Strong Women…….

We return to Africa once and sometimes twice a year and have been doing so since Birdwoods New Zealand was established in 2004 to do business with the craftspeople of Zimbabwe and South Africa.   We trade with the men and women who have chosen to create, craft and market their wares often under incredibly difficult circumstances and in conditions most people could not imagine being creative in.     I particularly enjoy doing business with the women who show tremendous character, resilience and business savvy, along with a wonderful warm sense of humour and humility.  I would therefore like to dedicate this blog to them and  introduce the following women to you.


Professional Stone Sculptor Perlagia Mutyavaviri:  A very talented Zimbabwean, one of the few women sculptors and an intelligent, educated, creative and very hard working woman.  Her work reflects this.


Jambo Beauty

Priscilla the Packer:   She carefully wraps and packs our goods for shipment out of Cape Town and looks a million dollars every time we see her and always has a huge smile.  How she keeps her finger nails manicured, we are not sure!


Beauty the Fabric Queen:  She works out of Avondale Market in Harare creating hand dyed and painted cushion covers and runners, often late into the night. She then dresses to sell over the weekend in the busy market.  Her work is consistently of a high standard and she is eager to sell into the export market.

Beauty 2

Fabulous Fortunate:  Many of the copper and brass bangles we purchase are from Fortunate – a very stylish lady with great dress sense and a lovely lady to trade with.  She drives a hard bargain with traders from the north of Zimbabwe and is one of the few to see the benefit in selling something different to her neighbouring stall holders.

Fruit Basket Lady

Mother Africa:  A Zimbabwean lady we passed on a dusty road coming from her market garden not far from Tengenenge Sculpture Community in the Guruve area of Zimbabwe, who shared her smile with us as she was making her way to the bus stop to sell her produce.

Maridadi Woman Worker

Maridadi Mama – Maridadi is Swahili for something beautiful.  This lady works for Maridadi Pewter Designs in KwaZulu Natal where we saw her polishing and sanding pewter creations.  This is a very innovative and creative business which exports worldwide.  Jenny Hallett and her husband Alan are a creative duo, Jenny runs the pewter business whilst Alan is a well known bronze sculptor.

Kubatana Bindi

Kubatana Bindi: Belinda makes wonderful gift and décor items using traditional African fabrics and works closely with a couple of women who make them with her.

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Birdwoods Zimbabwe:  Joy Denton pictured here with her hunky son David (who plays rugby for Scotland).

Joy and her husband Tim purchased Birdwoods Zimbabwe in 2004 and have survived the worst of Zimbabwean economics! They continue to supply Birdwoods metal sculptures around the world and huge credit to them for doing so in very difficult trading conditions.

Mrs Ebenezer

Mrs Ebenezer:  Don’t mess with her!  She sources treasures from West Africa for the Cape Town Markets and is a force to be reckoned with!

Finally, and you won’t believe there really are two of us….

Two Louise Stobarts!

Louise Stobart from Howick, Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa – founder of the Howick Hospice and a truly wonderful woman whom I am proud to share her name with!


It has been a while…..

It is is Easter Sunday 2015 and also one of the four days in the year that the Gallery is closed.   It is also the day the clocks go back and we are truly into autumn.  The lights are off, there is no music playing and all is quiet. I can hear the building breathe a sigh, but only a small one as it loves to be open, refreshed, cleaned, re-stocked, bustling with people and delicious smells coming out of the kitchen. This will be tomorrow – today Birdwoods rests.
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Bruce is on the lawnmower, the grass is looking lush and the sculptures polished, the tables and chairs are out waiting for a beautiful Hawke’s Bay day as promised in the morning.


The silver is clean, the trays are set, the flowers are ready to be cut and put into vases and all our staff are enjoying time off with their family today.  We too have spent time with our family recharging our batteries which has been wonderful and now we are set to enjoy the autumn and winter months ahead.

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We look forward to you visiting Birdwoods in the not too distant future – we are open seven days a week and from 10am to 5pm.  Happy Easter!

The Vintage Cars are coming to town….

Sunday afternoon brought out the visitors in their car loads enjoying the wonderful Hawke’s Bay summer weather. However, none so glamorous or stylish as this 1935 Studebaker, owned by the parents of Mandy Martin who is one of our Kitchen Ladies.

Archie in the Studebaker

We hope to be seeing lots more vintage cars during the week ahead – Art Deco Week begins in earnest and runs from the 14th to the 17th February celebrating the 25th Anniversary Weekend.

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Have a look at Art Deco Napier for the full program of events. The vintage Bentleys will be appearing in force along with costume and coiffure competitions and the bathing Belles. Bertie is a regular visitor to the Gallery, although looks like he will be busy this week.

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Mandy & Archie
So to get yourselves in the mood, get dressed and come for a Birdwoods tea and scones on the terrace or in the conservatory where Mandy and Archie will be there to greet you!

Thank you for reading. Louise x

Oh so Suzani….

We have another wonderful product gracing the gallery – vintage Suzani cushions from Uzbekhistan. They have a ‘come lie down with me’ look – particularly if you are a dog! The big ones make for a great dog bed – truly stylish! Well Archie thinks so…

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Suzani comes from the Persian word for “needle,” and refers to embroidered hangings or fabric coverings of the nomadic tribes of Central Asia.
The birthplace of Suzanis was in what is now Uzbekistan, the area along the Silk Roads that interconnected the cultures of Europe, Turkey and China with the Muslim world. With the establishment of the Silk Road, the Suzani art flourished. In the 19th century, Uzbek women produced excellent embroidered hangings, table covers, bed covers, wrapping cloths, and prayer mats for their households and their daughters’ dowries.
Traditionally, the family and friends of a bride join together to help make the textile furnishings of her home. Traditionally, women did not create the design of the Suzani fabrics themselves. They would take the material to an elder in the village or tribe who would then draw the design on the fabric. Common motifs found in Suzanis are the tulip, teardrop (paisley) and sunburst.

These cushions have been made from vintage Suzani works on cotton fabric and featuring wool and cotton embroidery. The large square floor cushions are filled with 100% New Zealand wool batts and all covers have been dry-cleaned. Prices range from $95 – $180. Do enquire further if you are interested.

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So heavenly that Archie has now gone to sleep….. Louise x

The famous elegant Hawke’s Bay Gannet….

A visit to the amazing gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers so inspired David Pearson from Levin that he searched (in vain) for some sort of memento to take home by which to remember the elegant gannets and his holiday in Hawke’s Bay in 2012.
Undaunted, David has since commissioned a group of Balinese carvers to create a small flock of these beautiful and exceptionally well-observed gannets, which are made by hand from Bentawas wood. This is a fast growing sustainable wood grown on Bali and is managed by regular harvesting and replanting.
The Australasian gannet (takapu) is one of three species of gannet which belong to the booby family. They are usually found in large colonies on offshore island around New Zealand and southern Australia and have been nesting at Cape Kidnappers since the 1870s.
gannet colony
Numbers have steadily increased to 6,500 pairs, which makes it the largest and most accessible mainland colony in the world.
The gannet’s average lifespan of between 25 to 40 years has a remarkable start. The 16 week old chicks, which have never been airborne before, take on a 2,800 kilometre Tasman Sea crossing. Two to three years later, the young birds return from Australia to undertake tentative mating. However, it is not until they are five years old that they nest in earnest, after which most spend their life around the coastal New Zealand seas.
close up gannet
We are delighted to be the first to show these wooden birds in Birdwoods Gallery and am sure that they will offer a happy memory to visitors and locals alike. They cost $79 each and are very light to travel with.

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If you are visiting Hawke’s Bay be sure to take the tractor ride out to see the gannets – it is an unforgettable experience and you are in very good hands with
Gannet Beach Adventures.
Birdwoods loves birds! Thanks for readingx

The World’s Best Rocking Horses….

Rocking Horse

We are delighted to welcome three very beautiful hand-crafted Relko Rocking Horses made by Angus Parker of Huntly, New Zealand.

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These have been individually hand carved from the best laminated woods and have been made in England since 1975. They have been exported worldwide collecting awards for design and export achievement. They have also been universally accepted as the best rocking horses wordwide since 1977. The designers are now living in New Zealand and making them here.

Prices range from $3450 to $4232 Further details can be obtained by contacting our staff at Birdwoods Gallery.

Pecha Kucha…..

Pecha Kucha – means ‘chit chat’ in Japanese.  20 images with 20 seconds to talk on each image.  Clive Hall  – 12th June 2012 – I was speaker number two, (so was able to enjoy the nine others).  A very interesting and entertaining evening with subjects on absolutely anything!  I talked on Tengenenge – the stone sculpture story.

Just over a month ago, Bruce and I travelled  to Guruve, about three hours north east of Harare.  This  image is of Zomba Parta – a granite rock mass and place of spiritual ancestors which is part of a very beautiful drive in the fertile ex-commercial farming district of Central Mashonaland, and home to where we used to farm in the Mazowe District.  Always an emotional and sentimental journey and still as geographically wonderful as ever.

At this splendid sign we turn right down a rough road and track for 18kms to the Tengenenge Sculptor and Art Community which is at the base of the Great Dyke  range of hills in some very beautiful and scenic countryside.  It does take you through a worrying scar on the landscape – a large chrome mine being developed by the Chinese with very little respect for the people or the environment.

Tengenenge which means ‘the Beginning of the Beginning’ is a community of people that have come about mostly as the result of this man, the late Tom Blomefield who was amongst many other things a tobacco farmer who farmed Tengenenge Farm in the 1950’s.  Employing a largely migrant labour force, the evenings were long, and it was through the children who were being taught at a local school by a catholic priest to carve from the local stone, that the parents started to join them creating pieces of work from stone.  Tom recognised the art form as being a creative channel for their sense of identity and history and encouraged them and took greater interest in their work, so beginning one of Africa’s most impressive art forms.  He later donated his farm to the community.

Today, almost sixty years later Tengenenge is home to more than a hundred artists and their families who use the local stone, mainly serpentine and springstone to carve their pieces.  The artists live and work under the beautiful msasa trees, with each artist allocated a small plot to proudly display their work.  This is truly a special and very spiritual place where the sculptors find inspiration for their pieces that often represent family values, children, play, animals and love.  It is highly organised and hosts international wholesale buyers, such as ourselves, from all over the world.  Very few, if any tourists, venture this far into the rural areas.

There is no electricity here and the pieces are made from several different types of stone which are mined locally in the surrounding hills.  Plenty of time, patience and hard physical work allow them to hue their pieces from very large to very small pieces of rock.  Some pieces taking weeks to make.  The process is completed with many hours of sand papering, heating and waxing the sculptures to attain the highly polished finish that is so attractive.

The huge choice of work available makes the selection process long, tiring but most rewarding for us.  The artists say they allow the spirits within the stone to guide them in their carving, with many of them becoming specialists in their own fields – such as the Owl Specialist or Hippo Specialist. 

Amali Malola is 98 years old originating from Malawi as a migrant worker in the early 1950’s. He is one of the few remaining first generation sculptors still working today.  A wonderful man with a good heart and a great face.  A photo I am proud of, which was taken on this trip.

Amali Man – one of our favourite pieces carved when Mr Malola was 96 and one we intended to keep in our collectors garden, however, a  Nelson couple recently fell in love with this piece and intuitively knew that it was a special one and so we were happy to part with it.  This piece has the naive appeal of many of the first generation pieces.  The styles have evolved and developed over the last 60 years to more sophisticated and contemporary designs.

The opposite end of the generations is young William Gunja (great name) whom we were very proud to be his first customer.  William is five years old and is learning the skills from his father and grandfather as he wants to follow in their footsteps – we will try and buy something from him each year to keep encouraging him. 

Dominic Benhura – a legend in Zimbabwe and claimed to be in the top five sculptors in the world. Dominic is Director of the Tengenenge Trust and fosters and promotes their work internationally.  He is extremely successful in his own right and regularly holds one-man shows around the world and is particularly well known and respected in Europe and America.  He sponsors and entirely funds more than 15 sculptors within his own studio and is a most likeable and modest family man.

This Brahman Bull is one of his recent newer styles of work, a large piece commissioned for a rancher in Texas with a six figure price tag.  This one unusually made of small pieces of stone, with others made using animal bone.  His work generally reflects his love of children playing, women and animals, the sizes only dictated by the length of a 40′ container!  One of his pieces graces the outside of the UN Building in The Hague.

Stanford Derere – a great friend and colleague of Dominic’s who works within his studio, and slightly more affordable.  This was him taken last month whilst at work – another photo I am proud of.  Stanford is famous for his bird and flight forms to which we have been fortunate enough to have sold several pieces over the last few years, however, his work is gaining in value and is highly collectable so not sure how many more we can afford!

This piece was one of our earlier purchases and exhibited at Sileni Estate Winery.  It now graces a lovely home in Hastings.  We hope to hold several exhibitions of stone away from Hawkes Bay with our eyes set on Auckland, Sydney and one in Virginia, USA next September.

Washington Matafai – another very successful young artist who no longer works at Tengenenge but in a high density areas just out of Harare.  We visited him during the cholera epidemic a couple of years ago and were somewhat shocked by the surrounds he was working in.  How he creates these amazing organic shapes and designs that take your breath away – I will never know.  His working conditions are hardly conducive to creativity.

The market sellers in Harare often sell the smallest pieces on behalf of stone sculptors, often known as ‘airport art’ these are cheap and popular reproductions of stone which are sold to whoever they can persuade to buy them – and believe me, they are  persistent!  This is an exhausting experience as the desperation of their lives still so evident, however, very colourful and stimulating even though they all sell much the same craft as each other!  It is a case for hunting for the treasure items of which there are still a few to be found.

Here is Bruce, Tendayi and Blessing at the end of the community stone sculpture selection process totting up our purchases.  These guys are truly a pleasure to work with, we maintain contact with them throughout the year on dodgy email connections, we assist their community efforts where we can and we keep them up to date with our marketing and sales plans, as they do us with theirs.  

I only drink one coke a year – after a long hot tiring day selecting stone and it is the best drink of the year!

Jasper Mukuni is a Tengenenge artist moved to the city, and a city boy he is!  Third generation sculptor and very aware of the market trends and highly adaptable to customer requests and design.  A very smooth and professional operator, well travelled having been a workshop guest in H olland, Germany and America and keen to come to New Zealand!  A new leader in the stone sculpture movement driven by making a name and money! 

This is one of our favourite artists – Stephen Chikeya, a wonderfully modest man completely passionate about stone and sculpting.  I asked him who was the most famous person he had sold a piece to – a personal buyer for Sir Terence Conran in London, one of Britain’s most respected designers.

Back to New Zealand and our garden where we are lucky to have two of Dominic’s pieces – this photo taken recently on a lovely winters evening.  We bring one container back each year and our garden grows with ever extending sculpture walks.  We have become addicted – along with many of our customers!

This photo is of the sculpture garden in winter mode – not too many of them left as we have had a very good summer season, however, new ones that we have recently purchased from the communities in Zimbabwe are on their way. 

We feel most privileged to represent this art form in New Zealand, as we were not entirely appreciative of it whilst we lived in Zimbabwe.  It has taken a new beginning to have discovered  this.

Finally, a recent photograph of the Birdwoods Gallery and Sweet Shop – when you visit, we can assure you that you will have more than 20 seconds viewing per sculpture!  If you are still not sure what Pecha Kucha is – have a look online.

With thanks for your reading time.  Louise, Bruce and all at Birdwoods x