On the 6th of December 2020 Tengenenge became the final resting place for its founder Thomas Blomefield. Tom died on the 8th of April, 2020 in Enschede in The Netherlands at the age of 93. His demise marked an end to what can be called a tremendous journey that has a strong history.
On the 10th of April 2020 a small group of friends and relatives was allowed to gather in Haaksbergen in The Netherlands to bid him farewell. On that same day he was cremated in Haarlo in a place surrounded by woods, a place described by his friend Geja Stassen as a ‘beautiful place.’
Tengenenge Art Community was formed in 1966. It is a place at the juxtaposition of Mvurwi and Guruve, deep down in the woods, embraced by the mountains of the Great Dyke.
The role played by the late Crispen Chakanyuka in its formation should never be underestimated. In his book Stone Rich Africa published in 2013, Tom states, “Crispen was the link between the first generation of Zimbabwe stone sculptors and the new movement of the Tengenenge sculptors.”
The birth of the Art Community met different challenges and one was the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by the Smith regime, a declaration that attracted economic sanctions. That history is best captured in Ben Joosten’s voluminous Lexicon titled, Sculptors from Zimbabwe published in 2001.
Blomefield was a colourful character who spoke different African languages.
In some interesting words the founder of World Art Foundation, Norbert Simons described him as one who preferred spending time with the ‘Nyau’ and the artists rather than spend it with his neighbouring farmers.
Tom was born in South Africa on 3rd May 1926 and he moved to Rhodesia around 1948. He initially worked at a tobacco plantation but later acquired his own farm to become a tobacco farmer.
During the ceremony in Tengenenge, his son Steven clearly articulated how his father welcomed everyone to his farm and without hesitation invited such people to try their hand at sculpture. Some of the now internationally recognised Zimbabwe stone artists were discovered through that.
Blomefield was a member of the Nyau, a secret society of the Chewa that specializes in a culture and infuses it with dance and song. For one to be a member they need to be initiated. Although in Zimbabwe the groups are mainly made up of Zambia and Malawi descendants, the tradition is found in most parts of Africa.
The group led the way to Blomefield’s final resting place and the rains could not deter them. It was a celebration of one of their own.
The remains of Tom were brought to Zimbabwe by Bastian Muller an art dealer. Geja Stassen, a Dutch architect who designed the Tengenenge museum and took care of Tom during his last days asked him to bring the remains.
His ashes in an urn are housed in a Bernard Matemera sculpture, a huge sculpture which Matemera left unfinished but with full of meaning.
The sculpture sits elevated on a huge granite rock and above it is the Tengenenge Museum.
Both the sculpture and the museum firmly sit on this majestic granite rock which stamps authority and dominion to both visitors and residents. Without doubt this place will be Tengenenge’s center of attraction for years to come.
The interesting life of Thomas Blomefield can never be put together in one article neither can it be understood through one perspective. It is a life that will be told and appreciated in different angles and if need be, challenged by others.