Ardmore is a thriving artist community creating unique ceramics in the Natal Midlands of South Africa. The studio was founded by Fée Halsted in 1985 when she moved to a remote farm and began teaching local people how to model and paint pottery. Originally Fée worked with Bonnie Ntshalintshali, the daughter of the farm’s housekeeper, and they quickly developed a creative synergy. Their collaboration drew national attention when they won the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist award in 1990. Soon Bonnie’s family and friends were drawn to Ardmore to learn from Fée and earn a living creating ceramic art.
There are now more than 60 Zulu and Zimbabwean artists working in collaboration at Ardmore under Fee’s guidance. Two or three artists are involved in each piece, which is individually modeled and hand-painted. Energetic movement, intricate detailing and vibrant color defines the Ardmore aesthetic. Safari animals burst with life from luxuriant foliage to form quirky vases, candlesticks, tureens and teapots. There are also exciting forms of sculptural art based on Zulu folklore and tribal traditions.
We are because of others
Some of the imagery is drawn from the deep affliction of the HIV-AIDS pandemic, which has taken many lives at Ardmore. The sale of their wonderful works uplifts the Ardmore community and their families as the artists are paid per piece and have a guaranteed market for their endeavors. The success of the Ardmore artists has given them a special status and they are known as the “Isigiwili” – the fortunate ones – working in the spirit of “Ubuntu” – “we are because of others.”
Collectors have been seduced by the wit and whimsy of Ardmore designs and Christie’s auction house has acknowledged Ardmore artworks as “modern day collectibles.” Queen Elizabeth II was presented with a bowl by South African President Jacob Zuma and there is even an Ardmore masterpiece in the White House. Recently, Ardmore’s vivacious designs of African flora and fauna have appeared on Hermès scarves.