at the time was the Director of The National Gallery of Rhodesia. During its early years of growth, it was described as an art renaissance, an art phenomenon and a miracle. Critics and collectors could not understand how an art genre had developed with such vigour, spontaneity and originality in an area of Africa which had none of the great sculptural heritage of West Africa and had previously been described in terms of the visual arts as artistically barren.

Fifteen years of sanctions against the country obscured works from reaching the Western world (apart from highly acclaimed exhibitions organised by Frank McEwen in major museums such as Musee dArt Moderne, Paris; Musee Rodin, Paris; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, London). Yet these years also witnessed the honing of technical skills, the deepening of expressive power, the use of harder and different stones and the creation of many outstanding works.

Since independence in 1980, the sculpture has been exhibited in the art capitals of the world and great acclaim has been accrued to the artists and the art form. In spite of the increasing demand, as yet little commercialisation has occurred. The most dedicated of artists display a high degree of integrity, never copying and still working entirely by hand, with spontaneity and a confidence in their skills, unrestricted by tedious drawings or measuring.

The sculpture speaks of fundamental human experiences - experiences such as grief, elation, humour, anxiety and spiritual search - and has always managed to communicate these in a profoundly simple and direct way that is both rare and extremely refreshing. The artist 'works' together with his stone and it is believed that 'nothing which exists naturally is inanimate'- it has a spirit and life of its own. One is always aware of the stone's contribution in the finished sculpture and it is indeed fortunate that in Zimbabwe a magnificent range of stones are available from which to choose - hard black springstone, richly coloured serpentine and steatites, firm grey limestone and semi-precious Verdite and Lepidolite.

The founding artists known as the first generation (1957 to 1980). Amongst the founders are Joram Mariga, Boira Mteki, John & Bernard Takawira,Henry Munyaradzi, Sylvester Mubayi, Joseph Ndandarika, Nicholas Mukomberanwa, Josia Manzi, Wazi Maricolo, Chrispen Duve, Claud Nyanhongo,Fanizani Akuda and many others. There are very few surviving first generation artists and Heritage Art Gallery are proud to have a collection from Sylvester Mubayi, a proud winner of the Ernest Oppenheimer prize for sculpture and it does not stop there.

In 1966 Tengenenge village was founded by Tom Blomefield, former tobacco farmer and chrome miner. Tengenenge is a typical African village in the North of Zimbabwe, at the foot of the Great Dyke. The difference with other villages is the occupation of the inhabitants: they all make a living from sculpting. The village is an open-air gallery. More than 11.000 sculptures are exhibited, made by over 300 different sculptors, each having their own style, performance and stand. About a hundred sculptor families live in Tengenenge. Most of the best sculptors have been residents at Tengenenge. Tom Blomfield retired in December 2007 and it is now under the direction of world famous second generation artist Dominic Benhura.

The artists that started from 1980-2000 who were apprentices to the founders are known as the second generation. Many of these sculptors are already world famous and would hold their own if compared with their mentors. To mention a few Dominic Benhura, Joseph Muzoda, Gideon Nyanhongo, Richard Mteki, Joe Mutasa and last but not least the famous ladies Agnes Nyanhongo and the late Colleen Madamombe.

The Sculpture movement has now entered the third generation from 2000 to date. Already there are quickly establishing themselves and winning national awards and their works exhibited in and around Europe, Americas, Canada and Asia. Heritage Art Gallery is proud to have collections from Jonathan Mhondorohuma, Boet Nyariri, Edmore Chijumani, Morgan Chijumani, Cuthbert Tendai, Stanley Chidoti, Cephas Gemu and many others.

Sculpture Stones

Butter Jade has a creamy yellow colour with dark striations throughout and is sometimes also known as Butterstone. Although it is called 'Jade', it is not however a true Jade. The striations found in the attractive yellow-green sedimentary rock are actually layers containing fossilized algae. The stone is typically around 50 million years old and between 6 and 7 on Moh's hardness scale.

Cobalt Stone
A beautiful stone often purple in colouration with a variation of yellow and white markings and strips throughout. Can often have brown/orange markings. Cobalt is a brittle, relatively rare hard metal, closely resembling iron and nickel in appearance. It has a hardness of between 5 and 6 on Moh's scale.

Color is often pink or pinkish and can be colorless, white, yellow, gray or even brown or black when iron is present in the crystal. Luster is pearly to vitreous to dull. Transparency crystals are transparent to translucent. Hardness is 3.5-4 Streak is white. Associated Minerals: include calcite, sulfide ore minerals, fluorite, barite, quartz and occasionally with gold.

Purple in colour, this stone is absolutely stunning, especially in natural daylight. The colour can vary and is either dark purple or light, a colour you probably couldn't even replicate!

Leopard Rock
A beautifully coloured stone with spock marks similar to a leopard, hence the name, of yellow and black. Sometimes containing petrified wood. The moh’s hardness scale leopard stone varies between 6.5 and 7.0

Opal Stone
A beautiful light greenish serpentine. Opal stone is a very hard stone finely textured with an almost translucent surface sometimes specked with red,
orange and bluish dots and patches. Opalstone is famous for it’s milky light coloured greens and smooth texture. It is also unique in that it has fewer colour variations than Serpentine. It is also mined at Chiweshe, two hours north of Harare. This stone is one of the favourites of sculptors, as it’s not as hard as springstone and other serpentines, but still polishes to a high finish. Opalstone also has, at times, a brown colour throughout the predominate green. The appearance can be smooth or mottled. As with most of the stones mined for the purpose of sculpting, opal is mined without the use of automotive tools. Lemon Opalstone is easily identified by contrasting yellow striations within the stone. On the Mohs hardness scale, Opalstone rates between 5.0-5.5.

Opal Stone (Golden)
Found in Domboshawa, Zimbabwe, a fairly hard stone, best to keep indoors as it marks easily.

Opal Stone (Lemon)
Usually a much deeper colouration all over the stone, more colourful and a harder stone to sculpt than the usual Opal Stone, mostly due to the particles of quartz found within the stone. Lemon Opalstone is easily identified by contrasting yellow striations within the stone. On the Mohs hardness scale, Opalstone rates between 5.0-5.5.

Found in many deposits throughout Zimbabwe its colours vary from black to brown to green, orange and variegated. Hardness level varies from very soft to vary hard. Measured on a moss scale where a diamond is ten, serpentine goes from 1.2 up to 6.54. The majority of the sculptors today, however do not carve from soft serpentine, but rather select deposits of rock that are hard and therefore more durable. Black Iron Serpentine derives it’s name from the deposits of iron found in it and is one of the hardest and darkest stones found in Zimbabwe. It has the most amazing black lustress finish that resembles the black opal and is highly sought after because of it’s fine finish, durability and hardness.

Serpentine (Fruit)
Fruit Serpentine is usually a really colourful pretty stone, with deep veins of variated strata. Serpentine is the next hardest stone with a rating of 4.0-5.0 on Mohs hardness scale. Because of it's beauty and collectability it is one of the most sought after because of it’s fine finish, durability and hardness.

A very hard serpentine with high iron content and a fine texture, no cleavages, hard and firm offering a good resistance to the sculptor. Springstone has a rich outer "blanket" of reddish brown oxidised rock. They emerge from the quarry like sculptures created by nature millions of years ago and are often a source of inspiration to the artist. There are a few mines where this stone is found, but Guruve, in the north, is where springstone is mined. A beautiful dark stone, it polishes to a high shine because of it’s density. As with most other stones that are mined for the purpose of sculpting, this stone is mined by hand on communal lands. Springstone moh’s hardness is 7-8

Verdite / Golden Verdite

Verdite has a unique emerald looking quality with brown and green striations and is known as "green gold" because it is a semi-precious stone that is unfortunately becoming rare and therefore increasingly more valuable. It is a hard stone and only the more experienced sculptor will dare to sculpt it. on the mohs hardness scale verdite rates between 7.0-9.0.

Care of your sculpture


It is not advisable to use spray polish on the sculpture as it ruins the wax coating and will quickly leave the sculpture needing a repolish. Sculpture kept indoors should only ever need a dust. Wax is used to enhance the appearance of a sculpture where a high polished look is desirable. It also brings out the colour of the stone, protects it against weathering and can even fix any minor scratches. All sculptures come with an initial polish finish however, over time, the wax may wear off or the sculpture finish may start to look dull so it may become desirable to reapply another coat.

For general polishing, the procedure is simple. Apply a little clear wax polish or bees wax, leave for a while and then shine with a soft, dry cloth. Wax can be purchased at most art supply stores or you can use a floor wax made from carnauba wax. Buffing will renew beautiful glazed finishes and bring out the depth of colour and veins in the stone.

For a deeper polish, the statues should be heated prior to applying the wax. Since stone is very porous, the heat enables the sculpture to absorb the polish. There are a variety of methods used to heat sculptures. The size of the statue can dictate which method is preferable. Where temperatures permit, sculptures can be placed in direct sunlight until their surface is warm to the touch. It is also possible to place smaller sculptures in a warm oven (at about 180 degrees) for a few minutes. In Zimbabwe, the stone is often heated by using a paraffin blowtorch when available, or simply placing the sculptures directly into an open fire. More practically, a hair dryer works well. Whatever the method, it is important to apply the heat evenly being very careful not to concentrate too long on any one spot or the stone sculpture may get damaged. Once warmed, the wax should be applied continuously until the sculpture is cool and only start polishing once it is cold. If the sculpture is still warm, it may only provide a dull finish.

Buffing can be done using a soft lint free cloth or buffing wheel if you prefer. Be careful not to press too hard if you are using a power buffer. A light pressure is fine and be sure to keep moving it around. Never hold the buffer in one place.

Repair if damaged

Firstly try and make sure your beautiful and valuable sculptures do not get damaged. Although there are made of stone, some of them are fragile and can scratch or chip easily. Please make every effort to position them safely, properly mounted or supported. However in the unfortunate event that there is damage depending on the position and the nature of the damage, some can be mended some not. Take a photograph of the damage and Contact Us using our online form, attach the photo of the damage to the form and we will ask the artist and respond to you.