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Black History Month Event To Showcase Shona Sculpture

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—New Jersey Secretary of State Regena L. Thomas will provide the keynote address when the Minorities in the Profession Section (MIPS) hosts its Black History Month reception on Feb. 20 at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. The exciting event will include a special one-day exhibit of Shona sculpture and an art exhibit by Carolyn Cole that is currently installed at the Law Center. Awards will also be presented to the student winners of the art and essay contest sponsored by the section in celebration of Black History Month.

“MIPS is very fortunate to have a dynamic and inspirational speaker like Ms. Thomas at our reception,” said MIPS Chair William T. Rogers III.

“I heard her speak recently to a group of young professionals and it is difficult not to admire her. The audience at the MIPS reception will consist partially of high school students and I hope that they will be inspired by Thomas.”

Thomas is New Jersey’s 31st secretary of state, and she is charged with the promotion and preservation of the arts, history, and culture of the Garden State. One of only a handful of African-Americans to hold the post nationally, she brings a unique blend of grassroots activism, political acumen, steadfast determination, and personal integrity to the Department of State and its mission to enrich the quality of life throughout New Jersey through its arts, history, and culture.

Attorney General designee Peter Harvey will also attend the reception as a distinguished guest.

Rogers added, “This year’s Black History Month reception is made so much more significant by history in the making: Harvey becoming New Jersey’s first black attorney general and Karol Corbin Walker ascending to the presidency of the New Jersey State Bar Association in May.”

Student Contest

For the Black History Month contest, New Jersey high school students submitted art and essay entries on “How have the African-American leaders or groups that made progress during the Civil Rights era had an impact on your life?”

Contest coordinator and MIPS Secretary Kenneth Sharperson decided on a topic that would give students something to think about as well as require that they do research.

“There are students who do not know what happened in the civil rights movement and why they have the rights, freedoms and abilities available to them today,” he said.

“This topic asks the students the question, who helped give me these rights and freedoms? I tried to think of what would be interesting for me, and researching the history of the Civil Rights era and how it currently affects your life is perhaps not your typical essay contest.”

The purposes of the MIPS Black History Month competition are to enhance interest in the practice of law by minorities and to encourage excellence in writing by New Jersey public high school students. All entries will be reviewed by a panel of three judges and the first, second and third place winners will be recognized at an awards ceremony during the Black History Month reception.

Shona Sculpture

Attendees at the Black History Month reception will be treated to a special one-day exhibit of Zimbabwean Shona sculpture. Carved from stone by self-taught artists primarily from the Shona tribe of Zimbabwe, the works are a unique and exquisite contemporary art form that can be found in the permanent collections of the Rodin Museum in Paris, the Museums of Modern Art in New York and Frankfurt, the Museum of Mankind in London and the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.

A characteristic unique to Shona sculpture is the special relationship that the sculptor has with the stone. An artist will search for a stone that talks to him or to which he feels an affinity. After quarrying the raw stone with a pickaxe and pry bar, carvers use simple and handmade tools to release the spirit trapped in the stone. The Shona artists do not pre-plan the work, though occasionally they may draw a line or two on the stone. The image of the sculpture is inspired by the stone itself or the ancestral spirits.

According to an article titled “Chapungu: the Stone Sculptures of Zimbabwe” by Foceline Mawdsley, former exhibitions curator of the Chapungu Sculpture Park in Harare, Zimbabwe, the works are powerfully human.

“With much of the work portraying messages in a figurative manner, and carved with immeasurable skill, it cannot help but convey feelings and experiences basic to mankind, whatever their cultural heritage. Seductive and extremely beautiful, the material alone invites exploration, both visually and mentally.

“The sculptors have both an intensive technical knowledge and understanding of the stone, but also a great spiritual respect for this natural resource that they believe has an innate spiritual life force of its own. They express the fundamental relationships between the two guiding forces in Shona life–the visible physical world and the unseen spiritual world that exists in all cultures, but in this culture represents the very influential ancestral spirits–communicators between the dead and the living.”

The Shone sculptures are produced from a variety of stones indigenous to Zimbabwe and South Africa. Serpentine stone, with its considerable range of colors and hardness, is the material most commonly used. Formed over 2.6 billion years ago, it exists in a diversity of colors including black, browns, mauves, greens and yellows. Artists also carve in opalstone, verdite, leopard rock and steatite and use only a hammer, chisel, file and sandpaper. Once the artist completes the stone carving, it is placed in a fire and heated before applying beeswax which melts and is absorbed deep in the stone giving it a deep luster.

Carolyn Cole

Currently on exhibit at the Law Center is a collection of pastel, collage and photography works by Carolyn Cole.

“I chose Cole’s work from three artists that were considered because MIPS has not displayed abstract art in years, and the concept of departing from the display of plainly African or African-American themes during Black History Month appealed to me,” said Rogers.

“I love the non-commercial aspect of Cole’s work. It is disappointing when art unabashedly targets a specific market at the expense of true expression or rendition. Cole’s work is expressive.”

In 1991, at the age of 50, Cole enrolled in her first art class at San Francisco Community College. She subsequently honed her craft while taking courses at San Francisco State University, College of Arts and Crafts, the University of California and Laney College.

“My creative energies have focused on pastel realism, oil abstracts, and most recently on abstract pastels and acrylic collage. My themes range from organic textural shapes to color-saturated, architectural forms,” said Cole.

“I hope to continue developing and sharing my expressions of form, space, texture and color. For me, making and sharing art is the highest form of spirituality.”

The Carolyn Cole exhibit will be open throughout February, Black History Month.

To register for the Feb. 20 reception, please contact the NJSBA Meetings Department at 732-249-5000, or online at

The New Jersey State Bar Association, incorporated in 1899, is dedicated to the continuing education of lawyers and the public, to reforming and improving the legal system and to aiding in the administration of justice.