Gentle hill


Diana Newton
Gentle hill, ?1981
(16.1 x 12.2 inches)
(41 x 31 cm)

During my Botswana years, the National Museum in Gaborone, led by its dedicated director, Dr. Alex Campbell (1932-2012), held a competition for an exhibit entitled, "Artists in Botswana: painting, sculpture, photography, graphics and craftwork". The small black & white poster I have kept shows the dates as October 26 to November 17. But what year? 1981 is my guess. When my entry, Gentle hill, won a prize (of Pula 20, about US $27), I felt overjoyed and promptly purchased a gas (pressure) lamp extension pole, a very handy item in a non-electrified home. I was even happier to learn, a little later, that someone had bought my painting. A sale! Hurrah! The extra income was welcome. But I never expected the new owners of the watercolor (which was more detailed than this fuzzy image, a scan of a curled up Polaroid shot) to show up outside my huts, a few miles from the hill I had painted. How did they find me, in a village of 2,688 (1981 estimate) with no road signs, no house numbers, no nameplates? And no telephones. Like most of my Batswana and British colleagues and friends, I only had a phone at work, not at home. Although I like to think I tried my very best to fit in, I must have stood out as one of the few expatriates renting a traditional homestead in Gabane. What did my unexpected visitors want? To acquire more paintings. I was sorry to disappoint them, having just recently sold most of my work at a (solo) exhibit at the Town Hall. They drove away empty handed, hopefully not empty-hearted. Their generous praise for my competition entry warmed my heart. "You've captured exactly what Botswana means to us," they said.