ng artistic achievement, craft skills and countless survival skills among the African people she loved so well. She died aged 94 in Somerset, England, on March 5, 2006.
In 1945 she and her husband Mike, a former pioneering pilot in Africa, made their home at Brackenhills in the Inyanga mountains of Southern Rhodesia’s eastern highlands, where they farmed, raising sheep and growing apples. From the 1960s onwards Pat’s family and friends identified and refined the production of some of the of the country’s best indigenous crafts in the area.
Her daughter Jeni and colleague Carole Wales-Smith then collected and promoted the sale of the beautiful objects – local crafts from all over the country. These included wooden artefacts and basketry and the woven gudza mats made from tree bark. Scores of villagers were thus helped to make a livelihood.
But her most enduring legacy must be her discovery of the potential of African stone carvers in the area, identifying some of the earliest pioneers among a huge phalanx of the region’s talented sculptors who were to put their country’s art on the map. Her friend, the National Gallery of Rhodesia’s most ambitious Director, Frank McEwan, eagerly grasped the glory that people who were to succeed among the world’s best sculptors would bring to the gallery. But it was Pat Pearce, with her daughters Rowena and Jeni, aided by McEwan’s influence in the Gallery’s mid-sixties Workshop School, who brought some of the earliest Shona sculptors, Joram Mariga and Bernard Manyondoro to international attention.
Many were to follow including, much later, Zimbabwe’s Tapfuma Gutsa, one of the most brilliant of all. In 1988, Robert Loder, a British businessman and friend of the Pearce family started the Triangle Workshops in Zimbabwe (where they were called Pachipamwe).These gatherings of international artists helped bring the young, professionally trained Gutsa to international prominence. Two years later, Pat Pearce herself joined a workshop organized at Cyrene in Matabeleland. Her own early, rigorous training has been exhibited in fine water colour paintings at the National Gallery and elsewhere and this was a, a talent she continued to develop throughout her life, especially from the 1980s.
But that was not all that made Pat Pearce so remarkable a woman. She had spent much of her youth in a little citrus valley called Muden in South Africa’s Natal province before she married and moved to Rhodesia. Although she was born and nurtured in the mould of a privileged English gentlewoman: educated at Oxford’s Ruskin School, well travelled, mixing in high social circles and possessed of tremendous artistic taste and ability, she expressed her rebellion against the comfortable conformity of Rhodesia’s white society in a life dedicated to helping less privileged people wherever she found them. Her “Well Baby” clinic was an early innovation, together with her support of a Red Cross initiative to offer primary health-care training to a villager in each village in the Inyanga region. She personally set up scholarships for bright, black youngsters and travel grants for nationalist friends and established a wool-weaving rug industry, called Zuwa, for local women to earn a livelihood.
After her husband died in 1963 she continued with drive to improve the lives of people in the area. In the late 1960s and early 1970s she supported the Tangwena people of Manicaland, led by the heroic Rekayi Tangwena, in their struggle against the Smith regime. In August 1970 she was arrested on suspicion of helping to finance freedom fighters – a charge which she relished, except that it forced her into exile from her beloved Africa. Her well-known opposition to the Smith regime had made her a target of the Rhodesian Front, which had engaged in a war, which pitched the white community against many of her nationalist friends.
She spent 25 years in England, during which time she developed as a notable water-colourist. But in 1997, when she was over 80, she returned to live near her African friends in the Inyanga (now Nyanga) district, determined to help the poor. Still painting in her spare moments, she became involved in AIDS awareness schemes and helped to finance a preschool for AIDS orphans. She was deeply involved with Ann Cotton’s scheme for educating girls (CAMFED) and collected second-hand books for the Zimbabwe Book Aid International Trust founded by Lady Ranfurly. Her final act of defiance, this time against a new tyranny, was characteristic. In 2000 just after the election, when the first challenge to Zanu PF’s power base had emerged, she made a photographic recording of the ruling party’s destruction of homes and workshops in Nyanga. She did this on foot and in public, in broad daylight at great personal danger to herself.
Her health and the growing danger and violence in Zimbabwe forced her to return permanently to the UK where she spent the last 6 years of her life. Active to the end, when the shortage of seed threatened the health of Zimbabwean families who grow vegetables for their own subsistence, she persuaded Sutton Seeds in the UK to send her donations of vegetable seeds, which she and volunteers packed up in small selections and posted to individual recipients in rural Zimbabwe.
There are few people who are not impressed by this catalogue of energetic and high-minded dedication to the people in Zimbabwe over a long life. Pat Pearce is survived by three children, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Post published in: News