The Statue of Sir Seretse Khama

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For some time now, it has bothered me that I was unable to discover anything about the presumably redoubtable person who made the important statue of Seretse Khama in the National Assembly gardens.

Even the name of this individual eluded both Alec Campbell and Mike Main in their Guide to Greater Gaborone and Patricia Farrow in her Gaborone, The Complete City Guide. But Botswana tourism was more informative stating that, ‘the statue was sculpted by British artist Norman Pearce, and cast in Britain, then flown to Botswana for its unveiling. 

Fine. But who was Norman Pearce? Efforts to find out anything about the man drew a blank. He proved to be strangely invisible which, in itself, was very odd. So, frustrated, I sought the help of my research sleuth resident in London, the old Kalahari hand, Johnny Gumb, who finally cracked the puzzle.

The Tourism people, it turned out, had misspelt the man’s name, he was Pierce and not Pearce and his potted biography in Artists in Britain since 1945 reads as follows:    ‘Norman Pierce 1915-1995 Sculptor, modelling, and carving and teacher, born in London. He studied at Reading University fine art department, 1931-5, with Allen Seaby, then at the Royal College of Art, 1935-8 under Richard Garbe.

He taught at Colchester School of Art, 1945-7; Winchester School of Art, 1947-66; then in adult education in Winchester where he lived, 1966-86. Pierce was a Fellow of RBS. He showed at RA, Mall Galleries, in the provinces and at Paris Salon. Main works included figure in Portland stone of Christ in Benediction, at Highcliffe, Hampshire, eight heraldic coats of arms for New County Offices, Winchester, Sir Seretse Khama, Botswana; and works for Madame Tussaud’s. Pierce’s figure of the diver, William Walker who, between 1906-12, underpinned the collapsing Winchester Cathedral, was presented for display in the Cathedral’s visitor centre by his widow in 2001. ‘

Fine. But in busting one puzzle, another has emerged. One of Pierce’s claims to fame must have been, it now transpires, his statue of Seretse. But how then did it happen that a very minor figure in the UK contrived to obtain such major commission?  Lebang Mpotokwane, who chaired the relevant committee at the time, has kindly explained that they invited sculptors from around the world to compete for the job which was eventually given to, ‘a British sculptor’.

Presumably there is a file in the National Archives which would tell us how many artists applied and how the selection process was narrowed down to end up with this little known individual. In retrospect, we can conclude, however, that Mpotokwane’s committee did get a good deal. The genuinely bronze statue is not only a fine piece of work which has been consistently admired but one which has survived, unblemished bar the usual bird contributions, for nearly thirty years.

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