Last week, seven members of QuArKe, the Quilt Artists of Kenya, traveled upcountry on the new Thika Superhighway, a four or six-lane expressway, to Manyika House for their first ever art quilt retreat. We traveled in three cars with at least eight sewing machines, rotary cutting equipment, food and drinking water supplies to last at least a month (!), and a few items of clothing to enjoy three days of being away from it all and with time to work on patchwork quilts as art. What fun we had!
Manyika House is an old colonial settler home, probably built to house the owner of a coffee plantation and his family sometime when the British Government was doling out Kenyans’ lands to returning military who came home to not much of anything else after World War I.
Manyika House, Thika, Kenya
It’s a beautiful home, prime for its style, with a raised ceiling over the sitting room to cool the house, hardwood parquet floors, built-in shelves and cupboards, moldings around the tops of the walls for hanging pictures and casement windows. It boasts three large bedrooms, two full baths and two half-baths plus two smaller bedrooms all on one end of the house, separated from the main living area by a generous foyer that leads into a large L-shaped sitting room.
The sitting room opens onto the dining room beyond, and it features a huge fireplace and storage/bench seating that wraps around the end of the room below large windows that open onto a lovely garden. The benches are covered with wonderful patchwork cushions from India!
A large and comfortable kitchen lies just off the dining room and opens onto a paved utility courtyard behind the house. Jasvinder and Charu, working with Joel, made themselves right at home there.
The garden is home to a couple of mature palm trees that set off the front verandah which looks out at Mt. Kenya, often visible on cloudless days. Walk off the verandah and a small pool full of bullrushes lies ahead; beyond that a paved circle that hosts a round table and six chairs with a huge umbrella to cover all. Of course, flame trees predominate in the community!
The house immediately captured my heart, for it was full of the romance of an earlier time in this remarkable country. It is rumored, but not yet established, that Beryl Markham once owned the house. It is highly likely that she might at least have been a guest there, as the owners were not far removed from the Happy Valley Set.
We arrived about 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday and by lunchtime had unpacked our cars, set up our equipment, spread out our fabrics and chosen our beds–we were ready for lunch and then WORK!
We had earlier agreed on a vegetarian menu that would suit all, and a couple of our members had worked together to organize all the food. The house has a cook in residence. Actually, Joel is more like a majordomo, the man in charge of everything!
He made coffee and tea and served them beautifully, prepared and cooked our food as needed and instructed, cleaned the house and made our beds, and generally supervised the property. John is the shamba-man, the gardener and dishwasher who was ever-present as well, and there’s a nighttime askari, the best kind, I never saw him! We were well looked after and made to feel right at home at Manyika House!
It was great to have this time to work, to relax and to get to know one another better. Gretchen and Patty worked in the dining room, and there was a great guffaw from that part of the house about every fifteen minutes.
Bibiana spent the first day on the sitting room floor, working out plans for a new design on paper, then moved the next day to a table in the sitting room to begin the sewing on that project.
Charu, Jasvinder, and Raji worked in the open area of the sitting room and there was plenty of laughter from that quarter. Raji, who enjoyed the peace of the verandah, got the giggles on Thursday afternoon and could not stop!!
I set up around the corner in the sitting room, near the foyer, to have a design wall behind me (I ended up using the floor instead as I needed more space), and got back to art quilting in a big way!
We carried on like this until Friday morning, all of us sorry we had not planned to stay longer. We had booked during the week for a lower rate, given that the house is usually booked over weekends by families and other groups who can meet only on weekends. If you’re in Kenya and looking for a wonderful experience and a delightful place to stay, check out Manyika House. It’s truly special!! If you’re not on Facebook, google it and find local tour operators who can put you in touch with Markus Dierling, the owner/manager.
It seems QuArKe, the Quilt Artists of Kenya, have established a new tradition–an annual retreat at Manyika House. Gretchen now reports a tentative booking for next year that will include an extra night–yippee!! And if you’re interested in our work, the art quilts we are making, they will be on display at the Friends of the Arts Exhibition at the International School of Kenya, over the weekend of April 11. I know, the ads all say April 5-8, but I have it on good authority that the show opens April 11–ring the School to find out for sure. See you there!
Oh, and be sure to visit Gretchen’s blog–too cool!! She’s soooo talented, our Gretchen!