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African Arts and Crafts
by Beatrice Mugure Gachugi
29 May 2010
The last Country Craft Market of the season will be held on 29 May, one last chance before winter to explore this art and craft treasure-trove. A highlight of this market will be a demonstration by Beatrice Mugure Gachugi, who will be showing some of the processes she uses to produce her colourful and neatly made range of African Arts and Crafts.
So make sure you do not miss this last market of the season. Following the approval day on 1 May, some of the new crafters that have been appointed will also be present to bolster the ranks, and extend the collection of quality handmade craftwork on display.
While Beatrice’s craft story began with that mother of invention, necessity, it seems to also be a real-life testimony to the claim of Robert Fulghum’s book titled, “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten”. Certainly it demonstrates the importance of the right education in those impressionable years.
Beatrice grew up in the Nyandarua District in the Central Province of Kenya. It was there that her craft roots were established although she did not realise it at the time. Starting from grade 3, they were taught traditional arts and crafts as a subject at school.
With a somewhat more academic approach, the classes included both theory and practical work. In the process, they produced many practical and decorative items, ranging from painted bookmarks to wooden chairs, and dolls to woven hats.
When their young minds drifted off the subjects at hand, their teachers tried to stress the importance of these hand skills. “We were told,” says Beatrice, “that these skills could be ways for us to earn a living one day, but we thought the teachers were just saying this to make us work harder so we could pass the exams.”
However, they did get a taste of the truth to this claim when later they took a school trip to Mombassa. Being the 2nd biggest city in Kenya and a popular tourist destination, there were craft markets aplenty, supported by many foreign tourists eager to buy the big variety of local arts and crafts. Beatrice liked what she saw in these markets and a dream was born in her mind as she realised arts and crafts could be a career.
But then, half way through secondary school, Beatrice found herself having to give up school because the family could not afford the school fees. Out of pure necessity, she had to accept a poorly paid 4 day-per-week job in a Nairobi industrial company. To supplement her income, she was forced to start finding some other ways to earn money on the other 3 days – and her crafter dream seemed to be becoming an impossible one.
While drifting through a local craft market in Nairobi, she heard two women talking excitedly and loudly about a very successful exhibition of handmade jewellery they had held in Germany. Beatrice was amazed that making handmade craft could even result in one traveling to faraway places.
“That was the day,” says Beatrice, “that I realised that committing to one’s dreams, no matter how humble they are, and working hard towards achieving them, is very important.”
And she decided her ideas could indeed mature and also get her producing arts and crafts and travelling to overseas countries. She started visiting craft markets and gathering information and consolidating her own ideas. Along the way she recalled the bookmarks they had made in art at school, just strips of paper painted with animal designs.
So Beatrice made some of these bookmarks on fine hard board, and found a supplier of craftwork who was prepared to take them on consignment to sell. But they sold poorly and after trying for a while, Beatrice decided to change to using soft leather instead of paper. And then her primary school lessons began to pay off. The bookmarks began to sell so well that she was unable to paint them fast enough to keep up with the demand from the art distributor’s customers.
It was this small light, that finally got the flame burning, and soon Beatrice has added other more intricate and decorative items to her range. She now makes many items including her original bookmarks, leather picture and mirror frames, intricate and attractive candleholder figures made from horns, elegant bone cutlery and other trinkets, woven bags, leather coasters, vanity mirrors and key rings.
Beatrice’s beaded dolls are particularly decorative and colourful.
She has also been making sandals for over 6 years. The beaded designs that decorate her comfortable footwear make them both popular and fashionable.
Visitors to the Country Craft Market on 29 May can look forward to an interesting demonstration by an enthusiastic crafter. Beatrice’s neat and imaginative products speak for themselves, but she will be happy to also show the work and techniques used behind the scenes to produces her fine arts and crafts.
And we end with this footnote ...
Last Updated 04 November 2017 16:16