Untold story behind teacher who created Kenyatta's KICC statue

A view from every angle of this statue shows you just how much it is an integral part of the KICC square.

The 12-foot statue of Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta at KICC

The 12-foot statue of Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta is a rich part of Kenya’s history and one of the features of the new generation currency notes.

It is arguably the most popular statue in Kenya alongside other freedom fighters and politicians such as Tom Mboya and Dedan Kimathi.

However, not much is known about how Kenyatta’s statue of him sitting came to be at the Kenya International Conference Centre.

According to historical records, the piece of art was made by British sculptor James Butler in 1969. The art piece was unveiled in 1973 (when KICC was opened) to mark 10 years of independence.

The cast bronze statue was entirely made in England with every detail intact and was then shipped from England by container to Mombasa and was then driven by truck to Nairobi and installed in its current location.

In his memoirs, Butler said his meeting with Kenyatta set the idea of what kind of statue to make.

I went over to Kenya to meet Kenyatta before the work began. I thought he was going to tell me what to do but he just asked me to tell him what I wanted. His ministers told me they wanted the statue seated, the President to be depicted as the Father of the Nation”, he wrote.

The late president gave the sculptor one morning when he agreed to sit for a session. They met in a small cottage with just a table and a couple of chairs.

Kenyatta asked me what he should do, and I asked him if he would mind sitting comfortably on a chair so I could observe him. He sat down with his hands folded on his walking stick, legs slightly apart.

He just sat there, very upright. As soon as I saw him in that position, I thought the pose is natural to him, it’s simple and dignified, and that is how I am going to make the statue. I took many photographs and measurements of him and made some quick drawings of his cloak. He sat very still for me for about three hours,” Butler explained.

There wasn’t time for any detailed drawing and no time to get clay and do some modelling so Butler took a lot of photographs of the stick he was holding, and the first thing he did after returning to England was to make a twice life-sized replica of it.

The top of the stick was made in the shape of an elephant’s head which was carved and stuck onto the top of the replica.

After making the stick, the sculptor proceeded to make the statue using the baton’s measurement to create the right proportions.

The final result was so iconic that it replicated all of Mzee Kenyatta’s features, down to his birthmark and peep toe sandals.

A view from every angle of this statue shows you just how much it is an integral part of the KICC square.

The majestic 12 foot seated figure in the centre of Nairobi was a turning point in his career. He gave up teaching and became a full time sculptor.

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