The Shona people of Zimbabwe call the bateleur eagle (a rare native raptor that in Shona religious lore serves as a messenger of the gods) "Chapungu." It's no mistake that the name also applies to the contemporary stone art of the nation, a relatively recent cultural endeavor that's been met worldwide with both critical acclaim and stuffy disdain. Regardless of their place in the hierarchy of the art world, however, the resulting massive stone sculptures represent the spirit of Zimbabwe in grand and mysterious ways. Denver audiences will have the opportunity to interpret a touring collection of more than eighty of the works when Chapungu: Custom and Legend, a Culture in Stone comes to the Denver Botanic Gardens, 1005 York Street, beginning today. It helps to know the history of the stone works, which evolved secretively in the basement of the Rhodesian National Gallery during the 1950s. That's where art consultant Frank McEwen, personal friend of a long list of modern-art progenitors, established an art workshop for indigenous people in a land described as "barren" with regard to the visual arts. "Yet as soon as he introduced stone-carving to the Shona, they gravitated toward it," notes Chapungu curator Roy Guthrie. Although the Shona had no previous stone-carving or sculptural traditions, it was a tool-oriented technique that also had a spiritual dimension; in essence, the early sculptors were finding -- and revealing -- the inner spirit inherent in a hunk of stone. McEwen described their work as a "renascence of culture," something that was echoed by critics when the first major exhibition of the works arrived in Paris in 1971.
"It took the public by surprise," Guthrie says. "Nobody was aware of it until then. It was as if it had just erupted out of nowhere. It so overwhelmed the French public and collectors that Le Monde carried the headline 'Miracle in Rhodesia' on its art pages."
Despite hard times brought on by the national strife that culminated in Zimbabwe's formation in 1980, the sculptors continued to work, partially with support from Guthrie, who established a permanent collection and ensuing tours.
Chapungu remains on view at the DBG through October 31, for a special-event fee of $3 over regular gate admission. Call 720-865-3500 or log on to www.botanicgardens.org. -- Susan Froyd
Colorado Arts fest stays local
It's festival season, and there's no better way to kick it off than this weekend's Colorado Arts Festival at the Denver Pavilions. This isn't just another same-old, same-old show crowding the summer lineup; the CAF is designed for true local artists and collectors of local art. Unlike some other fests of its ilk, this one actually has space between the display booth, meaning you can get an eyeful of the paintings, sculptures, ceramics, jewelry, metal, photography and furniture without somebody's elbow jabbed in your ribs or a baseball cap putting out your eye. Imagine that.
"The main focus of the event this year is really the artist. We have 180 total, all of whom are Colorado artists producing work in all mediums," says Brian Nelson, producer of the CAF.
Food will also be a big part of the event -- but, thankfully, there'll be more to eat than just those ubiquitous giant turkey legs, as fifteen local restaurants plan to proffer their culinary delights.
The sounds of summer will be provided by Swallow Hill, which is fronting folk music on three stages. "Because of our focus, we've revamped all of our entertainment," Nelson says. "We used to have a big main stage and a cultural stage, but this year we've created three smaller stages. It's all kind of homegrown-type talent, with singer-songwriters and slightly mellower performers all in these little neighborhood settings."
The Colorado Arts Festival runs from 4 to 8 p.m. today, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Memorial Day. For more information, visit www.coloradoartsfestival.org. -- Amy Haimerl
Boulder Creek Rolls
With live music and dance being performed simultaneously on six stages, more than 475 vendors of arts and crafts, outdoor gear and food, two beer gardens and a Fun Zone featuring carnival rides and children's activities, this weekend's Boulder Creek Festival is total immersion. "It's basically the kickoff to the summer season here in Boulder," says Boulder Creek spokeswoman Meg Denbow.
Along with an entertainment lineup including the Hazel Miller Band, Wendy Woo & the Woo Crew, Kan'nal and Ballet Mestizo Folklorico, the festival's signature event is the Great Rubber Duck Race, held at 3:30 p.m on Monday.
"It's really great," says Denbow of the race, during which hundreds of the little yellow duckies float down Boulder Creek. "I think that both kids and adults look forward to it all year."
The free festival rolls out in downtown Boulder between Ninth and 14th streets and Canyon Boulevard and Arapahoe Avenue. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and tomorrow, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday. (Rubber ducks are available for $5 each.) For a complete schedule of activities, visit www.bouldercreekevents.com or call 303-449-3825. -- Julie Dunn
Pandora's a real diamond in the rough