Fran Fearnley’s Secret Creative Goal

Fran Fearnley is the owner and curator of ZimArt, a gorgeous outdoor gallery of Zimbabwean stone sculpture. Walter Mariga, whose video appears on this site, exhibits at Fran’s gallery. Here are Fran’s answers to many of the 25 Not-too-Scary Life Questions Worth Asking Yourself. 

What is the best compliment you have ever received?

I am very lucky to receive compliments from many visitors to the gallery. Visitors thank me for my vision and for creating a “magical” “spiritual” space. When someone who has never seen Zimbabwean sculpture before is clearly deeply moved by what they have experienced here, I feel very affirmed and complimented.

What is the title of the last book you read that you absolutely loved?

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

What are you afraid of?

As I age (64 now), inevitably I reflect on the aging process. Fortunately, I am still very active and healthy but I am also a realist! I am not afraid of dying, but I am very scared of losing my independence due to physical and/or mental deterioration.

When do you have trouble saying ‘No’?

When I am asked for money (as a loan or gift) by someone who has a harder life than I do, I find it very difficult to say ‘no’. As a result, I have allowed myself to be taken advantage of many times. I have improved in this regard in the past year or two, but I still struggle to say no! I expect I will always feel a certain amount of guilt about having an easy life compared with millions around the globe. That may be a residue of my Catholic upbringing that remains, despite being an atheist most of my life.

What are you curious about?

I am deeply curious about artists. What does it feel like to create art? How much is the intellect involved? How important is it for an artist to articulate the meaning behind an art work? Are artists made or born? What inspires them? How do they respond to other artists’ work? What is the role of the ego in creating art? What makes an artist great? Says who? Etcetera, etcetera!

What is your greatest source of joy?


What were your favourite activities when you were a child?

I was a voracious reader as a child. I was completely transported by a good novel. I attended Catholic boarding schools for my primary and secondary education (in the UK), and I always felt a bit like a fish out of water. Reading was both an escape and a way of being introduced to characters who I could empathize with, despite their circumstances being very different from mine. I really liked getting behind the skin of fictional characters so I could fully understand their emotions. Catholic boarding schools, in those days, were very cloistered, punitive institutions so reading opened doors to the world that were closed off by an oppressive environment.

You must be the change you want to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

What is your favourite quote? Why?

I love this quotation because it’s both personally and globally inspiring. And it demands action. I believe that most of us aspire to being a force for positive change. Gandhi’s words remind us that it is not just possible for an individual to make a difference but it’s actually our responsibility to initiate change.

What is your most prized possession?

That’s easy! My home–an old Ontario farmhouse sited on five acres between two farms–is my most prized possession. I find everything about my home and property deeply satisfying and sustaining. (Okay, so maybe not basement floods or the roof leaks!) I love living surrounded by nature.

What are you known for, or would like to be known for?

I hope I am known for being truthful, loyal, fair, tenacious, and never losing my sense of humour. I would also like to be known as someone who has nurtured and provided opportunities for others to grow and reach their potential.

Who or what are you grateful for?

My parents (now both dead) were not warm, fuzzy people, but they both had a nuanced and informed world view. They raised all five of their children as citizens of the world rather than of a nation. Because of my father’s job (he was a British diplomat), we experienced life in a number of different countries growing up. I feel very grateful to have had my formative years influenced by many cultures.

What would you like to stop doing?

Worrying about whether I will have enough money when I retire.

What words and/or phrases do you use frequently?

“I believe in good karma” and “What goes around, comes around.”

What does being creative mean to you? Are you creative?

I often describe myself as an “artiste manqué”. It is perhaps best translated as a wannabe artist who just doesn’t have the talent! Before I started the gallery, most of my professional life had been in the world of words, not the visual arts. I started out as a high school teacher of English and theatre arts, moved into corporate communications, and then journalism. During those years I had a secret goal to write a great novel. But I never had the courage to even make a stab at it.

What I have come to learn with starting and expanding my gallery is that being creative takes many different forms. And, while I doubt I will ever create a work of art in my lifetime, I do consider that I have a creative life, professionally and personally.

What steals your serenity?

Having my motivations misunderstood or misinterpreted makes me very unhappy.

What kind of people energize you, and what kind of people drain you?

I am energized by people who are genuinely curious about the world and others. I really struggle with people who “know it all”, who talk at you rather than with you, and who pose questions as though they already know the answers.

When in your life have you felt at a dead end?

Honestly never.

When do you feel amazing?

After great sex. It’s been a while though!

If you won a lottery, what would you do with the money? Assume the win was big enough that you easily took care of family and friends.

I never buy lottery tickets. Speculating on what I would do if I had tons of money doesn’t really appeal to me.

When are you most yourself?

I am an introvert who has learned to adapt to living in an extrovert society. So, I guess, I am most myself when I am alone. But I don’t really like to think that’s the case. I also feel very much myself with friends.

What life detour have you taken that ultimately proved to be beneficial?

I am not sure this qualifies as a detour but…in 1998 I left a job I loved to go and volunteer in South Africa for two years. I had no idea where the experience would lead me. That was part of the appeal. It was a deliberate mid-life shake-up. I felt too complacent and not sufficiently challenged. The detour more than lived up to any expectations I may have had. It literally transformed my life. (Note from Karen: This video interview explains Fran’s fascinating life detour.)

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?

“Put yourself in other people’s shoes.” I have learned that empathy is deeper and more profound when you really try to look at any situation which involves others, by trying to understand where and why they have the perspective they have.

Please consider contributing to Tribe Stories. You will find the three easy steps here. And please leave your comments for Fran in the comment section below.






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  1. Wow, how inspiring that was reading Fran’s tribe story! Fran is a woman I can totally relate to. Many of her answers to the 25 Not Too Scary Life Questions found me nodding my head in agreement. What a wonderful way to look at the world and our personal experiences.

    I will definitely be staying tuned for Part 2 of Fran’s Tribe Story next week. I am looking forward to being sort of able to “meet” Fran and hear what she has to say rather than just read her words.

    From what Fran has written here I think she could write a novel that would be engaging and compelling. If we look to Grandma Moses who started painting in earnest at age 78 I think it is totally possible for Fran to still write her novel.

    Perhaps it could be about being the owner and curator of ZimArt, a gorgeous outdoor gallery of Zimbabwean stone sculpture. That would be a book I would be interested in reading.

    Don’t mind me; I am just putting it out there as a possibility. I am very pleased to be a tribe member with Fran. 🙂

    Thank you Fran for your answers; because you shared them it has given me a different perspective and something to think about.

    1. I agree, Susan! Fran could definitely still write that novel if she decides that the goal still has merit for her. I’m always keen to read novels of life transformations and Fran has had at least one big one. The video will show that even more. I’m excited to be posting it next week.
      Thanks, as always, for taking the time to comment.

  2. What a wonderful post! This is a woman who obviously knows herself and her world very well; and is comfortable with both. The questions put to her were provocative, and I found when I asked myself those same questions, it was difficult to come up with responses to most of them. Obviously, my “Profound Journey” has barely started…….

  3. What an astute observation, Anna. When I put your comment together with Gerri’s I get a picture of Fran as a woman who is comfortable and at peace with herself. That’s a very accurate characterization of Fran. She has done a great job of writing in a way that lets us know her.

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