The story of Ardmore ceramic art in South Africa begins in 1985 – the year in which Zimbabwean-born ceramic artist Fée Halsted founded the Ardmore studio in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. For a short while she worked alone – but this was not to be her destiny. Later that year Bonakele (Bonnie) Ntshalintshali, 18 at the time, began a ceramics apprenticeship under Fée and five years later, the duo were jointly awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award.
In 2013 Halsted Design was started by Fée alongside Fleur Heyns and Jonathan Berning as a way to translate Ardmore’s ceramics into contemporary fabrics, furnishings and design offerings. Ardmore celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2015, marked by a series of events hosted across the country and abroad. Last year the studio launched its first big collaboration: a beautiful range of silk scarves for French luxury house Hermès, based on designs by Sydney Nyabeze. The latest exciting venture from Ardmore was announced this February and takes the form of a whimsical wallpaper collection created with UK-based Cole & Son.
We chatted to Fée about working with Cole & Son and Ardmore’s upcoming exhibition, The Great Zambezi, which takes place on 17-19 February at the Cellars-Hohenort Hotel in Constantia, Cape Town.
How did the collaboration with Cole & Son come about?
Cole & Son’s creative director Shauna Dennison was on a visit to New York and went to a small gallery called Creel and Gow on East 70th Street to buy fossils and crystals, where she also happened to come across Ardmore ceramics. She fell in love with the work and emailed us to ask whether she could work on a new collection inspired by our ceramics. Shauna came out to the farm and we began the collaboration, which has taken a year to unfold.
What were some of the highlights of working with Shauna?
Shauna is very similar in character to me, so working with her was a meeting of like minds. It was very easy to approve how she interpreted the ceramic motifs as wallpaper designs. We both seem to enjoy the carnival and all things colourful, whimsical and fanciful. One of the highlights was Shauna’s second visit to South Africa, when the artists got to see their works printed on wallpaper for the first time. She’ll be attending our exhibition this February to talk more about the collaboration.
What is the visual inspiration behind the range – and its most distinguishing aesthetic feature?
Shauna has really honoured Ardmore by using actual vases, plates and sculptures as well as motifs and patterns for the Cole & Son Ardmore collection. This, for me, is testament to our entire Ardmore story in ceramic, and not just motif and design.
And the synergy between the two brands – why you think you were able to work so well together?
I think it was so easy to work together with Shauna because both of us, as artists, are inspired by the same things: nature, the naive and decorative elements.
Tell us a little more about the Ardmore philosophy and why you welcome collaborations of this nature.
In 2010, we began investigating taking Ardmore design and motifs into fabric prints, with my children coming into the business. We’ve enjoyed playing with new products and creating a company to produce fabrics. We did not seek out the collaboration with Hermès – nor with Cole & Son: we were found, and a fortuitous opportunity arose that we thought would be exciting to participate in as well as grow the brand and awareness around our design. It has been incredible to see our designs on Hermès scarves sold out and proudly worn by people across the world! We are so excited to share the new Cole & Son wallpaper collection in Cape Town this February, which we’ll be presenting alongside our new fabric range.
The Great Zambezi will be held at the Cellars-Hohenort Hotel in Constantia, Cape Town, on 17-19 Feburary 2017. Visit ardmoreceramics.co.za for more.