An amazing woman in Kenya, Pauline Ntombura, is the inspiration behind these wonderful soapstone products. Pauline grew up as the daughter of a tribal chief in the village of Kisii in southwest Kenya. Bucking the tradition that women stay in the home, Pauline obtained her education. Later she established a soapstone workshop which now employs more than 800 people (about 50% are women).
The fair wages Pauline pays ensures the artisans can afford decent housing, education for their children and basic healthcare.
Soapstone is a metamorphic rock consisting mostly of the mineral talc. Sometimes known as steatite, it's very soft and frequently used for sculpting. When they mine the soapstone they essentially dig a big pit in the ground (maybe 50-75 feet in diameter) using picks and shovels. The earth isn't gouged by heavy machinery.
When the soapstone items are painted, sometimes the natural color and lines of the stone's minerals show through.