Ardmore was established by yourself in 1985 – can you tell us the story behind launching the brand?
Having studied fine art, majoring in painting and working in ceramics, I followed my heart to the Drakensberg Mountains and began working with the daughter of our domestic carer. Her name was Bonnie Ntshalintshali, she suffered from Polio and could not find work as a farm labourer. I offered her an apprenticeship at Ardmore, learning the craft and developing Ardmore ceramics. Bonnie and I won the Standard Bank Young Artists Award in 1990. This gave us a leg up in the art world, giving our small studio visibility to the wider art community. This was definitely a turning point in our careers as we suddenly found ourselves at the forefront of attention, gaining new artists at the same time.
How do you work with the local community?
Ardmore employs over 70 commissioned artists from the local community and surrounding areas. We supplies all the materials and technology and an umbrella for the artists to showcase their magnificent artworks. They are not just our artists but our extended family and we like to provide the markets and infrastructure needed so our artists can focus on their creativity. On a broader note, we provides a daily lunch and healthcare for the artists. We are also in the process of setting up a non-profit fund to help uplift the local community through educational training.
What is your inspiration behind the collections?
I have a deep love for Africa’s fauna and flora and its people which, undeniably, is our greatest inspiration.
Each piece is unique – is there a story behind each design?
Each piece has its own unique story to be told; often this story is a work in progress as the artist models and paints it. As part of the creative process our artists like to walk and explore the landscape, absorbing all its nuances. This is then translated into the designs so every piece is a personal and unique portrayal of what the particular artist has encountered during that walk and moment of reflection.
Each piece is incredibly ornate – do you go through a special process of creation so that nothing breaks during the blasting process?
The work is very fragile but the artist and kiln operators handle the work with the utmost of care. There is risk from the raw clay to bisque firing to painting to glazing, and then packing for shipping. However we have overcome issues with this by inventing our own packing system that has become almost fool-proof.
How many artists do you work with?
Currently it’s about 80 in total.
How have the designs of Ardmore developed over the years?
In the beginning the work was very naïve and folk like, but as the artists became more skilled the works became more and more elaborate and finely executed. With the introduction of the Ardmore-Design business and collaboration with Hermes and Cole & Son, the colours and designs of our ceramics have become more stylised and sophisticated in colour and design.
Ardmore was commissioned to create two beautiful and unique lamps for the new Annabel’s. Can you tell us how you came up with the designs?
Knowing that Annabel’s is a night club renowned for its indulgent, opulent and sexy vibe, we decided to work with the sculptor Betty Ntshingila who had being inspired by the bronze lamps of French company, Grouse. We believed that this French bouquet style would suite the sensuality of the club. We chose saddle-bill storks as the subject mater as they symbolise love and luck. Wiseman Ndlovu painted them in rich striking colours, red, black and yellow, which add vibrancy and fun.
You have collaborated with jeweller, Patrick Mavros. Can you tell us more about this exhibition, called Pride of Africa?
Ardmore’s slogan is “We are because of others” – Ubuntu-; family is very important to survival on the African continent. The Zimbabwean Mavros family created a flag-ship store in London on the Fulham Road which has become a meeting place and sanctuary for all African people and which sells silver artefacts and Ardmore ceramics. We have successfully exhibited with Mavros for several years now however, in February 2019 our two families will show together for the first time in Cape Town at the Cellars Hohenort Hotel in Constantia. We’re looking forward to showcasing our works side by side and in a new location, with the work being deeply rooted in the African landscape.