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Home accessories serve up pictures of Zimbabwe

Masasa sells pieces from the native land of a Brandon couple, through their Web site, home shows and local shops.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 13, 2002


TAMPA -- When Stefano and Kyra Hlaca moved to Brandon from Zimbabwe in July, they brought some of their native land with them.

Leopard spots, zebra stripes, tribal masks, native flowers. They all make appearances on the home accessories and dinnerware that the couple imports and sells.

The Hlacas named their business Masasa, which is a tree indigenous to Zimbabwe with leaves that turn colors throughout the year depending on the temperature and soil conditions, Stefano Hlaca said.

"We thought, pretty products, pretty tree," he said about his name choice.

In Zimbabwe, he was an accountant for Falcon Gold, the third-largest gold mining company in Zimbabwe. Kyra Hlaca headed the design center for the country's Lee Jeans franchise. Now, they're selling vases, statues, bowls, place settings and other pieces from their home, at home shows around the state, their Web site, and a handful of boutiques in Florida, including FooFoo on West Shore Boulevard in South Tampa.

All the products are handmade by African craftspeople, except the dinnerware, which for the sake of consistency is mass-produced but hand-painted so that each piece is unique. Artists sign their work.

The Nivek bowls, vases and dinnerware are created by members of the Ndebela tribe, an offshoot of the Zulus. Some designs are patterned after leopard, zebra and giraffe skins, and others feature ceremonial masks.

Paintings of birds, flowers and other wildlife cover a bowl in the brightly colored Matopos line, named for a national park and conservation area in Zimbabwe. Butterflies, a poinsettia bloom, a frog and chameleon cling to the bowl's fluted edge.

Etched black-and-white pieces get a splash of color with tiny dots of clay that evoke images of neck and ankle beads.

Ruwa pieces come from the agricultural Shona tribe. Consequently, much of the pottery shows farmers.

The Aliware collection is composed of bowls, spoon rests, trivets, serving utensils and statues made from recycled aluminum. The items are first shaped in soft wood, used to create a sand mold for the molten aluminum.

The Induna collection, named for an African word meaning meeting place, includes glass bowls, plates and candleholders with frosted designs. Wrought iron candlesticks and pedestals for the glass bowls are accented with coils that mimic a sea shell that was once used as currency in Zimbabwe, Stefano Hlaca said. Artists use dentistry tools to carve leadwood into the forms of giraffes, water buffalo, kudu and other animals.

The collection also offers picture frames and cigar boxes carved from 19th century railway ties. British imperialist John Cecil Rhodes attempted to build a railroad that stretched the length of the African continent from Cape Town to Cairo. The ties are being replaced with concrete, Stefano Hlaca said. This update is freeing bits of history for artwork.

Some of the hand-painted dinnerware is covered in olive branches or jacaranda leaves, and others showcase a painting of a single animal, such as a cheetah or zebra. Animal print sets come in leopard, giraffe and zebra.

Prices vary. For example, Masasa charges $15 for aluminum salad servers with giraffe-shaped handles, $90 for ceramic vases and pitchers in a variety of patterns, $150 for six-place settings of five pieces: dinner plate, salad bowl, pasta bowl, dessert bowl and side plate.

For more information, visit the Masasa Web site at www.galleriamasasa.com

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