The exhibition of the work of the industrious (but little known) Stow at the Iziko South African Museum included a collection of his rock art reproductions and additional material produced by Stow including maps, documents and sketches. Also on display were some of his poetic works, quotations from his writings on the San and their history as he recorded and interpreted it, and contextual material from the Bleek and Lloyd archive. The exhibition brought together works from the Iziko South African Museum , the National Library of South Africa and the University of Cape Town. The book, Unconquerable spirit: George Stow’s history paintings of the San, was launched at the opening of the exhibition.
George Stow was a man enchanted by the majesty of the natural world. Arriving in South Africa in the mid 19th century, he was compelled to explore. He was delighted by the splendour of the mountains, the vastness of the landscape, the beauty and perfection of plant and animal life. He believed in the catastrophic origins of the hills and valleys, in a primeval deluge that shaped the surface of the earth. He puzzled over the nature of the inaugural great southern continent, the marvellous existence of fossils, the migrations of people into southern Africa. He was moved to great religious feeling; he was a medical man, a geologist, a map-maker and prolific writer. He wrote on a great many subjects, published poetry in three separate volumes, and produced verses which remain yet unprinted. He wrote The native races of South Africa, published posthumously as a result of the dedicated commitment of Lucy Lloyd. The most remarkable of all George Stow’s labours is his collection of watercolour copies of San rock paintings – the result of thousands of miles of travel to the caves and shelters in which the San had painted, as well as the dry plains of southern Africa where engravings were to be found.
As celebrated in these publications, he laboured to create a record of the creative work of the people who tracked and marked the landscape he so loved decades and centuries before him. In this volume, Pippa Skotnes introduces the extraordinary collection of copies of San (or Bushman) rock paintings made by George Stow in the 1860s and 1870s. She sees these not just as copies, but rather as Stow’s interpretations of the ideas that most moved the San people and, in part, as a product of the turbulent frontier wars and the end of the San way of life that George Stow was witness to. The book reproduces all Stow’s extant copies as well as examples of the many maps, drawings, notes and poems that he produced in his busy, driven life. This project, a Mellon Foundation funded project of UCT’s Centre for Curating the Archive, is a tribute to Stow and to the San people who, despite the coveting of their land and the thirsting for their blood, as Stow put it, both displayed an unconquerable spirit.