Edward Njenga, one of the most prominent clay sculptors in Kenya, passed away on March 29.
Born in Nyeri county of central Kenya in 1922, Njenga first dabbled in clay as a child as his mother and grandmother were pottery makers.
As a young adult, Njenga was employed as a social worker in Nairobi and in his spare time, would make clay sculptures. The first show of his works was at the New Stanley Hotel in the late 1960s. The exhibition was successful and he earned a scholarship to study fine art at the Hanover University in Germany, between 1971 and 1973.
Njenga’s terracotta and wood sculptures were influenced by historic events, socio-economic challenges, his personal experiences such as time spent in detention during the colonial era for allegedly helping Mau Mau freedom fighters.
He represented people going about their daily work — women in the village, a fruit hawker, newspaper seller, carpenter, or a man pulling a hand cart.
Njenga’s subject matter remained constant over the years and his pieces fetched good prices in the six decades that he worked, sometimes selling at upwards of $5,000. He was a regular feature at Kenyan art galleries, and he exhibited overseas including in the US, UK, and Germany,
In 2013 he was part of an art exhibition at the Nairobi National Museum celebrating Kenya’s 50th anniversary of independence, where he presented ceramics from 40 years of sculpting. Author Linette Kariuki captured his life story in the 2016 biography, Telling it in Clay: A Biography of Veteran Sculptor Edward S Njenga.