Derek Huggins, a disgruntled detective inspector with Rhodesia’s British South Africa Police, quit his job in 1975 and decided to open an art gallery. Gallery Delta is an important institution for Zimbabwean art. Helen Lieros was his partner and collaborator, a talented artist.
Huggins explained in a documentary Art for Art’s Sake: Gallery Delta, to be released in June 2020:
We knew that running a small gallery of just three rooms during a time of war, conflict, and sanctions was not going to make us rich, but we did it as a part-time job, on weekends and nights.
The couple, who ran the Gallery for 46 years, died a week apart in Harare. But their legacy lives on.
During the four decades, they stewarded the Gallery, they were involved with the curation and organization of 500 exhibitions, as well as the presentation, promotion, and presentation of these. In Zimbabwe, their art magazine was distributed in schools and became a valuable resource for art historians and artists.
Huggins was born in Kent and moved to Rhodesia at the age of 19 to join the British South Africa Police. In his 2004 book The Stained Earth, he writes about his experiences. Lieros was born to Greek parents in Gweru, Zimbabwe. She was a teacher.
They met in a police station where Huggins worked. Lieros had been hired as a composite painter to draw images of suspects. They married in July 1966 after their romance flourished. Together, they expanded their influence and amplified all they had achieved.
They were the first people I met in early 2000 when I was working as a publishing associate at Weaver Press in Harare. Their enterprise, Gallery Delta, has been a popular venue for book launches in the city. The people would gather there to listen to authors read and also for the free wine.
As an academic researcher in 2018, I discovered a collection of Huggins’ letters to the celebrated author Yvonne Vera, which was deposited at the Amazwi South African Literature Museum. We have been exchanging emails for the last three years, or, if I’m in Harare, we drink tea and talk about this book of correspondence I’m editing.
Helen Lieros and her husband Derek Huggins in Art for Art’s sake, 2020. Screengrab/Granadilla Films
Gallery Delta spent its formative years in Strachan’s Building on Manica Road, now Robert Mugabe Road in downtown Salisbury. The National Gallery of Rhodesia, now the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, was the center of the art scene in the city. Frank McEwen was the man in charge of the Gallery, which was focused on promoting the Shona Stone Sculpture traditions of the country. It was a city with small art societies and organizations, but no art galleries or schools.
Huggins stated at the time that: “We looked for young Africans with talent and ambition who preferred to be painters rather than sculptors. There were very few. Few facilities were available for serious art studies. It was important to start early and encourage a new painting movement. We promoted a young artists exhibit at the start of each year, but few good African painters appeared at that time.
Huggins and Lieros’ work was centered around building a sense of community. They were members of The Circle, a group of radical 12 painters before opening the Gallery. The group was formed to respond to the political turmoil of the decade, as Zimbabweans fought a Liberation War against the white minority rule. But it was also a way to collectively deal with unrest. The new Gallery Delta fostered this spirit.
The Gallery was also used as an alternative venue to host art exhibitions, performances of multiracial theater and jazz during the tense atmosphere that existed prior to 1980. When the Strachan building owners decided to sell the building, they were forced to leave and find a new place to live.
Colette Wiles offered Gallery Delta in 1991 the old and dilapidated home at 110 Livingstone Avenue that had been the home of Robert Paul for almost 40 years, until his death. It was built in 1894 and is one of the oldest buildings still standing in Harare. Gallery Delta, with the assistance of Peter Jackson and others, restored the house in 1991-1993, and constructed an adjacent amphitheatre.
Gallery Delta today. Screengrab/Granadilla Films
Gallery Delta, in addition to teaching, mentoring, and supporting new art production, also published and produced a visual arts magazine, Gallery. The glossy 32-page publication was edited by Barbara Murray and, for a brief time, by Murray McCartney. It ran to 31 issues. The magazine was printed in 1,000 copies per edition.
Gallery was distributed for free in schools and libraries. It has since become an important research tool for collectors and students interested in the evolution of contemporary art in Zimbabwe during the 1990s. The magazine is completely digitised, and it’s free.
Gallery Delta has been home to a number of contemporary Zimbabwean artists, either as students or exhibitor. Berry Bickle and Andy Roberts are among the many Zimbabwean artists who have passed through Gallery Delta as students or exhibitors.
What is the future of Gallery Delta? In 2008, due to the dire economic conditions in Zimbabwe, the privately-owned Gallery was transferred by trust deed to the Gallery Delta Foundation for Art and the Humanities. A board of independent trustees governs this foundation.
It is now up to a new generation of stewards to continue the work that Helen Lieros and Derek Huggins started. Friedbert Lutz , their late friend , said .