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Reviving African Crafts

With a revised, new-look website on the way, Michael Chandler is a multi-talented artist whose star is certainly on the rise. We recently caught up with him to chat about his new online presence, creative inspiration and how his passion for crafts came about... Congrats on the launch of your new website. What can we expect in terms of the renewed look and feel? I've tried to marry the feel of my design sketchbooks with my background/working experience and love for words. So the website is mostly 'hand-drawn', and it features Sothebys-style cataloguing, as well as short articles on each piece and that piece's history. I want the website to feel intimate and personal, but professional and unsentimental at the same time. What new designs have you been working on and what inspired you? I'm venturing more into the kitchen now than before. New designs include a ceramic colander bowl for pastas and salads, a kitchen linen range inspired by Delft Tiles and something which I have called 'Meltware'. This dinnerware range involves the firing of tiny, glass beads onto my existing dinnerware crockery. The colours are incredible, the process uncontrollable and all this is of course a marriage between my ceramic and beaded endeavours. I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying the experimenting and the delightful, final results. How would you describe the essence of Chandler House in three words? History, Beauty, Fun. Tell us more about Serpentine and your focus on beads and African crafts? Serpentine is a studio I started with Claudette Davis of African Home last year. I design pieces which challenge current conceptions of craft, and Claudette brings her fair-trade production expertise to the table. Together we are making objects which we hope will revive interest and appreciation for a wonderful local skill. Your ‘Chinesewares Collection’ was recently showcased in the CCDI Handmade Collection 2012, which is wonderful news. Tell us more? Our selection into the Collection was a wonderful affirmation that our efforts to revive bead interest to locals was paying off. We looked at antique Chinese ceramic shapes and then made these forms larger and in white beads. The shapes of ancient Chinese ceramic bottles, vases, etc. have proved themselves to be timelessly beautiful (they are equally desirable over a thousand years later), so the Chinesewares idea was about taking something inherently beautiful and applying a local material to it. I do believe that humans find some forms, shapes and objects eternally beautiful. Which local designers/artists do you admire and why? I love Keith Henning from Adriaan Kuiters. His simple, no-fuss attitude and ability to make very simple and beautiful garments, never fails to delight me. Kelly Esterhuyse's knitted garments blew me away at this year's Design Indaba – she's so ahead of her time and her fearlessness is very inspiring. John Bauer is an alchemist. His ceramic pieces might lack an immediate aesthetic hook, but I think what he's doing is pure magic. Which medium do you enjoy working with most? Drawing with a black architect's pen on off-white, thickish and thirsty paper. You hail from a big Eastern Cape family – how do you think this shaped your interest and career in design? I suppose there were always so many older family members around who could each share what they loved with me during the long, 'boring' holidays on the family farms and on the Wild Coast. If someone wasn't teaching me about flower-arranging and embroidery, another would be imparting their love for drawing, philately, classical music, beer-brewing, clay-firing, photography, painting and tapestry. There were lots of us young 'uns and we didn't get much individual attention. We were forced to find our own entertainment, and often this involved doing something creative for hours on end. You have a clear passion for early Cape furniture and Dutch trade pieces. Where and how did this originate? I grew up in houses with mediocre antiques and have always loved the romance of a carved cupboard or a cloisonné vase decorated with a dragon chasing its tail. After studying History of Art at UCT and working at Sotheby's, I took up a position with Deon Viljoen who is one of the world's leading Dutch-Trade antique experts. His kind explanation of objects he dealt in and collected resulted in a genuine love for the pieces I handled. Everything had a story, a place, a reason for being made. An object is a human reaction against one of his experiences and I find this deeply attractive. What is your take on Cape Town being crowned the 2012 World Design Capital? How do you think this title will impact the city? Honestly, I don't think its going to make any immediate, quantifiable difference to local designers. I do however suspect that it will have a deeper, more subtle effect that is almost impossible to pin-point or measure. Most Capetonians will be exposed to the world and concept of design because of the campaign and title of WDC; and perhaps on a sub-conscious level, people will see Cape Town and the work it produces with renewed 'design-aware' senses. Keep an eye out for Michael's new official website, which will be launched in the next few weeks. For now you can check out his unique talents at or follow him on Twitter @MrChandlerHouse. Text: Kim Grové