A beautifully intrinsic balance of rich colours characterize the ceramic pottery of Ardmore.
The vibrant ceramics of Ardmore, ranging from functional domestic ware to sculptural art in the highly decorative African tradition, offer a fine insight into the subtle influences of rural potters at work in the Champagne Valley of KwaZulu Natal. These artists combine the elements of their tribal tradition with the unique perspective of a new world. Although the nerve centre of Ardmore has moved to Lavendula in the Natal Midlands, the majority of the artists continue to work on the Ardmore farm near their family homes in the Champagne Valley.
The History Of Ardmore : The story of Ardmore began in 1985 when Fèe Halsted lived on the farm Ardmore, in the Champagne Valley under the shadow of the Drakensberg Mountains. Her passions for ceramic art had been honed during her five years at the University of Natal when she had studied fine art and then completed a two year advanced diploma in ceramics.
It was on the Ardmore farm – by ingenuity, by thrift and by chance – that Fèe developed the style that has made Ardmore ceramics famous. “I used to make tiles,” she remembers, “when one cracked, I’d stick a rabbit or bird on the top to hide it.” Then Fèe decided she needed an assistant. This was when luck played it’s part. Janet Ntshalintshali who worked in the house brought her 18 year old daughter, Bonnie, to meet Fèe.
Bonnie who had polio as a child could hardly walk, but showed a natural aptitude for ceramic art. Her ability with colour, design and texture and her diligence was everything Fèe could have desired in a student. Within five years, in 1990 Fèe and Bonnie had jointly won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award and their work was being shown in galleries internationally.
When Ardmore first opened the doors of its ceramic studio, the ceramics were produced mainly by women. Gradually, however, their male partners realized that they, too, could work with clay under the scenic backdropof the Champagne and Cathkin mountain peaks of the Drakensberg range located in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. These men have transformed Ardmore’s conservative functional earthenware into a more sculptural and courageous art form.
Their patience and extraordinary ability to pay attention to detail gives rise to artwork of tremendous charm and beauty. The creative talent of the artists, their learned skills and their desire to succeed, have resulted in their earning a special status amongst their friends and families and becoming known as the `Isigiwili’, which describes their abundant good fortune.
The women, in turn, have responded to the new creative energy that has flowed into Ardmore and, of their own accord, have modified their style of painting. Their fine feathering, scaling and bead- and basket-like patterns now enhance the form. Ardmore has evolved into a true unique sculptural art.
Hoopoe Tureen – Sculptor; Somandla Ntshalintshali, Painter; Goodness Mpinga
Bird Vase – Sculptor; Lovemore/ Sondelani Ntshalintshali. Painter; Winnie Nene
In the beginning at Ardmore no traditional techniques were used. Their work broke from the ceramic conventions of the time, fired terracotta clay was painted with plaka paints, boot polish and oven blackeners. Glues and putty were also used. Later American Amaco paints and transparent glazes brought an exuberant use of colour and the intricacy of painting style to the ceramics they were making.
Cheetah Platter – Sculptor; Thabo Mbhele Painter; Senzo Duma
Some of the artists:
Ardmore is now heading to Australia! A passionate Ardmore enthusiast, Kelly Foster, has arranged an exhibition at the new Peter Pinson Gallery in Sydney, opening on 14 December – and being opened by Ms Koleka Mqulwana, the South African High Commissioner.
Bird Egg Cup Sculptor; Lebohang Molefe Painter; Winnie Nene
Porcupine Sweet dish – Sculptor: Victor Shabalala Painter: Zinhle Nene
Some of the Ardmore artists: