This monumental bowl, 16 inches across and weighing 10 1/4 pounds, was hand carved from Kisii stone, named for the people of western Kenya, Africa, who are famous for their carvings of this soapstone that they mine locally. The stone is dug from the ground by hand. It's carved with machetes, saws and knives, then sanded and polished. At this point, if color is desired, the piece is dyed with shoe polish or ink; the carving is done next, incised designs that allow the natural stone color to show through. Multiple people take part in creating each item and none of the steps are done by machine. Even if two or more items are the same shape, each piece is unique.
This bowl was dyed on the front side in earth colors of black, brown and a pale rust. They were rubbed on with cloths or shredded rope, allowing the texture of the stone to show through. There are four schools of fish, two heading one way and the other two in the opposite direction. The panels of geometric decorations include representations of waves, bubbles, sand dunes and honeycombs (at least, those are our interpretations). The back of the bowl is a wash of pale brown, with the variations in color typical of hand dyed items. As you can imagine, making a bowl this size is quite an undertaking, and compared to the number of smaller Kisii items, is not very common.
This African masterpiece is in wonderful condition with just one small ding on the rim. Otherwise, the stone is lustrous and the carved designs fresh. As well as measuring a huge 16 inches across, it stands 5 inches tall and sits flat on a 4 1/2 inch diameter round base. It is a very dramatic and tactile piece that adds an exotic note to any room.
© Linda Henrich
Photos by: Wayne Henrich