The story of Ardmore began in 1985 when Fèe Halstead-Berning lived on Ardmore Farm in the Champagne Valley under the shadow of the Drakensberg Mountains. Her passion 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 here that her techniques evolved, which made Ardmore Ceramics world-renowned. ‘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, which was when luck played its part. Janet Ntshalintshali worked in the house and brought her 18-year-old daughter, Bonnie, to meet Fèe. Bonnie had polio as a child and 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. By 1990 Fèe and Bonnie had jointly won the Standard Bank Young Artists Award and their work was being shown in galleries internationally. Their work broke from traditional ceramic conventions and 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.
The fantasy of the Ardmore world and the sheer fun of the finished pieces not only attracted the art world, it also drew many of Bonnie’s family and friends who wanted to learn from Fèe and earn a living modelling the ceramics in brilliant combinations of colours. Word has spread far and wide and those who believe they have the talent are arriving at the Ardmore studios in the rolling hills of Caversham in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Many have little knowledge of sculpture and painting and very little experience of ceramic art but are quick to learn and within a short time develop their own particular styles of sculpting and painting. It has become a story about the Zulu people whose sense of rhythm, colour, dance and song, as well as the spirit of the African imagination, exerts its influence on the other continents of the world.
The integration of traditional cultural skills with the advantages of western technology has led to the development of a unique art form, earning Ardmore’s ceramics the description by Christie’s of London as ‘modern collectables’. These art pieces can be found on auction at Christie’s and Bonhams in London, in galleries in New York, Cape Town and Johannesburg, in both public national-gallery and corporate-gallery collections in South Africa and in many private collectors’ homes across the globe. Read more >
Journey: Durban Safari