From Africa to America, via Belfast

Jun 21, 2012
Kenyan soapstone artist Richard Juma's work is available at Aina Moja in Belfast.

Belfast — Work by Richard Juma, a soapstone artist from the village Tabaka in the area of Kisii, Kenya, is featured at Aina Moja, 39 Main St.

Juma has been making a living through crafts since 1994, but his introduction to soapstone came while he was still in elementary school. A couple of his friends had a dream of starting a soapstone business and devoted two years to teaching Juma to carve, hoping he could also be involved. Although he knows how to work in several other mediums, he still specializes in soapstone as he finds that it sells well and soapstone is produced in his hometown of Kisii, so he can easily acquire materials.

Juma's work has become quite widely spread, within Kenya and beyond. His carvings go all the way from Nakuru, where he is currently based, to Nairobi and Mombassa, where his friends in the Kenyan craft network sell them. Through Aina Moja, Juma's work has become known in North America. He said he takes pride in the knowledge his wok could be sitting on somebody's coffee table halfway across the world.

The artisan uses the income he makes from his crafts to support his wife and their two young children. Juma works with two other soapstone finishers to provide Aina Moja with finger bowls, figurines, candlesticks and other soapstone products. To see more of Richard Juma's work and to learn about Expanding Opportunities, a nonprofit and fair trade organization, and its many projects, stop in the shop. Aina Moja hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., to 8 p.m. during Friday art walks.

Courier Publications' A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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