By Annie Pentilla
African Oasis, an upscale curio shop and coffee and tea house in downtown Dillon, is a site that isn’t hard to miss. In the small ranching and agricultural community, the Idaho Street store certainly stands out, laden as it is with African art and the taxidermy busts of animals from the continent where human life is said to have its origins..
Despite the curious nature of the gallery/museum, store manager Kim Gattone says African Oasis fits right in at Dillon, where she says folks have an intimate connection to the outdoors — a connection that includes a lifestyle imbued with ranching and hunting.
“That’s what we do here and we love it and respect it and understand it deeply,” she said.
African Oasis isn’t just a draw for locals. Gattone said it’s a hot spot for tourists, who get off the interstate and come to Dillon to see the store’s unique wares, which include everything from home décor and folk art to fine-art works by established artists.
A visit to the store in June revealed a few of its unique items — decorative ostrich eggs, handmade woven baskets, papier-mâché guinea hens, and handsome-looking leather satchels, to name a few.
“These are soapstone dishes made in Kenya and they’re beautiful and no two are alike,” said Gattone, pointing out one of the gallery’s many decorative objects.
Then there are the baskets made from discarded telephone wire.
“They collect all the scraps and then they weave all of these beautiful baskets,” she said of African artisans.
“The beauty of everything here in the gallery is that it all has a wonderful story behind it. We can tell you who made it, what it’s made of (and) where it came from,” said Gattone.
African Oasis got its start four years ago when it began as the two-room North American office for the international magazine African Hunting Gazette, a publication devoted to promoting hunting in Africa, and soon branched out into a public-facing museum and art gallery.
Prior to that, Gattone had been working from her home in Dillon selling advertising for the magazine and doing editorial work. Altogether, she has worked for the company for 11 years.
Today the store continues to serve as the magazine’s North American business office for African Hunting Gazette.
The magazine is owned by South African resident Richard Lendrum, who’s also the publisher and editor. The magazine is headquartered in Rivonia, South Africa, located just outside of Johannesburg. Recently the company added on Illinois-based Brad Voyles as partner and co-owner.
According to his bio, Lendrum has lived in South Africa for over two decades. He grew up in Zimbabwe in a family that spent much time studying and collecting birds.
“With a passion for wildlife, Richard realized the role that tourism — and especially hunting tourism — plays in conserving wildlife, as well as in habitat conservation,” the bio reads, describing Lendrum as an “entrepreneur and conservationist at heart.”
The magazine is the foundation of the business, Gattone says, which also connects tourists with hunting opportunities in South Africa and even has its own hunting lodge, Afton Safari Lodge.
Recently, African Oasis rolled out a new component of its business: a coffeehouse and tearoom specializing in brews from Africa. Come August, African Oasis will also offer wine from the continent.
Clara Black, African Oasis employee, said the tea is African rooibos — an herbal tea known for its red color — and comes in seven different blends.
The coffee, meanwhile, is served pour-over style, which is said to imbue the coffee with a superior flavor. Guests can stop by for a [cup a Joe] or [a French press], or they can purchase beans for a homemade brew.
Black described working at African Oasis as “really cool” and said she applied for the job because of the uniqueness of the store.
“There are lots of different people you get to meet from England and different places from all over the world,” said Black.
Employee Kirsten Greil described a similar experience.
“I’ve been able to learn more about a culture that I honestly never knew anything about and I’ve been able to meet a lot more people within the community,” she said.
The Montana Standard asked Gattone if visitors to the store ever object to the taxidermy or express concerns about conservation.
Gattone said the store gets “very few” visitors who are uncomfortable with the taxidermy. Hunting and taxidermy is just something Montanans are accustomed to, she said.
Like in the U.S., she said, hunting in is regulated in Africa and wildlife areas are managed.
“Our whole desire is to promote Africa,” said Gattone. “And not even only the hunting but (also) photo safaris and just tourism in general, because it’s a beautiful, wonderful place, and the culture is magnificent.”
If you go:
Address: 36 N. Idaho St.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday