Tunbridge Wells gallery owner’s paintings help make Rwandan school dream come true…

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The owner of an art gallery in Tunbridge Wells is donating 140 paintings to an auction in order to raise money for an African school.

Nick Hills, who has run the Redleaf Gallery in Castle Street for almost 20 years, was inspired to raise funds for the project after he visited Rwanda last year.

He and his wife Machteld and two sons, Frank and Charlie, went out to see the mountain gorillas at Kinigi.

They decided to take some clothes for the descendants of those who were killed during the genocide in 1994.

“There are a lot of orphans out there, and a real problem with displaced people,” says Mr Hills. “We weren’t sure what the best place would be to take the clothes, but our driver said he knew just the thing.

“We were eating dinner that night when out of the darkness emerged a lady who said, ‘Hello, I’m Faith’.

“She told us that there were a fantastic number of simply hopeless, unschooled children with no prospects.

“And we had seen them wandering along the side of the road. She said, ‘These are the people I have taken as my calling’.”

Faith Uwantege had started a school, which was based in a private house, and had used up all her own savings for the project.

“She told us was looking for a plot of land, and I told her I would help with that,” says Mr Hills. “I’ve been there three times now, and I will keep going back.”

The school is due to open in January, but the funds are required to complete the construction and help to recruit teachers.

“We are hoping to raise at least £10,000,” added Mr Hills, who lives in both Holland and Tunbridge Wells. “As well as the auction, there will be a talk in Amsterdam. In addition, Karel Bracas, who is known as the Storyteller of Amsterdam, will tell his tale about the children under threat in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation in 1943, and how they were rescued by fantastically brave people. He will link it in with Faith and the rescue operation during the genocide in Rwanda.”

Mr Hills believes the pick of the paintings is Andrew Vicari’s Patha Patha, a colourful street scene. “It has a tremendous vitality and energy, and it’s not unreasonable that it was previously valued at around £20,000 to £25,000.”

Vicari is known as ‘the king of painters and painter of kings’ for his lucrative commissions to capture heads of state and royalty on canvas.

His subjects have included Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sophia Loren, Mao Tse-tung and François Mitterrand.

The sale will be handled by Grand Auctions, and their 20th-century paintings expert Jonathan Riley said: “We immediately and enthusiastically agreed to be involved when we heard of Nick’s dedication to helping Faith to turn the dream of building a school into a reality.

“We are determined to do everything we can to make the sale a success and have waived our usual seller’s charges. Rather than just give a donation, you can buy a painting as a lasting reminder of this heartwarming tale.

He added: “There’s something here to suit most tastes, from works by 17th-century artists to the present day. And you can buy a painting safe in the knowledge that money raised goes straight to Faith’s school without any intermediaries taking a cut, a rarity indeed in Africa.”

The sale will be held at Grand Auctions in Folkestone on September 19. For more information, visit www.grandauctions.co.uk and www.faithfoundation.rw

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