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Toys from tyres

An Oudtshoorn artist has taken recycling and the creation of environmental awareness to new heights with her unique eco-conscious children’s toys made from old inner tubes.

WORDS Janine Oelofse PHOTOGRAPHS Melanie Maré

Hannalie Taute says she gave birth to Lobotoy-me when she had to make a toy for her son’s first birthday because the family was in a tight financial spot. Shortly before the big date, she received a book as a gift by the artist Nicholas Hlobo, who works mainly with rubber inner tube.

“I thought it would be an amazing material to use. We had some financial difficulties because my husband started a career in ceramics after being in the construction industry for almost 10 years. Our son’s first birthday came up last September and at one year old it seems children don’t mind what present they get as long as it is wrapped. I decided to make him a toy from inner tubes. I cut the tubes into a shape and stuffed it with some of his old clothes. We called the toy ‘Oh Dear’, also known as ‘Binneband Bambi’.”

Hannalie says she fell in love with the medium, which is eco-conscious, non-toxic, durable and feels good. She decided to make a range of inner tube soft toys and soon created an elephant, a whale and a rhino. “I made some as gifts for friends and their kids, and after seeing the little ones appreciate them, I started selling them at flea markets. I decided that with every sale of the rhino toy, I would donate R10 to an anti-rhino poaching fund.

Hannalie, 34, who moved to Oudtshoorn from George in February this year, works from home so that she can take care of her sons Etienne, 4, and Stephan, 18 months. “I love to spend as much time with them as possible. We don’t have any regrets about the move since we live a much closer and richer family life.”

Hannalie’s artistic talents started to surface as a teenager. She loved the covers of music albums and often copied the drawings into her journals.

“After school I enrolled in art school to become a graphic designer on my father’s insistence since that is seen as a career, but after six months I changed my course to fine art and never told him.”

Hannalie was awarded a National Higher diploma in Fine art at the Port Elizabeth Technikon and spent a number of years working in the hospitality industry before fully committing to art in 2007. “The art world is full of circles. In some you are who you know. In others you are what you do. Currently I am standing with one foot in art and the other in craft, but it’s my bread and butter, for better or worse. I now consider myself a slightly mad scientist/artist and mother of two small boys who generates her ideas from the frontal cortex.”

She has since exhibited her work in Trent Read’s fine art gallery in Knysna in a show called Siembamba – the toys are us.

“It was my first big gallery show and I learned a lot. Before that, I exhibited on student shows and art festivals. I love exhibiting on festivals as I am more involved with the public and I can see first hand their response to my work.”

Hannalie’s first solo presentation was at the Joao Ferreira gallery in Cape Town with a show called Siembamba – let’s play pretend.

These days she is a familiar figure to about six local tyre manufacturers, collecting inner tubes that would normally be dumped as rubbish. “Now it’s called up-cycling,” she says. A local upholsterer’s off-cuts provide the stuffing for the toys, but the colourful cotton string for stitching and the cleaning agents have to be bought.

Hannalie cuts the inner tubes to patterns of her own design and sews the pieces together by hand before stuffing the toys and polishing them to glossy perfection.

Fifteen of Hannalie’s unique toys were displayed at the international COP17 green symposium in Durban last November as part of an exhibition by the Cape Craft and Design Institute (CCDI) called Noah’s Ark. Her toys were also included in the CCDI stand at Design Indaba earlier this year.

Most of her work is sold locally for between R150 to R180 per toy, but buyers from as far as the United States and Australia have shown an interest.

Hannalie’s exhibition at last year’s KKNK festival, which comprised various mixed media pieces, won her a spot in the semi-finals of the Fiesta Awards held in Cape Town in January. (A delegation from the awards committee travels to various arts festivals to find nominees.)

Hannalie says although Lobotoy-me is going better than expected, there have been more obstacles than she anticipated, including in production.

“I used to do everything by myself but later I trained ladies and some didn’t have enough interest to make a decent sellable toy. Other problems included cash flow, or not having the funds to pay the ladies who helped me make the toys.”

While Lobotoy-me is still fun, she says she misses drawing and working with paper and would like to work towards a new fine art exhibition.

“I find myself getting so wrapped up in daily life and responsibilities that I have to remind myself to play a little. The more I play the better I get at it, and I find myself feeling more and more creative.”

[email protected] www.lobotoy-me.blogspot.com where to buy Lobotoy-me

The toys are also for sale at Ebony – Franschhoek, Home Brews – Claremont, Spier Wine Estate – Stellenbosch, Moooi @ Jam Street Art Gallery & Gift shop – Oudtshoorn, Knysna Fine Art Museum, The gallery in Prince Albert and at the Outeniqua Farmer’s Market – George.