When Sylvia and I were planning our recent visit to South Africa, a garden committee at nearby Lake Junaluska Retreat and Conference Center asked if we might select, purchase, and arrange for shipping of a stone sculpture suitable for their Welcome Center’s “Biblical Garden.” When Sylvia had overseen the art for the Welcome Center at its construction some six years ago she had envisioned the presence of one of the stunning pieces developed by the Shona sculptors of Zimbabwe. We knew of a place that sold Shona sculptures near Cape Town and said we would take on the assignment.
We were first captivated by this artwork when we visited the magnificent Kirstenbosch Gardens outside Cape Town in 1998 to see an extensive exhibition of pieces created in the Chapunga workshops in Zimbabwe. Their spiritual depth and human immediacy affected us deeply and have found enthusiastic reception around the world.
When we got to South Africa we visited the extensive sculpture center, “A
Little Piece of Africa,” on the road to Cape Point and were helped by Anna Mutize, daughter of the founder, who goes back to Zimbabwe regularly to select works for sale in Cape Town. We settled on a relatively small piece (only 100 pounds) entitled “Creation Flower,” that seemed just right for the garden. It was carved from serpentine by Naboth Chandiringa. Sylvia then carried on an extensive correspondence with the shipper in Cape Town to arrange for its crating and transport. Intimidated by the procedures, rules, and routes this precious cargo would take, we were grateful for his experienced counsel to these utter novices.
When we finally received word of its shipment, we tracked its progress through the air and on the ground to Charlotte. We then drove to the airport freight complex to get the wooden crate. Weaving our way through the labyrinth of warehouses and semi-trailers, we found our way to the shipper’s office. The clerk who responded to our bell at the desk said cheerily, “Oh, you must be Sylvia.” She patiently explained that “No, we don’t take checks, cash, or credit cards. You get a money order from the post office around the corner. Then come back.” And then, “Find your way to the customs office.” And then submit your papers. And then wait. And then try to explain that the stone sculpture listed as “opal” is not a huge gem but a kind of stone called serpentine. Tell the Customs officer, “This is all a mystery to us” and hear him say, smiling, “We like to keep it that way.” Stamp! Stamp! Stamp! And then, famished, stop at the nearby recommended Mexican restaurant. And then return with stamped papers to our friend at the warehouse. And then drive up a ramp beside the massive trucks and petition a forklift driver to get the crate. It comes, with ceremony, on his massive forklift. After all the bar codes, forms, and papers, the crate simply said in handwriting on its top, “Sylvia Everett.” Our experience of receiving it became the poem you can read and hear below.
It now sits in the garden, anchored to a boulder beside a water feature and a cascading redbud. I think it will find new friends and family here, far from its ancient origins and the hands that gave its inner spirit new birth.
On the forklift
sits a dark bronze Buddha
from ancestral Africa
from his throne.
He takes my paper
scans it searchingly