Weekend of Art with the Owls in Naivasha

‘Biggles is sitting on eggs in my bathroom,’ the lady said.

Biggles is a Marsh Owl, and the lady is Sarah Higgins.

We were at Sarah Higgin’s amazing Naivasha Owl Centre, a beautiful house, roomy bird cages, a birds’ hospital, acacia-fringed garden, all lakeside of the South Lake Road. And I was sitting in on a group planning an intriguing exhibition of the work of seven artists, brought together by the wildlife artist, Peter Blackwell.

I first met Peter many years ago when he was a ‘painter-in-residence’ at the newly established Siana Springs Tented Camp at the base of the Ngama Hills, on the eastern edge of the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

As I write I am looking at the painting I bought. Peter was working on a pair of Mouse Birds enjoying a dust bath. He told me that the work wasn’t quite finished, but I liked it the way it was – with little detail except on the two birds. Later, I bought another one: a Little Bee-Eater perched on a strand of barbed wire – a simple but telling symbol of the too often harsh interaction of man and nature.

Peter has gone on to great success. He continued with his sensitive and precise water colour depictions of birds, but he also began to include animals and landscapes – mainly in the Kenya setting where he was born, grew up, and which he learnt to love. He also experimented in painting with oils and acrylics.

He spends a lot of his time in the bush. Before last week at Naivasha, the last time I had seen him and his wife, Lisa, was alongside our vehicle when we had the great fortune to be watching a pack of wild dogs hunting in Ol Pejeta. But Peter is also well-travelled; he has held over 45 solo exhibitions – in the UK and the USA, as well as in Kenya.

Peter will have many of his recent paintings on show at the Naivasha Owl Centre next weekend, 24th and 25th September. But this time he will be joined by the six other artists: Debbie Oulton with her creative jewelry; Tash Combes’ from Lamu with her sea-life paintings; JB Art and Crafts, with John Olander’s fine leather and wood work; David Roberts’ evocative Kenyan landscapes; George Simpson’s silver and gold jewelry made in Naivasha; and Nina Michaelides’ botanical art.

Ah yes, there will also be a stand for Brown’s Cheeses – excellent examples of gastronomical art, I reckon.

All this, then, is in the lovely setting of the fascinating Naivasha Owl Centre. The planning meeting was my first visit, and I will certainly be back – not only for the art exhibition but also for a closer look at the amazing rehabilitation work Sarah Higgins is doing with her many owls and other birds.

The Owl Centre is one arm of the Kenya Birds of Prey Trust, which is a charitable trust, headed up by Simon Thomsett and Shiv Kapila, as well as Sarah Higgins. The other arm is the Raptor Camp on the Soysambu Conservancy, where larger birds of prey are rehabilitated and released. And the proceeds of the art exhibition will go directly to the Trust. More funds are certainly needed for veterinary fees, additional equipment in the hospital, and the promotion of educational programmes.

So the Owl Centre is a rescue and rehabilitation centre for owls and other birds of prey. As we sat on the veranda, Tai, a magnificent Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, flopped down from its perch in a friendly fashion and settled on Sarah’s shoulder. On the lawn an Ibis with an artificial leg was digging for worms with his beak. And from an acacia tree by the lake a Fish Eagle was having an echoing duet with the one recuperating in one of Sarah’s cages.

Sarah walked us round her Centre, past the large cages with many birds recovering from broken wings (often because they have flown into wires), to the alley where a pair of Brown-Eyed Spotted Eagle Owls were learning to fly again, and round the small specialist hospital for birds – the only one in East Africa and perhaps in the whole of Africa.

There is another reason for making a trip to Naivasha next weekend. It is also the weekend of the Naivasha Horticultural Fair – claimed to be Africa’s biggest horticultural trade show. It attracts people from across the continent and even from Europe. It showcases products from Naivasha’s flower industry and its related services.

You can find out more about the Horticulture Fair on its website, http://www.naivashahortifair.com. The Art with the Owls exhibition is four kilometres off the Naivasha/Mai Mahu Road and down the South Lake Road. It opens from 10.00am to 5pm, on both Saturday and Sunday, and admission is free. You can get more information from 0722-870650 or info@peterblackwellwildlifeartist.com.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation