In the Beginning

I was born in Southern Rhodesia in 1943. My grandfather arrived in Rhodesia in or around 1890 as a transport rider moving supplies for the pioneers by ox-wagon up to Fort Salisbury from Saint Lucia Bay in South Africa.

I often wonder what the Africa he saw must have been like on those long and interesting journeys and regret that I didn’t ask more questions or understand how quickly Africa would change. After the Second World War, my Dad settled in the Midlands area of Rhodesia and carved a cattle ranch out of virgin bush. Busy with the business of building the ranch, he employed a raw, bush-wise African to look after and tutor me about the bush. There couldn’t have been a better teacher for a small boy growing up in that enormous wilderness.

My formal schooling was at REPS and Plumtree in Matabeleland. Both schools afforded young boys the chance to enjoy the bush as much as the classroom. Needless to say, the bush was always more interesting to me. It was here that I started to draw my observations in nature.


Working in New Mexico

Buffalo hunt

Tanzanian Buffalo

John and Di

In camp with Di

The Learning Years

After agricultural college in South Africa, the desire to broaden my horizons took me to Europe and then on to America where I worked in Nebraska and New Mexico as a cowboy. I returned to Rhodesia in 1966, married Di, put all that education to some use and went ranching. It was at that time I taught myself to paint in oils and very occasionally I found myself making 3 dimensional pieces out of wood or modelling clay.

In 1974 I started guiding Safaris for tourist hunters from overseas and in 1980 sold the ranch, devoting my time to being a hunting guide. Little did I know that those years hunting and guiding were my anatomy classes for my future career as a sculptor. I completed and sold my first piece of Bronze Art in 1989.

John Tolmay in his studio

Becoming a Sculptor

Now my sculpting is a full time occupation. I live in that head-space between past and present, translating scenes and images that are vividly recorded in my mind into waxes and clays. I use various foundries around the States to expertly cast them into the pieces of art that grace homes, studios, trophy rooms and offices around the world. While being an artist and a hunter I am also personally committed to Conservation. I started what is known as the ‘Nyawa Pilot Project’ in Zambia.

The aim of this project is to achieve a better balance for rural people and their resources. Gradually the slow process of change is gaining momentum and it is my sincere hope that the concept of Community Based Wildlife Management will cease to be something that is only spoken about and become policy in the near future.