FLOCKS of brightly coloured birds and an abundance of wildlife – which includes hippos, elephants, black rhinos, wild dogs, cheetah and lions – can be found around the Zambezi River.
This diversity of fauna and flora has inspired the first collaboration between KwaZulu-Natal-based Ardmore Ceramic Art and the Parisian fashion house, Hermès.
At the beginning of 2016, Ardmore and Hermès launched two patterned silk scarves, designed by the artists at the South African arts collective, under the guidance of Ardmore founder Fée Halsted ’s eldest daughter, Catherine Berning, in collaboration with the French company’s own designers.
The “La March du Zambèze” and “Savanna Dance” scarves come in several gloriously bright and rich colours.
Hermès have also taken the orange and pink version of “La March du Zambèze”, which features decorative elephant and crocodiles, and created a very chic handbag.
It is the first time Hermès have worked with a South African designer and Ardmore is proud to be recognised internationally and been considered as part of the French company’s design team.
To accompany and celebrate the launch of the scarves, Ardmore will be showcasing a range of stunning ceramics, inspired by fauna and flora of the Zambezi River basin, at the P.G. Mavros family’s flagship store in Fulham, London, from May 18 to 28.
Running through parts of Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe – birthplace of Fée Halsted – the Zambezi River and its wildlife has inspired Ardmore’s artists to create imaginatively realised ceramics in which hippos are ridden by local people, elephants and crocodiles evoke memories of the stories of Rudyard Kipling and Rider Haggard, troops of vervet monkeys chatter in the forest canopy and Flame Lilies and Scadoxis flowers interact with colourful Narina Trogans and Angolan Pita birds.
“The Zambezi River and its surrounding areas is a magical area where abundant fauna and flora live in an Eden-like paradise,” says Fée Halsted. “The Victoria Falls has been inspiration to my art since 1987 when a sculptural collage of three trumpeter hornbills flying over the wall of water and won me the Corona del Mare Young artist award.
“The Ardmore artists have excelled on this Great Zambezi exhibition and I have enjoyed sharing with them many of my stories and sightings, in particular flocks of Lillian Love birds in the Chidori area of Mana Pools , crodiles, the illusive Angolan Pitta, Narina Trogons and endless tales of elephant and upturned dugout canoes by hippo .”
Ardmore’s London exhibition will include a large vessel sculpted by Tabo Mbele and painted by Siyabonga Mbaso, which evokes a Henri Rousseau jungle piece; a Lillian Lovebird urn sculpted by Teboho Ndlovu and painted by Siyabonga Mabaso; a crocodile Rider made by Bennet Zondo and painted by Zinhle Nene; and giraffe jug crafted by Somandla Ntshalintshali and painted by Punch Shabalala.
To coincide with the exhibition in London there will be sideshow and talk conducted by Fée Halsted as well as various charity evenings.
Ardmore Ceramic Art was established by Fée Halsted on Ardmore Farm in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains of KwaZulu-Natal, where she lived after obtaining her BA (Fine Arts) Honours degree and lecturing at then Natal Technikon (now the Durban University of Technology).
It was here that she met Bonnie Ntshalintshali, daughter of the family’s housekeeper, whose polio meant that she was unable to work in the fields.
Fée and Bonnie quickly developed a synergy and under Fée’s mentorship, Bonnie’s natural skills as an artist blossomed. Five years later, in 1990, the two women were jointly awarded the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown – the first such artistic partnership to be recognised.
With this success came the demands of creating ceramics for their exhibition, so Fée offered other local women the opportunity to train at Ardmore, producing pieces to generate income for the fledgling studio.
Fèe, through necessity, developed the exuberant exotic style that has made Ardmore ceramics famous. “I made tiles and if one cracked, I’d stick a rabbit or bird on the top to hide it,” she recalls.
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 vibrant colour and fine painting style to the ceramics.
In 1996, Fée and her family moved to Springvale Farm in Rosetta in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, allowing the artists at the ‘Berg studio in the Champagne Valley to explore their independence.
At Springvale she established a smaller studio and gallery, and in 2003, the Bonnie Ntshalintshali Museum was created to honour Fée’s co-artist and friend after her tragic death from HIV/Aids in 1999.
A few years later, Fée and her family moved to the Caversham Valley, relocating the studio and museum and building a spacious gallery and offices. This created a unique home for Ardmore.
Ardmore’s 25th anniversary in 2010 saw the launch of Ardmore Design Collection, which translated Ardmore’s distinctive imagery and styling into functional, quality ceramic and non-ceramic products including dinnerware, tapestries, furniture, fabrics for soft furnishings, and more.
Over the years, Ardmore’s artists have won numerous awards and exhibited widely in South Africa and around the world. Ardmore artworks feature in leading galleries and collections, including the Museum of Art & Design in New York, the Museum of Cultures in Basel, Switzerland, and the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
The acclaimed auction house Christie’s has acknowledged Ardmore artworks as ‘modern day collectibles’.