A young Zimbabwean girl had no say in choosing her career as she was sent from Harare to far away Cape Town to undergo a three-year course for a diploma in graphic art.
At a tender age in junior school, Carol Lynn Mills showed signs of being an artist and it was suggested to her parents by her headmaster that she should pursue this as a career. Her idea at that stage was to become a teacher, but her parents decided otherwise. And so it was that they made the arrangements to enrol her at the Michaelis School of Arts in the Mother City and the same night she was put on the train alone to undertake this long journey.
A nervous Mills was met at the Cape Town station by an aunt, who took her to Malmesbury, from where she commuted daily to her studies until such time as suitable accommodation could be found.
The course proved to be a tough undertaking with the lecturers being quite ruthless. But Mills was determined to be successful and worked hard to eventually be one of only 12 out of a class of 60 to successfully obtain her diploma.
She said they were lectured by well-known people in their field and were well trained by the time they completed the course. Among them were the dean of the faculty, Maurice van Essche, who had studied under Picasso and Mattise. Other famous artists working at the school were Carl Buchner, May Hillouse, Katrine Harris, sculptor Lippy Lipschitz and Neville Dobow.
Armed with her diploma, Mills returned to Zimbabwe and soon got a job as a fine artist with an advertising agency.
“We did not have the modern equipment they have today and one of my responsibilities was hand painting lettering to one hundreth of an inch. It was torture doing this and very stressful,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mills had met and married her husband, Gerald, and the couple moved into a rural area, where he worked on an Anglo American farm owned by Harry Oppenheimer. She was offered a job as a silk screen designer in Harare.
“I loved this and found it very creative,” she said.
Her husband then went into partnership in a large poultry setup just outside Harare and this gave Mills the opportunity to serve her community when she ran the local African Women’s Club.
One of her undertakings here was to draw pictures on calico and the women would embroider them.
She had the honour of having some of her work accepted by the National Gallery for exhibition.
Once her children were old enough to attend school, she volunteered to assist at St Catherine’s for the Intellectually Challenged. This involved doing a two-year course at the Rhodesian University and she taught a group of six boys with ages ranging from 12 to 18, but with a mental age of only 18 months. During this time she started painting seriously again and had the honour of having some of her work accepted by the National Gallery for exhibition.
Mills’s husband then bought his own farm in the Chipinge district, where he grew coffee on a large scale. By then the bush war had started and was in full swing. These were difficult years as he would be away in the Zambezi Valley for six-week periods before returning to the farm.
Undaunted by the bush war, the Border Fine Art Group was formed, where they met monthly. This proved highly successful as Chipinge had many beautiful spots to paint and they held regular exhibitions and exhibited annually at the National Gallery in Mutare.
She said: “These were terrible times with our house having grenade screens on every window and our verandah was sandbagged to the ceiling. I also had to go to shooting practice, which I hated.”
Again Mills was able to serve the local community by running the nursery school in the area, which had been built by the local farmers. She was also able to use her training when she taught the grade 6 and 7 pupils art. Undaunted by the bush war, the Border Fine Art Group was formed, where they met monthly. This proved highly successful as Chipinge had many beautiful spots to paint and they held regular exhibitions and exhibited annually at the National Gallery in Mutare.
After 20 years in Chipinge, Mill’s husband retired from the farm in 1984 because of ill health and they returned to the family home in Harare. She went back to teaching at a nursery school and her husband got a job as an agricultural consultant. But life was tough and by 2009 they had had enough. So they decided to sell their home and immigrated to the far more peaceful town of Bathurst.
But it did not take her long to get back into the swing of things and she soon joined the Port Alfred Art Club to meet new people and to paint. She held the position of club president for five years.
She paints in oils, acrylic and water colours, with oils being her favourite. Since living in Bathurst, she has also exhibited her paintings in Port Alfred, Bushman’s River and Port Elizabeth.
She said there were many brilliant artists in both Port Alfred and Bathurst, but they found it difficult to market their paintings. “You have to really put yourself out there so as to show off your pictures. Artists must never give up; just keep on painting,” she said.
The couple have been married for 51 years and have a daughter in Zambia, where she runs her own safari company. Another daughter is in Sydney, where she is a desk top publisher and their youngest is still in Zimbabwe, where she is in the equine industry. They have five grandchildren.