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A Globe-Trotting Family’s Sculptured Life

Choosing hundreds of stone sculptures, crating and shipping them from Zimbabwe to botanical gardens across the world is one thing. Packing up your entire household including mom, dad, two kids and a nanny and transplanting them every year for several months in a foreign country, to accompany the sculptures, is something else.

But that’s life for Vivienne Croisette, curator of ZimSculpt, the outdoor art exhibition currently installed on the grounds of Toronto Botanical Garden. Bringing the kids to work is what Vivienne and her husband Joseph do every year, taking them literally thousands of miles away from home to partake in another city, another culture while mom and dad take care of business.

Vivienne has been working with Zimbabwean artists for almost 20 years and is now an official resident of that country. She was promoting British artists, curating shows throughout the UK when she was invited to Zimbabwe and fell in love with what she saw. “I was fascinated by Zimbabwean art and began to introduce the sculptures in small shows which got bigger and bigger.”

She met Joseph in 2006. “I’m from England and had to travel to Zimbabwe to meet my French husband,” she laughs. A chef by trade, Joseph was running a French cuisine restaurant in Zimbabwe with his brother when they met. He joined Vivienne in the business in 2008 and is in charge of operations or as she calls it “precision organizing” assembling and crating the sculptures and overseeing their uncrating at the other end. In addition to the many life-size and larger sculptures on view in the garden until Sept. 8, “we bring thousands of smaller pieces,” says Vivienne including bird baths and even jewellery. “They go very quickly and we are constantly restocking items in the Marketplace.”

The couple was married for two years when son Emile, now 10, was born in Zimbabwe. “That made travelling difficult and complicated. We had to bring many things including diapers, food and a blender to make the food. The first year we took him to Vancouver where we bought a pram and he would sleep most of the time.”

They hired Zimbabwean nanny Gloria Zinyakasa 10 years ago and she has been with the family ever since, including travelling with them from four to seven months a year. “The children say she’s like another mother,” says Vivienne. Emile and his sister Eliane, 5, go to “proper” local schools back home in Zimbabwe. The Croisettes hire a tutor wherever they are exhibiting including here in Toronto. While Eliane is going to a local summer day camp, Emile is attending a Motocross camp near Walton, Ontario. He just happens to be a motor bike champion in Zimbabwe and will compete in the Canadian championships at the end of the summer.

The unique sculptures are made by hand with stone brought from the Zimbabwean mountains. This is ZimSculpt’s second summer at TBG and once again artists from Zimbabwe are creating sculptures on site. Last year the family rented a house in the Danforth area but this time they are just up the road near York Mills Rd. and Vivienne can actually bike to work.

Taking the family on the road was “harder when they were small,” admits Vivienne, but she and Joseph made a plan to keep the family together as long as possible. They decided not to send the children to boarding school. “We want to be part of their upbringing. But this is our livelihood. Your child follows you. You don’t follow the child.”

Vivienne makes a practice of wearing brightly coloured clothes made from African fabrics everyday in the garden. When I suggested that she could probably sell them, too, she said she does – on the last weekend of the exhibit.

For more information on the exhibit, visit torontobotanicalgarden.ca/ZimSculpt

Top photo: Peter Neguse

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