In a small farming community, in 1985, an arts ecosystem germinated.
Fée Halsted, a newly married Zimbabwean ceramicist, brought promise with her when she moved to be with her husband on Ardmore farm in the foothills of Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
There she trained ladies to help her model and paint pottery. One early apprentice was Bonnie Ntshalintshali, the housekeeper’s daughter, who had polio and couldn’t work in the fields.
By 1990, Ntshalintshali and Halsted worked synergistically and won a prestigious prize, the Standard Bank Young Artist Award.
Soon word spread and others came to Ardmore hoping Halsted would teach them the ceramic trade too.
Ed Pascoe, an antique dealer since the ’70s, was educated in African studies and bought antiques in South Africa every few years.
In 2008, at an antique show in Johannesburg, he discovered Ardmore Ceramics and bought 40 pieces.
The pieces were immediately snatched up by his discerning clientele upon his return home, so he placed a second order for 100 more.
“My love of ceramics all my life fueled my enthusiasm,” he says. He is now the US distributor for Ardmore.
Today, under the motto We Are Because of Others, Ardmore employs about 85 Zulu, Zimbabwean, and Sotho potters in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. They are given training, materials, and a studio to work in.
What began as women’s empowerment project is now an empowerment project for the community, reflecting reinvented traditions, rhythm, and color.
Flaunting detailed intricacy, each piece is typically made by two or three artists.
The pieces are individually thrown on a potter’s wheel, sculpted, then hand-painted—all by artists who have not had any previous formal art training.
“This talent is all natural talent that Halsted has cultivated and developed,” says Pascoe.
“Fée is an amazingly creative, resourceful businesswoman, even though where she lives has shades of second- and third-world countries and there are frequent power outages.”
She’s lost many of her artists to AIDS, including Ntshalintshali, who had a museum named after her, and Wonderboy Nxumalo,
who used monkeys as symbolism for his AIDS-awareness works. “Despite all the adversity, she has survived and developed this business.
Hundreds of families live off this work and they are making 20 times more than their neighbors working in the farms and fields.”
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