Jack of all trades

Jack Stobart

After finishing school in Hawke's Bay I went on to study Adventure Tourism at Queenstown Resort College and then worked for two years as a canyon guide in Central Otago.

In 2013 I went overseas and worked on luxury yachts, travelling all over the world for six years and having wonderful experiences. However, the surface glamour of that life wore thin - I missed my family and friends and beautiful New Zealand and felt a real need to be in the driving seat of my life, not floating (literally and metaphorically) around the world.

While I was gathering my thoughts on 'what next' last year, I joined my parents on their annual visit back to Africa to select stone sculpture, textiles and artworks for Birdwoods in Hawke’s Bay. For me it was an amazing re-connection with the people and country of my childhood, while also seeing Zimbabwe with ‘outsider’ eyes.

I decided to stay on in Harare and spent three months living and working in the sculpture communities under the tutelage of a small group of stone sculptors. They work outdoors, with no power or running water and every step in the process is done by hand. I learnt how to quarry and select raw stone, and then to find the ‘spirit in the stone’ and carve, chase and polish finished sculptures - the owl pictured was my very first piece.

It was a life-changing experience. Unemployment in Zimbabwe now sits at 95% and three quarters of the population live in poverty. Corruption is endemic and the country is facing severe cash, fuel, medicine and power shortages. For the sculptors, the sale of one sculpture can feed their family for many months.

My time with them was the catalyst for a new chapter in my life. I decided to buy 200 sculptures and have them shipped to New Zealand’s south island. I have to confess, at that point I didn't exactly have a plan for what I was going to do once they arrived in New Zealand. But the planets aligned and I have taken over Gary Mahan's gallery premises in Arrowtown and Birdwoods South has come to life. When this first shipment of sculptures find new homes, I will be able to return to Zimbabwe and purchase more and continue to support the sculpting communities who so generously shared their skills and friendship with me.

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