TRIBUTE TO TOM BLOMEFIELD- A Kind and Happy ManWritten by Roy Guthrie, Founder of Chapungu Sculpture ParkDecember 6th 2020I remember a time when needing to go to Tengenenge to purchase sculpture, I would phone Tom Blomefield to advise him and to seek permission to visit. His reply would always be the words “ Just come Roy- Just come”The story of Tengenenge and Tom Blomefield is essentially a human and spiritual one. It’s not about academic or intellectual achievement. Tengenenge- the name means “ The Beginning of the Beginning” is a joyful intuitive release of artistic creation which has been described as possibly the most pure art development of this century. It is though the forces within the mountains of the Great Dyke of Zimbabwe find release in the creations of the artists. Certainly artists are still inspired by the stone as it emerges from the quarry. They still work instinctively without measuring or drawing and certainly respect the stone as living and not inanimate matter.Why did Tengenenge develop and grow to contribute so much to Zimbabwe Culture and to enrich the lives of so many beyond its borders?The catalyst was its founder, Tom Blomefield, a man of empathy who related personally to his farm workers and later the sculptors and who respected their cultures and their way of life. He spoke their languages, attended their ceremonies, danced their dances and laughed and grieved with them. I believe these qualities (rare in those times) allowed artists to create from within their own memories and cultures without fear of criticism or censure.There are hundreds of stories about this humble and unassuming man. Permit me to relate just one which epitomizes the early years of Tengenenge:
In 1966, Fanizani Akuda was a foreman on a remote cattle ranch. His longtime friend Anderson, had been fired from his ranch and was making sculpture at Tengenenge. He wrote to Fanizani “ We are making carvings out of stone and the owner is a “kind and happy man”. Fanizani replied that he and Anderson had “long been friends and there was no reason now to lie to him- stone could not be carved and there were few kind and happy bosses” Letters were exchanged until finally Fanizani came to Tengenenge. He recalls . “ It was so as he had said- they were carving stone and he was a kind and happy man. After initially refusing to sculpt, but agreeing to mine 30 tonnes of stone for the other artists, Bloemfield gave Fanizani tools and persuaded him to try. His very first pieces bore the qualities that define his work even today- humour, tragedy and pathos.There will be many reading this who will turn to their much loved Fanizani sculpture and mentally thank Tom Blomefield for recognizing the potential of the reluctant young artist.And so we should all thank Tom Blomefield for the vision and foresight- the perseverance through years of great difficulty, through financial and personal problems, through ill health, through lack of support, and at times through derision and contempt. Tom Blomefield’s support and encouragement of the sculptors of Tengenenge is a story of tenacity and considerable courage, but it is also one of joy, adventure and achievement.Tengenenge became after all the starting point for many of Zimbabwe’s greatest artist, Henry Munyaradzi, Bernard Matemera, Sylvester Mubayi, Fanizani Akuda, Makina Kameya, Josia Manzi , Alice Musarara and many others.Please accept my apologies for not attending this tribute ceremony personally. I too am getting older!Roy GuthrieFounder and DirectorChapungu Sculpture ParkDecember 6 2020We at Chapungu remain steadfast in paying tribute and promoting all the Zimbabwean Sculptors- both past and present. Since our return to Zimbabwe, Chapungu Sculpture Park in Harare is being restored and we will pay tribute to Tom Blomefield and the Tengenenge artists and remember his contribution to what has become the most important art happening in Africa in the past two centuries.