International artist visits Highland Elementary

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 Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
 International artist Gedion Nyanhongo, of Africa, stopped by Highland Park Elementary School on Nov. 2 to talk to the students about art. He showed the students how to sculpt rocks without high-tech equipment and told him how life is in Africa.

Highland Park Elementary School was decorated with wildlife photographs, exotic music was coming from a tape player in the office, and rooms were transformed into a tribute to Africa.

The festivities went along with a visit from internationally acclaimed artist Gedion Nyanhongo, from Zimbabwe, who came to the school to talk to the students about his love of art and growing up in Africa.

"Sometimes we (him and his family) would drive 140 miles out of town to get a piece of stone and buy it from the quarry," he said.

Nyanhongo is a stone sculptor and does not use machinery to help along with the task of carving a mind’s eye picture from stone. He uses tools such as chisels, hammers and sand paper to shape his art.

"Machinery is too fast for my brain, so I use my hands to be more precise."

He has approximately 400 pieces of art.

"I listen to the stone and it tells me what it wants to be," he said. "Then you try to turn it into something of value."

His love of stone sculptures started at a young age. His father, Claud, is a well-known artist who is said to be the "first generation" of Shona sculptors.

"I used to crawl into his studio and steal his tools," Nyanhongo said. "I wanted to be like my father, and I didn’t know or think I was disturbing him. I just wanted to help."

That desire to help still resonates within him. Besides creating art from a piece of stone, he travels the world going from school to school to talk about art and bring awareness to the plight of the people of Zimbabwe. He recalls seeing children living in donated tents, or just in the dirt, and walking miles upon miles to school in pants they cannot keep up around their waist because they are too thin.

"To leave a footprint you have to start something yourself," he said.

Last year, Nyanhongo and several others started the Sahwira Fund, a non-profit organization that raises money for Maulana Schools for Orphans in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Funds generated from his sculptures will help install solar-powered electricity once the classrooms are under roofs (as they currently learn in tents) and will provide clean water for the students.

"One U.S dollar is worth $1 million Zimbabwe dollars," said Tracey Bigler-McCarthy, a friend of Nyanhongo and one of the founders of the Sahwira Fund. "This fund came out from a passion of art and children and Gedion sees a responsibility to help his people and the children there."

To see Gedion Nyanhongo’s work, you can stop by his Web site at www.mudzimu.com.

For more information on the Maulana School, visit www.sahwira.org. Or, to help the students of Highland Park with their penny drive to raise funds to support that school, go to their "donation station" in the African Museum at 2600 Cameron St. in Grove City.

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