Julius Mfete

2008-05-15 00:00

SCULPTOR Julius Napaqu Mfete died last month in Port St Johns. He was renowned for his wooden sculptures that he made in the Port St Johns area and sold through outlets in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

Mfete was born of Mpondo parents who lived in the Dedeni location and came from a family of gifted craftspeople; his father and two brothers worked as grass weavers. As a youngster Mfete did some weaving but did not consider this a sustainable living and in 1973 went to work on the platinum mines in Rustenberg. He was responsible for laying the dynamite for blasting — a person commonly known as a shisa boy. While he was in Johannesburg he carved small so-called wooden toys based on the sculptures made by Enoch Mantebana Sertshi or “Shorty” who sold his work at the pont in Port St Johns.

Mfete hated working in the mines and in 1975 returned home to try his hand at making a living selling wooden animals outside Mrs Cromhout’s shop and then through Gail Sink. His carving comes from a tradition of sculptures that are made in Port St Johns for the visiting tourists.

His work consisted of realistic, anatomically correct domestic animals, tobacco pipes and Mpondo people carrying out domestic chores. His method of construction was interesting and meticulous, using the simplest of tools. His skills with accurate proportion, gesture, stance, and anatomical refinement were so practised as to become intuitive. He could sit and carve under the shade of the tree in his homestead without referring to pictures or the animals themselves.

He would carve different sections of the human form in different woods and then glue them together when he assembled the final product. Consequently, in his horse and rider for example, the different colours mark the different woods used for the pipe, shoes, saddle and hat.

He won a number of prizes for his work through national competitions and has left collectors of his work bereft.

Mfete is survived by his wife, Alice, seven children and six grandchildren.

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