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Written and Photographed by: Megan Pasche

“The beauty of this type of art, is how you interpret it,” says Dick Hamilton, who along with his wife Janet, owns Hamiltons of Pelham, an art gallery smack dab in the centre of the cute little town of Ridgeville. It’s evident straightaway that they are both very passionate about promoting not only the art on display at the gallery, but the artists themselves.

They sell the art of around 300 different artists, and specialize in stone sculptures from Zimbabwe, hand crafted terracotta from Crete and Turkey, metal works, woodcarvings, hand blown glass works and wearable art.

Hamiltons of Pelham was opened in December of 2012, but Dick and Janet are no strangers to the art world. Prior to opening their gallery in the Niagara Region, they owned and operated a garden centre and art gallery overseas in England; it was there that they began to build their art collection and first fell in love with Zimbabwean art. They are so dedicated to it in fact, that they currently house one of the largest collections of it in the world; and now the Niagara Region can benefit from that dedication because the Hamiltons have created the opportunity for visitors to see these works of art first hand and purchase them for their own homes.

All the pieces available at Hamiltons of Pelham are purchased directly from the artists, sometimes with the assistance of an art broker. The larger pieces are perfect for the garden, and as Dick says, they are almost “like living pieces that keep changing their look.” The stones vary in colour, and the colour can be brought out again and again by simply buffing the pieces with wax.

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One of the best parts of stepping into Hamiltons of Pelham is that Janet and Dick are more than happy to spend time with every customer to not only show them around the interior and exterior of the store, but to take the time to explain what it is people are looking at; tell people how it’s made, where it comes from and what it represents.

The art that comes from Zimbabwe is extremely impressive and the amount of craftsmanship needed to make the intricate pieces is extraordinary. The stone sculptures are made out of chunks of stone that were left over from the Zimbabwe eruption, and carved down with nothing but a hammer, a chisel and some sandpaper. When you look at the detail in these pieces, it’s almost hard to believe that they are made the way they are. Good thing Hamiltons of Pelham is giving everybody a chance to see the process with their own eyes.

This summer Hamiltons of Pelham will be hosting two sculptors from Zimbabwe: Tawanda Sarireni and Jonathan Mhondorohuma. They will be spending the whole summer at the gallery, carving sculptures and allowing people to watch them as they turn a simple chunk of stone into an amazing piece of art. Tawanda Sarireni is a native of Zimbabwe, who learned the craft of sculpting from his father; this is an art form that is passed down from generation to generation. He put it best when he said, “what inspires me is the stone itself, just looking at the stone, I see shapes. So, I take the tools and just remove what I call the dirty, unwanted features that are keeping people from what’s in the stone. I just unveil it.” When put like that, it sounds almost like magic. Tawanda is also the Curator for the Mystery in Stone, an artist collective that “aims to promote Zimbabwean art and culture throughout the world.” They are also involved in humanitarian work by helping to raise awareness of AIDS, and well as providing education for people living with AIDS, and increasing community acceptance towards AIDS patients.

Mhondorohuma, the other artist in residence, studied under one of the greatest sculpting masters in the history of Zimbabwe: Joseph Ndandarika. Mhondorohuma’s art has appeared in exhibits in Vancouver, Missouri and Bermuda.

Both these sculptors work in what is known as Shona sculpture which is the name of the largest tribe in Zimbabwe, but has also become the name for traditional stone sculpture from Africa. Zimbabwe, a land locked African country, is the only one on the continent that has large deposits of stone that would make for suitable sculptures. Many of the sculptors from Zimbabwe have no formal education, but simply an innate ability to look at a chunk of stone and turn it into something beautiful.

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Zimbabwe art started to come into prominence in the 1950s when an art curator named Frank McEwen came across the artists, and organized an exhibit at the Rodin Museum in France; their popularity began to grow from there.

As Tawanda noted, there are three generations of Zimbabwe artists, all with subtle differences in they way create sculpture. The 1st generation thinks, as Tawanda says, “that sculpture can only be sculpture if it talks about your culture.” The 2nd generation became more influenced by Western culture by way of TV and movies, and this influence creeps through in the art. The 3rd generation simply believes that “art should be art”. The 1st generation of artists was a group of men who could not read or write, so they used sculpture as their form of documenting their stories. Tawanda says, “you will find that our art speaks about our life, our way of doing things.” Or, more poetically put, “abstract isn’t abstract with cultural meaning.” This is why having these artists in Niagara is such a good opportunity: there is the chance to realize the whole thought process behind a piece of art, and see the pieces as they progress.

As Tawanda led me around the outdoor art exhibit, he was able to explain each and every piece in a way I never would have seen for myself. He pointed to one piece that looked to me to be half animal, half man, which it actually was, but it became all the more interesting as he explained the story behind it. He said, “in African culture, everybody has got a totem, and usually the totem is that of an animal. But the myth behind that is that you must not eat the meat of your particular totem. So, if my totem is a pig, I mustn’t eat pork. Now, if you eat the meat of your totem, there are consequences.” And the consequence for the man depicted in the sculpture was that he was turning into a pig.

Jonathan Mhondorohuma, the other visiting artist, was working away on a sculpture while I was visiting, and he was using only traditional tools. Pieces of chipped stone lay scattered on the grass, and he was concentrating on making what he said is going to be an angel holding a baby. He noted it takes about a week to ten days to complete one sculpture, and both him and Tawanda will be working on numerous pieces during their stay in Niagara.

From the outside street view, Hamiltons of Pelham just looks like a lovely little shop (which it is), but as you step through the doors, you will be transported across the world, on the kind of creative adventure amazing art seems to have the ability to send you on, just by being in it’s company.

Hamiltons of Pelham is located at 306 Canboro Rd in Ridgeville. You can contact them via email at info@hamiltonsofpelham.com, visit their website at www.hamiltonsofpelham.com, or give them a call at 289-897-8444.