Theodora’s unique passion
When many of us hear the word job, what comes to mind is a working environment that is rife with neat, formal offices, official dress codes, fancy computers and financial security. But for fine artist Theodora Stone work is something entirely different, writes Benson Kimathi
It is mid-morning in the outskirts of Nairobi National Park. About 100m from fine artist Theodora Stone’s house, two giraffes are feeding on the leaves of an acacia tree.
Not far away, several antelopes are wiggling their short tails as they forage for leaves. The few sounds one hears in this deserted grassland is the chirping of birds high up the trees, and the drone of planes that are descending to the nearby Wilson Airstrip. Also audible is the barking of two huge dogs that belong to one of two only neighbours.
From her first-floor art studio, Theodora peers through the grilled glass window. Spreading before her eyes is a vast carpet of wild pasture, acacia and shrubs. No one can quite tell what lies beneath the bushes. To a visitor, the view is spectacular. To Theo who has been peering through the window for many years now, the view is part of the landscape.
On the artist’s desk is a watercolour palette, several painting brushes, a pair of scissors and masking tape. Also on the desk are a painted ostrich eggshell and an art book. Theo, a Greek, has been in Kenya for more than 30 years.
“I came to Kenya in 1972,” she narrates. “My dad came here prospecting for gold.” Spending her childhood in Uganda, Theo would later shift to Kenya, which became home. “I have not been out of Africa since 1979.” The artist holds a British passport and, despite countless attempts to attain a Kenyan citizenship, she still must survive on a work permit.
Through the years, she has completed incalculable paintings for a diverse clientele.
“I did a bathroom painting for businessman Chris Kirubi,” she says. Dislaying the photos of her artwork. She has also done a big tile mural for Nairobi’s Fairview Hotel, which took her five months to complete.
What is the name of this arduous painting? “There is Mt Kilimanjaro in the background, with zebras running in the foreground.” On the floor of the same hotel’s swimming pool is a giant Fairview logo, also by Theo.
Owing to a back problem that now makes bending a painful endeavour, Theo has had to cut down on tile paintings. In their place, the Greek-Kenyan now does small-scale artwork for individuals, especially foreign tourists.
“I have done birds, Maasai paintings, and other African themes.” Also to Theo’s credit are paintings in various airports. The decorations in her own house are reminiscent of art – much of it being her work. Hanging on a wall is a beautiful banana plant painting. Theo’s entire tea set is adorned in abstract art, as is her toilet, whose seat is adorned in an aesthetic ceramic tile.
Her flower vases, lamp shades and tablemats are bedecked with striking artwork. Sprinkled around Theodora Stone’s living room are skulls, like that of a warthog, an impala’s and a baby zebra’s, all collected in the neighbouring grassland.
She is content with her modest and quiet lifestyle. “I could write a book on how to live on little money,” says Theo. Whenever a cheque comes in, she explains, “I have to stick to my budget until the next cheque arrives.”
This woman’s life away from civilization is a blend of art and simplicity. She has no electricity. For her TV and lighting, Theo uses solar energy. When there is no sun, she uses candles and kerosene lantern. To warm her water, Theodora uses what she terms “tunnel technology.” In this, a tank of water is heated outdoors on firewood, after which the water is routed through a snakework of pipes to the house.
To iron her clothes, “I use the old-fashioned method – charcoal.” She adds: “I feel sorry for the guys in town; they have such huge electricity bills.”
Theo’s simple life away from people and civilisation is sometimes wrought with security problems. “My two neighbours and I each have a radio,” she says. “When there is a problem, we call out ‘Mayday, Mayday’.” Hiding is a vast grassland after a raid can be a raw deal for thieves, so security is not a problem.
For one, chances of stumbling on stray lions, hyenas, or buffalos are real. Even those using a getaway vehicle are discouraged by the long course of dusty and bumpy road that one must navigate to get to freedom. “It is easier to be attacked in Nairobi,” says Theo.
To the 54-year-old, this life is ideal. “I live my dream, and I wouldn’t exchange this for anything,” she says.
“Sometimes it is hard, though. Being an artist makes you realize that money is not all that important.” She says that, in her profession, financial security is hard to come by. “When something comes up, you are happy. When there is nothing, you can only wait.”
To Theo, “life is an inner journey and money is only a means to facilitate the journey. Money is not supposed to be that important.”
She says that most people go through great hardships trying to earn a living – “until we realise our mistake. I have met people who do a nine-to-five job and who go home miserable. People don’t realise that they have the power to live the kind of life they want. People engage in much negative thinking, and live a life without passion. Such a life is not worth living.”
She has no family – not even with a man – except for the househelp. “I was married but decided being on my won is better,” she says. “I have no intention of living with a man. The men (I have met) appear to resent the fact that I am doing so much with my life. And all they do is bring me trouble.”
Visiting Theo frequently are animals from the neighbouring park, including spitting cobras and leopards. But she will not be running away any time soon. The fine artist loves her solitary life, and wants to be free to go wherever she wishes and to do as she pleases.
“I go to town as little as possible,” she says. “I just don’t like it; you get hassled.” As for what Theodora Stone wants to do with the rest of her life, painting beautiful things in a quiet, serene environment away from the headaches of civilisation is on top of the list.
Cover story: Finding Art In Nature
Publication: The Sunday Standard – SOCIETY Magazine – page 6-7
Date: 18-Sep-2005 | Issue #: 1327
Credits: Writer: Benson Kimathi | Pictures by: Jenipher Wachie
Location: Nairobi, Kenya