Soapstone: Meet the Makers

Our Soapstone is carved by the artists of SMOLArt a group of artists who live in the rural village of Tabaka in western Kenya, the heart of soapstone crafts. SMOLArt is a shortened version of Small, Medium, and Large Artists and refers to the size of the soapstone products that are lovingly crafted by hand from locally mined soapstone. The self-help organization provides member carvers with marketing and logistical support to sell their crafts while also promoting sustainability. Their work is reducing poverty through economic transformation in a country where the majority are income-poor or near the poverty line. Established in 1990, SMOLArt is a member of the WFTO, and as such assures that the artisans are paid a fair price for their work. In addition, the organization support community development by contributing to projects that improve living conditions, education, and health of their members and the village at large.

Soapstone is mined from great pits from surface hills in the area surrounding Kiisi, Kenya. The mining process is labor-intensive and uses little to no machinery. Laborers work with shovels, picks, axes and machetes to carve out large soapstone chunks. "Pangas," sword-like tools usually used for cutting down vegetation, are used to cleave the stone in the mines.

The mined soapstone is then delivered to artisans who carve sculptures from the natural stone for the wholesale market, the color of which ranges from cream to pink, to brown, to yellow, to black, to a marbling of all of them. The tools used on these consist of household items from screwdrivers, hand drills, to switchblades. Traditional carving techniques are passed down through the generations where much is unchanged by the modern world. Once carved, the craftspeople smooth rough edges of the soapstone with sandpaper dipped in water and polish the piece to a high gloss or paint African motifs in brilliant colors with etched accents.

Check out these unique soapstone animals such as this zebra:

These birds on a dish:

Or these lions:

Information and pictures from Global Crafts, and