Zimbabwean-born Patrick Mavros is an internationally recognised name in the art world. When it comes to the sculpture of silver, he is a prodigious talent
Can you hear that?" There was a pause... a screeching noise filled the air. "That's two bush babies fighting." Then came a lower pitched sound, a touch self-satisfied. "Did you hear that? It was the resident male who won the fight." The Zimbabwe sun was setting on the settlement 20 miles from Harare, and the evening air was filled with all sorts of calls of the wild. This is the magical corner of the bush which sculptor Patrick Mavros calls home. The noises came from the trees outside his front porch.
Fourth generation Zimbabwean (the family is originally from Scottish/Greek stock), 53 year old Patrick was born in Matabeleland, in the wild south western province where his father was a much respected rural doctor of medicine. "He is highly educated and a lovely man, and was very patient with his not so academic son. I never quite knew what I wanted to do. I spent eight years in the army and then baked for a while, but above all else I loved wildlife art.
"I wanted to give my wife something unique as a birthday gift so from a small piece of ivory I carved a pair of earrings in the form of roses." Pretty soon he was inundated with requests from friends for similar pieces and he developed his unique sculpting technique. Within months it became a full time business as he continued to experiment and perfect his style, all based on ivory which he purchased from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. He was also inspired by Netsuki and miniatures produced by Japanese sculptors. "But here I was in Africa surrounded by elephants and all sorts of wildlife - the subjects for my work were on my doorstep." However ivory isn't what made him famous. A twist of fate played its hand.
"All was going well with our legal and sustainable ivory carving when all of a sudden in the early 80s I was met with a crisis - the illegal ivory trade was exposed resulting in a ban in ivory trading around the world. While on the one hand I understood, what was I to do?" Necessity proved the proverbial mother of invention and a piece of Catja's mother of pearl and silver jewellery provided the spark that started him firing coloured enamel onto sterling silver adornment. Inspired, he set about working in silver. "I bought a Hobby Craft kit, and with that kit I learned the skills I needed sufficiently well to create a business which in its first three years cast over a ton of silver and supported 15 workmen." On the family homestead there are workshops, a wildlife sanctuary, offices, reception and a sales studio. Not forgetting a collection of pointers, spaniels, African grey parrots, horses and friends! There is also a state of the art silversmithing workshop. Such is the appeal of his work and the reputation of his studio, not to mention the charisma of the man himself, that Patrick's home has become a must for visitors to Harare - diplomats, tourists, hunters, military, presidents - they all turn up at the door. As do world famous names such as Sharon Stone and Bruce Springsteen.
It has all been based on his development of a lost-wax casting method whereby a mould is used only once, ensuring that every detail of the original is present in the casting and each piece is therefore individually handmade. Over the last 25 years he has created 450 individual items, from ants to elephants and has produced a total of 200,000 pieces.
The original carvings are cast in wax by covering them with plaster of Paris. This is then heated so that the wax melts away leaving a perfect cavity into which is poured molten silver, which has been heated to 1000 degrees centigrade. On cooling the plaster mould is then broken and the sculpture cleaned and polished. "It was all very lively when I did my very first pieces - with the hot wax and very hot silver, things were ricocheting off the walls!" The end product was an almost instant success, but he wanted to learn more and took himself off to a studio in Glenmoriston on the shores of Loch Ness. "I spent three days there and modeled a flamingo in metal. I made the mould in wax, cast in silver and got paid on the train back south! Surprisingly I got bitten by an adder in the glen - ironic when here I have spent my life successfully avoiding pythons and cobras!"
Looking for inspiration he found a niche. "At that time the great House of Garrard seemed to be forgetting about its home base, so I started to make small things such as hippo paper weights and a range of African animals in minute detail, items which I felt would appeal to a traditional Garrard clientele. Table place card holders brought a lot of people to me - small silver animal sculptures with a slot for the cards, all in great detail." Working every day of the week, 12-14 hours a day, he was soon selling in not only his native Zimbabwe, but the UK, America and Germany.
Then three years ago he decided to open an outlet in London. "Our son Alexander found a spot in the Fulham Road which was perfect. The idea was to recreate our African home in London, with teak floors, ceiling fans, artefacts, old photographs - the feel of a club and a beautiful environment. There is a great buzz to the place and it has worked extremely well." It is run by Alexander, the eldest of four sons, all of whom are talented artists. Forbes has his own workshop in Mauritius having studied jewellery design at the Edinburgh College of Art and in Milan, while Patrick Junior is currently studying at the Edinburgh College of Art. And Benjamin is the next to come through. Which is as well, as their father is at full throttle, having just returned from the SCI and turkey hunting shows in the USA, and in the same breath is talking of possibilities in Russia. The subject matter of his work is wide - he moved onto game birds after sculpting a Spanish partridge for the King of Spain, and then grouse were next following a visit to Perthshire with the Earl of Mansfield. Today his range includes spectacular table centre pieces comprising themes of wild boar hunts, others with giraffes or elephants under Acacia trees, and some with elegant and tranquil palm tree groves. He has donated sculptures to the last two GWCT London gourmet dinners and also has an extensive range of jewellery - he is a one-man phenomenon. At the same time he is quick to give credit to all around him.
His passion for his homeland is undimmed by current local difficulties. "Money and food are big problems but there are lots of lovely people out here and that combined with a naturally beautiful country makes Zimbabwe a great destination."
The artistic dynamo was about to take a break. "Catja is also a brilliant cook and tomorrow night we will be having dinner beneath a mahogany tree by the Zambezi River. For the next fortnight we are on the annual family safari. We will all sit round a huge table, 20-25 people, all family and close friends. The party will include chefs, laundrymen, fishing guides, professional hunters - this is always a very special time."
Having been born and brought up in the bush, hunting is a way of life. The annual camp is the perfect restorative tonic for the man who rediscovered the age-old art of lost waxing and found a silver lining.