When world-renowned leather artist Beatrix Bosch decided to retire to George, a typical retirement cottage was never an option. Instead she consulted long-time friend, architect Ernest Harper, to design and build a small yet inspired house in the Groenkloof Retirement Village where she has lived since September 2014.

 WORDS Louise Venter PHOTOGRAPHS Melanie Maré

Beatrix, aged 80, who pioneered leather art in South Africa and received international acclaim for her often monumental leather wall hangings – such as the 20m-long Constellation of Power commissioned for Anglo American – has never been someone to do things on a small scale.

She describes her new home as “a comfortable little scrapyard room” in which she used all the leftover bits and pieces from her career and life.

Leftover leathers were used to cover cushions, ottomans and bathroom cabinets, while larger pieces, such as a whole elephant trunk, was given new life in one of six leather panels she made especially for the new house. A paint-splattered backdrop became a tablecloth, her old dye trough was transformed into a basin and an old piece of wood is being carved into a sculpture.

“I have always had an interest in architecture and for me a home must have warmth, it must be a friendly, comfortable little cocoon,” Beatrix says as she hands me a glass of red wine over a 5.5m-long ironwood table, which her late husband, Dr JL (Bossie) Bosch, made by hand.

Bossie’s remarkable table is one of the pieces of furniture she wanted to keep as most of his handiwork, including several driftwood sculptures, were sold. I wonder how many plates of Beatrix’s legendary meals were served at this table over the years, as they were known to entertain up to 100 guests at any given time at their house on The Dune in Wilderness, where they lived since 1969.

Beatrix smiles as she recalls those times, but is also quick to tell me that she has had enough of that. The tranquillity and privacy of her new surroundings with its view of the Outeniqua Mountains in the distance is a welcome change after a full life and a busy career.

“Sometimes I miss the sea, but here I see the mountains. I have never really looked at the mountains before. When the sun sets they look as if someone has painted red stripes across them. I love the rural quietness here,” she says.

The rustic tranquillity of the environment seems to have been translated to the house, for despite its smooth, open-plan design and modern finishing, the interior of the house is permeated with warmth and a quiet earthiness, which is further enhanced by the eclectic mix of furniture and the smell and use of leather and wood throughout.

Perhaps the most surprising element of the house is its unassuming face brick exterior, which is modestly similar to the other homes in the retirement village.

Seen from outside, the only indication that the house may be more than meets the eye is a slightly raised roof, for which Beatrix had to obtain special permission, and the fact that the house was built over two plots.

Several interesting garden features – such as orange tiles hiding in a flower bed, a variety of interesting pots by Dina Prinsloo, leather and wood decorations and some enormous aloes – all hint at Beatrix’s distinctive style, leading one to the front door.

The house was planned down to the very last millimetre, complete with 120 drawers and a courtyard.

A primary design consideration was accommodating Beatrix’s personal art collection, which includes contemporary ceramics by her sister, Christina Bryer, pottery by Esias Bosch (and about 30 other potters), a painting by Willie Lottering, Zakkie Eloff’s wildlife art, a fibreglass sculpture by Willie Schmidt, an original Eduardo Villa (a gift) and Beatrix’s favourite piece, a kiaat sculpture by Freida Ollemans. “I think we ended up building an art gallery more than a house,” Beatrix chuckles.

The six leather panels she made to cover the house’s huge glass windows were designed to be complete art works in themselves, but the panels also form a coherent composition when they are all open or when less than six show.

As with her other leather works, their craftsmanship illustrates the masterful way in which Beatrix is able to work her medium with the self-taught techniques she developed over 45 years.

“I always find inspiration in the medium itself, the leather. You have a given thing and from that you make something. You work with the leather’s inherent flaws and textures. In a sense my work is instinctive. I had to adapt to what the leather would allow me to do,” Beatrix explains.

The panels were her final leather art works. At 80 it has become physically too challenging to make them. She doesn’t want to work commercially anymore and is now creative purely for personal enjoyment, experimenting mostly with digital graphic design.

It was Beatrix’s love for design and architecture that started her career as a full-time artist in 1968 when she envisaged a house built from glass and natural rock in Nelspruit, where she and Bossie lived at the time.

With a degree in Home Economics (obtained from Stellenbosch University in 1955) to provide the necessary sewing know-how she had a notion to make a bedspread for the new house from leftover pieces of leather she had bought. The bedspread later turned into a wall hanging, which she sold for R100. The Nelspruit house never happened, but Beatrix’s career took off as her innovative and expertly crafted work became known.

Working exclusively with ethically sourced leathers – mostly elephant, hippo, buffalo, cow, ostrich and crocodile, but also more unusual hides such as frog and snake skins – her art works are highly sought after and can be seen in buildings, galleries and private homes across the world.

Her largest piece, a 3m x 27m commissioned work entitled Prelude, was a mammoth undertaking that took Beatrix 14 months to complete. Depicting the diversity of South Africa’s cultural heritage, it hangs in the South African State Theatre in Pretoria.

With 34 successful exhibitions worldwide, her status as one of South Africa’s most iconic artists has long been established, but in her new home she can just be Beatrix who enjoys pottering around her garden, reading a science fiction novel, thinking of ways to fill the 120 drawers in the house or how to sandblast her digital designs onto glass for unique garden lights.

As we say our goodbyes I take one last look at the precise stitching and careful balance of texture and colour of her newly created leather panels on the windows. Being her last works in leather some people may perhaps see them as the end of an era. As for me, I will remember them as symbols of a bright new beginning for the enigmatic Beatrix Bosch.

PERMANENT EXHIBITION

Nineteen unique leather wall hangings by Beatrix Bosch, with titles such as Forest Textures and Forbidden Fruit, are currently on permanent display at the Wilderness Hotel in George Road, Wilderness. These works are the last of Beatrix’s personal collection of original leather wall hangings available for sale. Contact Jacques Pratt at Wild Info for a guided walkabout or for more information.

084 446 3422 or [email protected]

A quote by Bob Dylan about the timelessness of truth and beauty has resonated with artist Suzanne du Toit since her teens, becoming a part of her life’s motto and the driving force behind her creativity.

WORDS Louise Venter PHOTOGRAPHS Vanessa van Vreden

I suppose in a way it’s my on-going search for truth and my appreciation of beauty that keeps me going – it’s why I create,” says Suzanne, whose works include some of the most memorable art and décor pieces in the country.

The Harkerville-based artist’s soft-spoken nature contrasts her often dramatic creations, which include several public sculptures in world-renowned venues such as hotels in Oubaai and the Hyatt Regency Rosebank, Palazzo Montecasino and Michelangelo hotels and Caesars in Gauteng. She was also part of the creative team for the Lost City at Sun City.

Among her most recent work is a life-size rendition of Xhosa king Hintsa on horseback, which was commissioned as part of 400 life-size, realistic sculptures of struggle heroes for the National Heritage Monument Project at Nasrec in Gauteng.

“I love to paint, draw and explore all facets of art. However, sculpture allows me to give life to a three-dimensional concept that used to live in my head or on paper.”

Suzanne shows me around her studio, which was specially designed to accommodate large sculptures. Through the high roller door is a breath taking view of the Outeniqua Mountains. Suzanne and her life partner, former Transvaal High Court judge Anna-Marié de Vos, co-designed their house on the 33-hectare farm where they now live. They moved to the Garden Route from Pretoria in 2003 with their adopted children, Nuschka and Reid, now aged 25 and 22.

Initially Anna-Marié commuted between Pretoria and the Southern Cape, while Suzanne took care of the children, but in 2006 she decided to give up her position on the bench and practice as an advocate in George, allowing Suzanne more time to focus on her art.

Rosie, a young Ridgeback, trots into the studio. Suzanne turns her attention momentarily to the dog and smiles appreciatively as her hand traces the contours of the animal’s head. Without looking up she remarks, almost more to herself than to me: “When I experience truth or see something beautiful, then life makes sense.”

Her parents, both medical professionals, instilled their appreciation for art in their children and nurtured Suzanne’s talent from a young age. She says when she was five she already knew that she wanted to be an artist. She never wavered, honing her skills in all forms of the fine arts. Although her focus was mostly on sculpture, drawing and painting, she also became skilled in graphics, book illustration, mosaic, set painting and sign writing.

After matriculating in 1971, Suzanne travelled throughout Europe and studied art at the City of London Polytechnic.

Returning to South Africa, she obtained a degree in fine arts from the University of Pretoria, specialising in sculpture. She received a bursary to further her studies in Perugia, Italy, where she also re-acquainted herself with the work of Michelangelo, a major inspiration in her own work.

Suzanne says the four years she spent in the paint shop of the Performing Arts Council of Transvaal (PACT), however, will always stand out as the time she gained her most valuable experience as an artist. Under the watchful eye of artist Elizabeth Riding, she learned how to work on a large scale, and as part of a team, for a variety of theatrical productions.

Suzanne’s adeptness with a number of media, her master craftsmanship and keen eye for composition is clearly visible in the numerous sculptures, paintings and décor pieces she did for large hotel and casino groups.

She is as comfortable doing a driftwood fish sculpture (Oubaai) as an abstract steel sculpture of a profile turning inwards (Hyatt Regency Rosebank).

Suzanne says she prefers to work in clay, from which sculptures are moulded and cast in fibreglass or bronze.

Most of her commercial work was done in collaboration with interior designers Lionel Levin and Partners (LLP). Among these are two majestic lions guarding the entrance to the Michelangelo Hotel, sculptures for the fountains at the Palazzo Montecasino and Michelangelo Hotels, the dolphin fountain at the Durban Waterfront Casino and mermaid sculptures for Swakopmund Casino.

Caesars Gauteng, a casino designed and decorated in the extravagant Italian style, was the largest project she worked on with LLP. Here Suzanne designed and drew all the frescoes on the ceilings and walls, which she and a team of artists then painted in oils.

A replica of the sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi – commissioned by a Pretoria-based seminary – takes pride of place in her garden.

St. Francis is another icon in Suzanne’s life. “Did you know that he is the patron saint of animals?” she asks as she introduces me to their menagerie of animals, including five rescued dogs and a hand-raised white duck named Bubbles.

On the front lawn a sculpture of a handsome merman rides silently on his sea turtle, while a seductive mermaid tries to catch a glimpse of him from her fountain on the other side of the garden.

Suzanne respectfully waits for me to make a wish as I sit on her handcrafted concrete and mosaic wishing chair in their personal Garden of Remembrance.

Back in the studio Suzanne shows me photographs of a mural she recently did for a friend’s nursery – a colourful scene with a cow balloon and pigs on springs, and a painting of their son Reid as a ‘parking angel’. These reveal Suzanne’s self-confessed whimsical side and her love of fairy tales and stories.

A set of five small bronze sculptures catches my eye. Suzanne calls them her Small Five, personal works of five small animals including a snake, mouse and frog tenderly held in cherishing human hands.

She places a small bronze sculpture of a tiny baby tucked into a walnut shell, exquisitely crafted in the most intricate detail, in my hand. Appreciating the beauty of the piece, I know in that moment that this miniature baby, like all of Suzanne’s work, will be timeless. Bob Dylan would have been proud.

CONTACT
[email protected]

Confronted by a dead animal on the road, most people would avert their gaze from the carnage. Not Calitzdorp artist Marinda Combrinck, whose latest exhibition highlights the need for a better record of wildlife killed on South Africa’s highways and byways so that hotspots can be identified to avoid unnecessary loss.

WORDS Louise Venter PHOTOGRAPHS David Swart Art works photographed SC Pienaar

Contrary to its characteristically tough nature, the Honey Badger lying flat on its belly, paws tucked in, looks oddly vulnerable as a slight breeze ruffles its black and white fur. Due to dwindling numbers and its inherent shyness, it is rare to get close to one of these magnificent animals. Despite its seemingly peaceful pose, I sense all is not as it appears.

As I move closer, I realise I am not looking at a sleeping animal, but a masterfully executed mixed media drawing on bamboo. This Honey Badger was victim to a vehicle-wildlife collision, commonly known as roadkill.

The unfortunate animal is part of a roadkill series comprising 20 drawings and a painting by Marinda, a professional fine artist. Titled Draaijakkals after the single oil on canvass of a Bat-eared Fox (Draaijakkals in Afrikaans), the series was exhibited for the first time in June at the Knysna Fine Art Gallery.

Sensitively handled, the drawings and painting – displayed against a black background to create the impression of travelling on a tar road that meanders between the works of art – gently challenge the viewer’s comfort zone. As I turn into a dead-end, I am confronted by Draaijakkals, a deeply disturbing, larger than life representation of the ill-fated Bat-eared Fox in full colour, forcing me to stop and reflect on the message Marinda is communicating.

A seasoned artist known for landscapes and portraits, Marinda started her journey with roadkill about ten years ago when she moved with her family from Gauteng to Calitzdorp, a small town on Route 62.

Enthralled by the Klein Karoo’s enchanting contrasts and variety, Marinda spent hours travelling the R62 to collect material for her work. During this time, she became acutely aware of the dead wildlife she frequently encountered on the road.

“I will forever be in love with this land. I admire its rhythm, beauty and delicacy, and find inspiration in everything, which compels me to stop and interact. I am also confronted with disturbing images, things that are uncomfortable and at odds with the otherwise pastoral scenes of the Klein Karoo.

“I am constantly reminded of the subtle connections, counterpoints and symbioses of all living things and my own place in it,” says Marinda.

Always armed with her camera and sketchbook, Marinda recorded every roadkill she came across, the first being the mutilated remains of the Bat-eared Fox that became the inspiration for her exhibition.

Her interest in roadkill soon brought her into contact with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and field officer Wendy Collinson, who helped her identify the various species of dead wildlife she had found and reported to the EWT Wildlife and Transport Programme (EWT-WTP). The programme aims to mitigate the adverse effects the transport industry has on wildlife.

According to Wendy, the EWT-WTP’s success relies heavily on public reportage, which is still lacking in many areas, for example amphibians. While the public reports the death of larger animals, those that seem insignificant – like a frog, a small bird or even a bloodstain on the road – mostly go unnoticed and unreported.

“The public response is great. We just need to alert people to all roadkill, which is what Marinda’s drawings of the smaller wildlife – such as the Geometric Tortoise, the Chameleon and the Puff Adder – highlight.

“All data is important as it helps us see patterns, identify roadkill hotspots and develop recommendations for mitigation. Marinda’s sensitive handling of the subject will hopefully help spark further public awareness,” says Wendy.

Trent Read, Knysna Fine Art Gallery owner and art dealer, says Marinda’s artistic skill and sensitive, almost purist approach to her subject matter adds to the series’ success.

“This, I think, is amongst the most important work she has ever done. The pieces are very difficult and the subject matter is immediately deeply upsetting to people, but if you spend time with them, they have a serene beauty. She has done them with love and has given them a dignity that we don’t always afford them in life. I think it’s an extraordinary accomplishment,” he says.

A percentage of this series’ sales will be donated to the EWT-WTP.

Roadkill sightings can be reported to [email protected] For more information, consult the EWT website www.ewt.org.za.

Marinda Combrinck’s work can be viewed at her Calitzdorp gallery or online at www.marindacombrinck.co.za.

 

The furniture industry on the Garden Route has a long and established legacy of indigenous woods and classic design. In recent times a new generation of contemporary furniture designers have been making their mark on the national and international scene.

WORDS Athane Scholtz

Two contemporary furniture companies from George – Meyer von Wielligh and De Steyl – attracted tremendous attention at the Design Indaba in Cape Town earlier this year.

Meyer von Wielligh
While they won their first business award as far back as 2007, Meyer von Wielligh’s design talents were noticed more widely when they won the coveted Western Cape Furniture Initiative (WCFI) award for their public furniture design at the 2012 Design Indaba, and again reached the finals a year later.

They also attracted the attention of fellow Garden Route resident Trevyn McGowan, the founder and director of the Southern Guild, which is considered the leading platform for collectible local design in the country. Trevyn invited Meyer von Wielligh to design a piece for possible inclusion in the 2013 Southern Guild Collection, which would not only display around the country but also at selected design showcases around the world.

Their piece – a sideboard cabinet of raw steel and leaf-patterned doors of ash wood – made it into the final collection of 100 and was also among the smaller collection of 25 showcase pieces displayed at the Design Days Dubai show in March this year. The cabinet sold to an overseas buyer at the show.

“We were privileged to be able to attend the Design Days Dubai, which was an extraordinary experience. The main thing that we came away with during the show, was that South African design talent is world class and unique – it was inspiring to realise that it is important to keep your own identity as a designer and to realise that people will actually buy your stuff if they like it,” says co-owner Abrie von Wielligh.

Abrie and his business partner, Norman Meyer, first met as students at the former Furntech training academy in George in 2004. Their course required that they obtain practical experience at a manufacturer or by creating their own manufacturing business. They chose the latter, a magic partnership that would prove the perfect combination of creative flair and business acumen.

“We were very fortunate that we made good business connections via Furntech and the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) and we got some really good assignments, which placed us on the map and created wonderful opportunities,” says Norman.

The pair won the national Seda Technology Award for the most successful graduated incubates in 2007, and caught the eye of local architects who valued their workmanship and business ethics. They have since delivered a wide range of custom-made furniture, kitchen cabinets and high-end shop fittings to clients across the Garden Route, which in turn has kept 22 skilled people in fulltime employment when many other furniture makers had been forced to close their doors.

“Our saving grace through the recession was that we had started small and grew organically with our market. We also provided a very different product from most of our local competitors, who had been specialising in more traditional furniture. That being said, we are always willing to be flexible in terms of our offering.

“Furniture is essentially the background against which people live, work and play – and hence people’s choice of furniture directly influences every aspect of their lives. When we design furniture, we keep the balance between the practical and decorative top of mind,” says Norman.

As passionate nature lovers who find their inspiration directly from their surroundings, the Meyer von Wielligh approach to furniture design favours the gentle lines and intricate textures of nature.

“Nature provides an array of colours, textures and materials that enhance creative design possibilities. We enjoy a design challenge, especially if we can play around with beautiful woods and interesting finishing,” says Abrie.

“We believe that integrity and quality are paramount to our business approach, from design and manufacture to delivery and after-sales service. We therefore only use registered wood and select the raw timber ourselves. Consultation with the client includes an interview to understand the role a particular furniture piece will play in a room, and detailed sketches before manufacturing,” says Norman.

The pair recognises that as furniture makers they are major consumers of trees, and hence believes in ‘returning’ the wood by planting trees and encouraging others to do the same. “When time and opportunity allows, we like to plant trees in poorer communities – not only to spread awareness regarding the importance of trees but also to beautify and improve their surroundings.”

Meyer von Wielligh has launched their first shop in Gardens, Cape Town in conjunction with their agent there, GDF Design. They also plan distribution via a design house in Johannesburg later this year, and possibly Durban thereafter. In George their stock is available at Bespoke design store.

“There is so much we still want to do in terms of brand identity, developing our own range and pushing the design boundaries. We are so looking forward to the ride,” says Abrie.

De Steyl
After many years as chief designer and business partner, local architect-turned-furniture-designer Deánne Viljoen, has recently taken full ownership of the well-known furniture design and manufacturing company, De Steyl.

Her latest collection is Play Play Pattern: a functional range of Birch plywood furniture decorated with South African-inspired patterns that resulted from a collaboration with well-known Cape Town architect and designer Renée Rossouw. The trendy furniture not only attracted significant interest at this year’s Design Indaba but also resulted in a steady stream of orders from a surprisingly diverse clientele.

“It was meant to be a practical, accessible modular storage solution aimed at children’s rooms and such, but inadvertently became the perfect funky furniture for open plan offices, studios and shops – in addition to its intended audience,” says Deánne.

Established in 1990 by architect Janiel de Kock and master craftsman Johan Steyl, De Steyl’s philosophy from the outset was to break the mould. While the region at the time was famous for its traditional furniture made from indigenous woods, the pair identified a growing market for contemporary and custom-designed furniture as the Garden Route started developing.

Deánne worked at Janiel de Kock’s firm as an architecture student and first joined De Steyl in 1993 after graduating. She then travelled Europe and worked overseas before returning as a designer for the company in 1997. As the founding partners played a lesser role and later retired, Deánne systematically took on the role of leader and mentor to a highly skilled and dedicated team of 17 permanent employees.

“De Steyl started out as a manufacturer of mostly solid wood furniture, but over the years adopted a more holistic and environmentally conscious approach as wood became scarcer and more precious. We made a decision to stop manufacturing with indigenous timber and other rare woods, and to diversify into also working with board products that have a lesser impact on the environment. De Steyl had the first veneer plant in the Southern Cape, which enabled us to produce large hotel contracts for clients such as Fancourt and Simola on a sustainable basis.”

The company has also taken on apprentices through the years whom they have trained in the tradition of furniture making and who are highly skilled today. “Our people are true craftsmen who are masters of all the different aspects of this relatively scarce trade.”

The company continues to provide a variety of furniture and interior applications such as kitchen and specialised interior joinery, and only work with certified timber suppliers. “While we will always love solid wood, it is also very precious to us and we continue to work towards minimal waste. All our off cuts are reused in some way or another, including a range of small solid wood products such as salad spoons and gift boxes.”

It is with this minimal waste in mind that Deánne originally designed the modular box range. The idea was for the furniture to be accessible to a wider market and to be simple but strong in its construction. The drawers are made in a few basic sizes and colours, which can be mixed and matched across different types of cabinets.

“Renée Rossouw and I followed each other’s work on social media and when she launched her Liquorice 2014 – African Candy pattern range I knew it would look great on our modular furniture. We worked very hard to get it all ready for the launch at Design Indaba, and it was really worth the effort. The best thing is that it is not just us who are having fun with the concept, our customers are enjoying it just as much.”

Deánne says the range has the potential for collaboration with all kinds of artists. “I look forward to seeing how it evolves over time as different trends and talents translate into furniture. The possibilities are endless and very exciting.”

CONTACT
Norman Meyer 084 240 5456
Abrie von Wielligh 084 688 5508
www.meyervonwielligh.co.za

Deánne Viljoen: 044 878 0480/0809
www.desteyl.co.za

A qualified luthier from George has put together a course in which almost anybody can make a top quality acoustic guitar from scratch in just 16 days.

WORDS Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz

Twenty-one-year-old student Toni Marucchi is neither a musician nor a carpenter. Yet in her hands is an acoustic guitar worth R16 000 that she made herself. Behind the magic is her dad Luigi, who has devised a course in which almost anybody can make a high-end guitar in 16 days.

“While it will certainly help if you are good with your hands and have some basic understanding of woodworking, all it really requires is a steady hand, concentration and a little help from a friend – that would be me,” he smiles.

South visits him at his home in George where he has set up a workshop. On the walls hang violins and guitars in different phases of completion. A stunning violin lies on a worktable where it is lovingly being repaired. The smells of wood and varnish fill the space.

“I’ve always loved working with wood and even taught woodwork as a teacher for some time. I eventually went into fulltime business making custom furniture.”

After moving to George in 1999, Luigi decided to pursue another passion: musical instruments. “The whole idea of people making beautiful music from this cleverly shaped wooden creation is just wonderful to me.”

In 2000 he went on a violin-making course and has been creating string instruments ever since. “While my furniture business was paying the bills, my heart has always been with instruments.”

Luigi visited Cremona, the Italian birthplace of famous luthier Antonio Stradivari. “The town was an absolute inspiration. There are 150 registered instrument makers making a living in this tiny town and I spoke to several of them during my time there. The quality of the instruments is astounding and the whole town has a musical quality to it. I just kept thinking that I would want to do this fulltime and not just as a hobby.”

Back in South Africa, Luigi’s handmade violins were featuring in classical concerts. “I was invited to a concert in which a major solo was being performed on a violin I had made. The performance was given a standing ovation, which turned out to be one of the highlights of my career as a luthier.”

Realising that handmade violins were never going to sell to the masses in South Africa, he started exploring other ways in which he could turn his passion into a potential income. Since guitars were more accessible and popular, it seemed a good place to start.

After the complexities of the violin – teaching himself with the help of books and specialised websites – making guitars was quicker in comparison and much more fun. “I also immediately realised that, with some additional equipment, specially shaped frames, the right materials and hands-on guidance, it could be quite possible for almost anyone to make a guitar.”

The 16-day step-by-step intensive course is limited to three attendees at a time and includes all materials and equipment. However, it is not a kit that just needs assembling and students will be required to cut, sand, glue and varnish all the bits and pieces – including the saddle and bridge made of bone, cutting and inserting frets, mother of pearl dots and in-laid rosette. “In fact, the only things they wouldn’t be making are the strings, tuners and fret wire.”

The final product includes your name inlaid on the head and on the label inside the sound box.

Twice during the course, when layers of varnish require drying, course attendees can join an excursion to a local tourist destination. “As many course participants are from out of town, this is an ideal opportunity to experience some of the great attractions on the Garden Route.”

The course includes daily light lunches, tea and snacks. Accommodation can be arranged for out-of-towners.

“It is interesting that not all of the people who come to make the guitar can actually play the instrument. It is more about the creativity and the sense of achievement behind creating a beautiful and functional item that will sound good and be of reasonable financial value,” says Luigi.

When Luigi took one of the handmade guitars to a major music shop in Gauteng as a marketing exercise for the course, the shop’s owner was initially sceptical about the quality that could be produced under coursework circumstances. “He was not only impressed by the handiwork but also really charmed by the quality of the sound. I am now making a few guitars for his shop, from where my course will also be marketed.”

Luigi also had his students’ handmade guitars valued at local and Gauteng-based shops, who were all impressed with their quality and valuated them at between R15 000 and R20 000 (2014).

“More than anything, making your own guitar is a journey, a life experience. It is the perfect way to get away from it all for 16 days as all your focus shifts to this instrument you are making.

“Camaraderie also builds between the course attendees, which makes it ideal as a family bonding opportunity for parents with older children or a team building session.”

During the course, Luigi takes photographs of the different stages of the guitar making, which attendees can take home on DVD. He also posts daily on Facebook during the course. “The DVD is simultaneously a memento of this journey you have been on and proof to all your friends who will never believe you could have made something so exquisite yourself,” laughs Luigi.

“Perhaps the best illustration of how you will feel about your handmade guitar is the reaction of one of my first students. Since he does not play the guitar himself, I asked him at the beginning of the course what he was going to do with the final product. Initially he said he would probably give it to his son, but as the course progressed he changed his tune – it now features as a work of art in his house, complete with his name signed on it.”

Guitar-making course at a glance
16 days from raw parts to finished instrument
no previous woodwork experience required
no pre-prepared kits, you make it all from scratch
all tools and materials supplied
includes DVD of photographs as you progress
maximum three people per course
special rate of R15 000 for South Africans in 2014

CONTACT
Luigi Marucchi
083 286 1803
www.guitarmaking.co.za

 

 

It is no wonder one of humankind’s greatest philosophers turned his acute mind to the humble form of the vessel. Used throughout history as storage for water and food, and linked to spiritual aspects through religious and social rituals, the vessel has always been a space where utilitarian and decorative art meet.

WORDS Gareth Pretorius

Since the Bronze Age, principal pot-makers across the world have been women. South spoke to four contemporary vessel-makers on the Garden Route and gained a glimpse into the wavering dance between the practical and the decorative aspects of this ancient art.

Timeless quality
Clementina van der Walt is a name infused in the world of South African ceramics. Ever since her career began in Johannesburg in the 1980s, she has been using the vessel as a form of expression. However, her relationship to its uses has changed over time.

“When I was crusading the vessel as an art form in the 80s, I deliberately ignored any utilitarian function, taking a stand in favour of the expressive value of the vessel. However, in the past two decades I have come around to enjoying both aspects, and incorporating both utilitarian function and content in my work. I like that people will enjoy using an item in their daily lives and at the same time feel enriched by the visual meaning,” she says.

The quality of her work reflects not only her incredible skill, but also her extensive understanding and appreciation of the timeless nature of the methods used in creating such vessels.

“In this country, there is a huge hobby-turned-professional phenomenon where participants may have reached a competent stage of craftsmanship but are not enquiring and developing their work on the level of content and meaning. I used to believe the vessel could be used as a type of canvas, if you like, a blank slate for expression. However, the vessel as a format already carries much inherent meaning; it is not merely a blank canvas. There is so much history preceding this format.”

The white tiger
Lucinda Mudge spoke to South about her most recent exhibition, The White Tiger and Other Stories, and her newborn awareness of, as she puts it, “the language of the vase”.

She says: “An image that works on a flat surface doesn’t necessarily transpire well when put on a round object such as a vase. That, for me, has been one of the challenges in making these vases – to create artworks that have to work in a circular form. There are a few different aesthetic rules that you have to consider so that a successful piece looks good, yet isn’t frustrating to look at because you are unable to see it all at once.”

Lucinda had never worked with the form of the vase until Trent Read of Knysna Fine Art suggested it last year. Over eight months and many heartbreaking failed attempts, she taught herself the ancient technique of coiling, finally making vases of up to 60 cm high that are put through numerous firings. Her initial research included Internet research at her home in Keurboomstrand outside Plettenberg Bay, an example of the paradox of elements that suffuse her life, from the strong influence of popular cultural forms like social media and tattoo imagery to the quiet wildness of the landscape in which she lives.

The exhibition was a collection of 22 vases that became Lucinda’s commentary on South African society, focusing on the themes of fear, wealth and beauty. Through the show she tried to get viewers to question their approach to these themes and the general capacity of South Africans to turn away from the shattering horrors that make up everyday life.

“Just like the vase, you see one thing, but you are aware of something hidden at the back. You can turn it and see something completely different. Here in South Africa, when we see something we can’t cope with we’ve learned to turn around and look the other way.”

Solid quietude
Laura Jamieson Chatz’s ream of descriptive titles is at odds with the simplicity of her work. Her background is in ceramics, having studied at Wits Tech and then worked as a ceramicist for about eight years. She later transitioned to using glass as her primary medium and her exquisite glass bead chandeliers, with their seductive interplay of colour and light, are lasting examples from this creative period of how her designer’s eye informs all she does.

“I’m essentially a designer and continuously redesign things in my head. Nature in all its shapes and forms has always been my greatest inspiration. As a self-confessed aesthetic person who likes to make beautiful things, I try bring that out of whatever material I’m working with.”

After working for many years in glass, Laura’s transition to the heavy, weighted medium of concrete seems to reflect a personal transition – a shift from the colourful, shimmering and translucent immediacy of glass to the slower, monastic quietude of concrete.

“The concrete vessels I now make are specifically functional. They are quiet containers of things. My work is fundamentally about the process: remaining true to the material while constantly simplifying, revealing the essence of the object in its most simple shape and form. My pieces are cast from moulds and the design of my moulds is integral to the product. It’s been thought through to the level of the finished product. Everything is hand-finished. Each piece has had a personal touch and I believe that it’s possible to perceive this when buying one of my products,” she says.

Vessels in the fire
Regarded by many as South Africa’s best-known handwork potter, Lesley-Ann Hoets is the co-creator of the unique free-standing ceramic Hot Art fireplace. She is also a pottery teacher able to draw on a wealth of experience and insightful observations.

While sipping tea from homemade ceramic mugs, South spoke to Lesley-Ann in her home, which is a living tapestry of studio and house, woven together over many years.

Her studio is a cave of contraptions for the creation of ceramics: kilns of various sizes –some almost 20 years old that have enwombed countless vessels within their heated interiors – are interspaced with pieces of remarkable pottery and Hot Art fireplaces in various stages of production.

Her perceptive understanding of pottery methods and the visceral aspects of the clay are tinged with a poetic philosophy that is an obvious result of countless hours spent conceptualising and creating pots.

“The vessel is us as human beings, it’s all there: a pot has feet, belly, shoulders, lungs, a mouth. The mouth is where you speak your power and the mouth of the vase’s focal point. Vessels have to go through a transformation by fire; they become something you didn’t expect. It’s like people. To become a whole person you have to go through the fire,” says Lesley-Ann.

“There’s an age old discussion between art and craft, decoration and functionality. I find myself somewhere in the middle. Through many hours of ‘potting meditation’, as it pretty much becomes, I came to realise that what I’m actually making is pattern, that thing that connects all of us.”

While she talks, Lesley-Ann constantly returns to the theme of getting out of the head and back into the heart and belly – the vessel of the body.

“But it’s just subtle,” she says with a burst of self-deprecating laughter. “If it’s too conscious, then it’s too contrived and it gets too cerebral.”

CONTACT
Clementina van Der Walt 082 925 0871 www.clementina.co.za
Lucinda Mudge 084 073 0763 www.lucindamudge.wordpress.co.za
Laura Jamieson Chatz 083 258 5855 www.solidconcrete.co.za
Lesley-Ann Hoets 044 343 1123 www.hotart.co.za

I can’t live without art. I mean I will breathe, walk, talk… but I won’t live. To admire art is my human need. To buy art is my luxury. Unlike other luxuries, art is a luxury I can’t do without.

WORDS Fawa Conradie PHOTOGRAPHS Vanessa van Vreden

When I am in the presence of a special piece of art, I feel a better person; much like when I return from watching an opera that I did not quite understand. I feel that somehow my life has been enriched: I am slightly elevated above the ordinary.

You need food, but potatoes and bread will do. You need transport, but a simple car will do. You need to drink, but cold water will do. Yet to soar above the drudgery of my day-to-day life, I need the presence of art. I need the gravy on my potatoes, the shiny badge on my car, the lemon ice cube in my water. But what will gravy tell me about the state of the nation? Art is a visual history of a country’s culture. The world’s history is captured in its art to a scale that is way beyond me. So how do the gallery owners of the Garden Route see the state of art in the Southern Cape and beyond?

 Trent Read – Knysna Fine Art

Trent Read was born with a silver palette knife in his hand. Born into a long lineage of art dealers, it was natural for him to step into that frame. Today, after 40 years in the art world, he says: “I am unemployable. This is all I know.” And boy, does he know it! I had the good fortune to meet him at the new gallery at Grande Provence in Franschhoek, which now falls under his curatorial and management control. It was with awe that he showed me around the new gallery spaces, the sculpture gardens and the new shop for jewelry, art and crafts. I could sense his respect for each work: his knowledge is tactile, his passion contagious. “How fortunate,” he says, “that I can live between Knysna and Franschhoek and deal with art? I mean, how privileged is that?”

Although Trent can do a lot better financially in a larger centre such as Johannesburg or Cape Town, he made a lifestyle decision 15 years ago. As a single parent at that stage, he chose to raise his children on the Garden Route. He knew he’d sacrifice some things, but gain many more. Today his galleries feature several Southern Cape artists: works by Guy Thesen, Leon Vermeulen, Marinda Combrinck, Hylton Nel, Nico Masemula, Theo Megaw and Judy Bumstead adorn the walls and spaces.

At the Knysna Fine Art gallery, Trent relies mainly on national and international buyers and investors. His advice to artists? “Semi-professional artists should work with no compromise. Produce work that satisfies you. Produce your best, most radical work that you possibly can. If you are good, some connoisseur will take notice. Professional artists should shock – even themselves. Radical art has a history of shocking in the beginning, then becoming a norm. Avoid the average. Wow the discerning art appreciators.”

And investors? “See as much as you can. Don’t believe everything you’re told. Don’t play safe.”

 

Brent Phillips-White – Prince Albert Gallery

Brent Phillips studied sculpture and, as a lifestyle change, moved to Prince Albert 15 years ago to settle in the lap of the beautiful Swartberg Mountains. With five artist friends, he started the small gallery in 2002. Subsequently he has become the sole owner of the Prince Albert Gallery and has ploughed most of his earnings back into growing it into an impressive space with great art. Today the gallery is an unexpected oasis of art and culture on the main road of this small, vibrant Karoo town. Names like William Kentridge and Hylton Nel can be found in the gallery, which is open seven days of the week.

Brent personally owns art because he loves every piece and reckons most people who buy art, do it for the same reason. “Most of the buyers are travellers; a large percentage from Europe.” Although hard hit by tough economic times over the last five years, especially Germans and Canadians still buy art readily. It seems there is a slow but noticeably upward trend in the art market, says Brent.

He advises artists to express themselves: “Have something to say. You should not follow trends.”

To investors he says: “Follow the art that you can connect with intellectually; art that communicates with you. Some older classical masters are good investments too, but it is not really my gallery’s market.”

 

Chris Crouse – Crouse Art Gallery

Husband and wife Chris and Suzette Crouse have been art dealers for almost 20 years. Buyers can exchange their artworks for similarly valued works even years later. Their works will be appraised at its new market value.

“Tourists tend to buy art with landmarks from the area, like landscapes featuring our mountains, lakes and countryside,” says Chris. The gallery offers a substantial number of works by well-known masters priced at

R100 000 and higher. Yet Chris says that they are constantly looking out for young talent.

He says artists will get a lot of feedback from the public and gallery owners, and should take this to heart instead of comments made by family and friends.

To investors Chris’ advice is: “Do research into the artist that you are interested in. The age of an old master’s painting is not a measure; often the newer works reach higher prices. The purchase price also determines whether you make a good investment. Buy the art that appeals to you personally.”

Chris feels the role of art is changing. “Our country is so young that we don’t have a culture of taking our children to art museums. Our ‘masters’ only passed away 30 or 40 years ago. There is so much potential for appreciation of art, that even younger couples are considering art as part of their investment portfolios.”

South African art is not really representative of the social/economical/political arena, according to Chris. “People want to buy art that makes them feel good. Only a tiny percentage of the public has any art appreciation; and only a tiny percentage of those buy serious art.”

 

Dr Janet Dixon – ArtKaroo

The busiest people always seem to find more time. As an active artist, a doctor with a medical practice and a vibrant art gallery, Dr Janet Dixon simply makes time. It is not work; it’s a lifestyle that she chose 12 years ago when she moved to Oudtshoorn with her family. She formed a co-operative “Artists of Oudtshoorn”. This led to the opening of her gallery, ArtKaroo, in 2007. “Our focus is to serve the artists and visitors alike a taste of the Karoo. Honest, authentic art from and about the Karoo. Yes, a lot of Karoo landscapes, but also about the people of the Karoo, their dreams and aspirations.”

Janet buys art because she loves it, not as an investment. Her gallery is not just about selling art, but fills a void in the lives of many who create art, appreciate art, talk art and buy art. “That is why our Artist Room next door has drawing groups and serves coffees over long discussions; and why I organise groups to go to my secret, remote spots in the surrounding veld and have plein air painting days; complete with packed lunch.”

Art successes must never be measured in sales, Janet believes. Artists who are honest will endure criticism and bad times. “Truth is visible. Art that follows trends will be found wanting. Your truth will always be original.”

Investors in recognised masters will pay more now, whereas entry into contemporary art can be more affordable and their values may grow much faster. “Focus on art that talks to you and not on the market.”

 

Anriët van Deventer – Strydom Gallery

Strydom Gallery in George has that warm familiarity of your favourite sofa. No wonder, the place started out as a furniture and décor shop in 1968. Back then, it offered some interior decoration supplements such as paintings, which paved the way for the evolution into Strydom & Jordaan Gallery. Some 45 years on, the Strydom Gallery still opens the same front door every morning to loyal customers and art lovers.

The Strydom brothers, first Mathys for 30 years and then Leon until 2011, built a brand that stands for integrity and quality art. When new partners and art collectors bought the gallery, manager Anriët van Deventer was given a mandate to maintain the brand. “Much like a pear shaped body should not wear clothing suited for an apple, artists should seek out galleries which represent works such as their own; and we must match artists with our buyers. Our art is serious art for serious buyers.” Despite this, they host an annual local artists only Winter Exhibition.

“Collectors and investors are the same thing,” says Anriët. “They buy work that they enjoy and then hardly ever sell it again. Most collections only come back into the market through children selling off inheritances.” She believes that serious collectors do their homework, visit exhibitions and talk to art dealers. They should equip themselves to have an opinion, then focus their collections: some only collect landscapes by Cape artists; some only collect contemporary portraits. “Buy the best, unique work by a serious artist. Buy what you like. Buy work by an artist who has the potential to become a master.”

Art represents the landscape of today. “One can’t generalise,” Anriët believes, “yet we are all under the African influence.”

 

Knysna Fine Art

www.finearts.co.za

044 382 5107

 

Prince Albert Gallery

www.princealbert gallery.co.za

023 541 1057

 

Crouse Art Gallery

www.artdealers.co.za

044 887 0361

 

ArtKaroo

www.artkaroo.co.za

044 279 1093

 

Strydom Gallery

www.artaffair.co.za

044 874 4027

 

The saying “do a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” sounds like a dream come true for most of us. A number of entrepreneurial and talented artists in the Garden Route are taking their craft to the market place, and achieving that balance of work and play that most of us hanker after.

WORDS Melissa Reitz PHOTOGRAPHS Vanessa Van Vreden, Colin Stephenson & Raquel De Castro Maia/Create Photography, Lisa Greyling, Desmond Scholtz

 

Marinda Koen

Marinda Koen oozes creativity and she’s not fussy about her medium – as long as she has some way of letting off creative steam. With years of artistic experience, George-based Marinda has made a profession out of photography, working with textiles, pottery and illustration. Her latest creation is quirky picture recipes featuring Ariberto the chef and his chicken friend, Einstein. Having three sons from whom to draw inspiration, Marinda says it is her middle son’s love for cooking that led her to the birth of Ariberto, who she has been drawing for three years. “I see in pictures, I’m not a word person,” says Marinda, whose unique picture recipes have been published in Sarie Kos.

Pottery also forms part of her current work: its whimsical style reflects her love of both vintage and travelling off the beaten track. The detail is so captivating that it almost feels as if one is walking along the little village streets she’s created on her kitchen ware.

Whether it’s working on a new creative piece, keeping up with her busy boys or taking time out to surf at Buffels Bay, there seems to be no stopping this diverse woman with her zest for life.

Look out for her new line of kiddie’s chef outfits, complete with aprons featuring the characters from her picture recipes.

Find her work at Bespoke design store in George. www.bespokebyeddiedasilva.co.za

044 873 2454

 

The Natural Edge

After inheriting his father’s lathe 20 years ago, Dave Stephenson discovered he had an unquenchable passion for the ancient art of wood turning. In fact, the bug bit him so hard that he left the IT industry in the city and settled in Sedgefield, where his plan to run a guesthouse quickly gave way to being a full time artist.

Although the lathe has evolved over thousands of years from man powered to electricity, the art and skill of turning a block of wood into something beautiful has not changed. “It’s a very humbling and amazing way of showing off the natural beauty of wood,” says Dave, who adds that his favourite wood to work with is Wild Olive and the rare Red Ivory. Most of his wood, however, is acquired from natural sources such as windfalls and driftwood, and each finished piece comes with its botanical name.

A visit to the Natural Edge Gallery in the Scarab Art Village in Sedgefield reveals that there is no end to what can be made out of a turning piece of wood, from pieces as tiny and intricate as a miniature goblet to larger pieces such as his exquisite urns.

It is clear that wood turning is not only a skill but a talent that needs to be combined with an artist’s flair such as that Dave obviously possesses.

www.davesnaturaledge.com

072 1194 397

 

Knives by Miles

For 14 years Miles Hebbard has been perfecting the art of making knives. What began as a hobby to make the perfect knife has turned into a fulltime occupation, with his skill as a blade smith becoming known amongst international knife collectors.

“It’s hard work as you get cut and burnt, but it’s creative and anything creative is good,” says Miles, who admits that since childhood he’s been happiest when lost in the world of art.

Tired of blunt knives during his time as a chef, Miles decided to make his own out of scrap metal. The knives were a success and after a German tourist scooped up his first attempts, Miles realised that making good quality, beautiful knives out of high carbon steel was well worth the hard work.

“A new design is always scary as a knife must look beautiful as well as be comfortable to use,” says Miles, who mostly makes knives to order. Once he has designed a knife on sketch, it takes two full days in his small Great Break River workshop to complete, from firing and filing to polishing. The final test is the knife’s strength: it must be able to bend 90 degrees without snapping.

It is clear when one studies the workmanship of Miles’ knives that behind each one is a passion for his craft and a desire to make it better than the last.

www.ikisu.blogspot.com

Tel 078 465 3651

 

Sorry I Ate Your Dog

Pooling their talents, Knysna-based Laura Fotheringham and Logan de Jager have come up with a unique collection of illustrations set to take your children’s reading and wardrobe to a whole new level of intrigue.

With Laura’s background in graphic design and Logan’s in fine arts, the team is working towards publishing an illustrated dictionary and activity book for kids.

Before the book can be completed, however, they have had to find a way to fund the project and have thus developed a range of kiddies and adults T-shirts, baby gros, scarves and gift cards bearing their quirky and original illustrations, including, for example, a flamingo balancing precariously on a fire hydrant and a whale looking rather indignant at having to sit in a wheel-barrow.

The merchandise, sold under their off the wall brand name “Sorry I Ate Your Dog”, has been an instant hit. “It’s as if we have gone about it backwards,” says Laura, “We’re marketing our merchandise before we’ve even completed the book.”

Backwards it may seem, but given the intricate and bizarre drawings these two are producing, it appears that taking the alternative route may just be their style.

And it’s working.

Find them on Facebook

044 381 0161

 

Yuli Handmade

Born and raised in Ukraine, Yuliya Nilssen has found herself settled in Mossel Bay where, in between raising her two boys, she continues a tradition of handcrafting that has been passed down in her family for generations.

“In Ukraine everyone crochets and knits,” she explains, “I owe my love for making things to my father who was always making me something new out of something old.”

Yuli Handmade pays tribute to this culture of crafting. Mostly made individually to order, the toys, jewellery and clothes are unique, with a subtle reference to her Russian background. With her loving attention to detail she can produce anything from charming crocheted children’s slippers and exquisite beaded jewellery to unique matric farewell dresses and more.

A firm believer in online networking, Yuliya gladly shares her patterns on her blog or Facebook: “As much as I love finding new patterns to work with, I love knowing that my patterns are being used all around the world.”

So if handmade crafts are your thing, take a look at Yuli Handmade’s original ideas.

www.yuli.co.za

 

Singer songwriter Wendy Oldfield and the instrumental duo Wild Lettuce have both released new albums. Their musical journeys are quite different, yet their passion, dedication and virtuosity are equally inspiring.

WORDS Gareth Pretorius

What separates good music from countless other works that can be described with a variety of plunging terms of derision, is something that can be discussed and conjectured upon until the last cow returns from munching in the meadow. The difficulty with debating such a topic lies in the fact that such debates are all rational attempts to describe irrational vocations. For what it ultimately boils down to, is that good music evokes a visceral response from deep within the listener. It’s where the cliché, ‘the music moved me’ originates – something shifts inside the toe-tapping audience. And fortunately, the Garden Route is home to musicians who are capable of doing exactly this.

Wendy Oldfield has a remarkable career that spans over 30 years, and while she might not like the description recently afforded her by a fan, of ‘living legend’, it just might be true. South caught up with Wendy in the middle of her current tour to promote her latest album, Supernova.

A mother of three, Wendy breaks up her travelling with regular stints at her home in Wilderness. When asked about the tour, her response revealed an attitude towards her craft that hints at why she is so respected as an artist and why her career is still going strong after three decades.

“It’s not really touring actually, but just continually working. Because I’ve now released the album, I’m just working extra hard and getting out there and performing lots,” she says.

Besides her innate talent and professionalism, it’s this work ethic that has enabled her to keep doing what she loves. Even during the time when she was primarily committed to raising her children, Wendy still allowed her artistry to find fresh outlets through the creation of Under African Skies, a story-telling and children’s music CD, writing two children’s CDs that both won SA Music Awards (Singalong Kidz 1 and 2) and then later the album The Collection, which along with a couple of new tracks is a compilation of some of her most performed hits.

Her ability to adapt her music to a variety of projects and genres has rewarded her with a constant flow of work, from the early days in the ‘80’s as part of the rock outfit Sweatband to writing jingles for adverts, musical scores for television nature series and performing with musical geniuses such as Steve Newman and Gito Baloi, amongst others, in the World Music collaboration, Mondetta.

“It’s not about the size of the venue,” she says when asked about memorable gigs, “it’s more about something I refer to as 100 percent attention – everyone that’s there hears every word and note that’s played. It’s what you’re giving out and what you’re receiving in turn from those who are listening to you.”

Wendy’s latest album

It was after performing with Robin Auld at the beginning of 2012 that she was inspired to start working on her new album, most of which was recorded in June last year at Peace of Eden studios in Rheenendal. Due to both artists’ busy schedules, the duo had to also record at various studios around the country when their paths crossed, or make use of modern technology – Dropboxing pieces to each other. “This was obviously not ideal. In a perfect world, you want to have two months to just devote to the working of an album, but it’s what was necessary.”

This year Wendy’s been playing to 90 – 100 percent full houses, which she puts down to the tenacity of getting out there and playing live, and getting into the public’s psyche.

“On this latest tour, up until now I haven’t had a dud gig, so it’s been very rewarding. It’s a songwriter’s album and the genres vary from swing to rock to reggae, so it crosses everything.”

Perhaps the reason for Wendy’s continued success and professionalism is her ability to constantly reappraise her older work and realise where things could’ve been done differently. “I’m a super critical person in terms of my music,” she says. “I’m always listening to stuff I did in the past and thinking perhaps there should have been an extra verse here, or that chord’s not quite the right one. But I’m always going to be like that. You think you’re going to get to some point where it’s all suddenly perfect, but it never happens and I suppose it’s this that keeps inspiring me as an artist.”

Wild for Wild Lettuce

Wilderness seems to nurture music-makers – those with raw talent who hone their skills through hard work and dedication. If you haven’t yet heard the name Wild Lettuce, you’d be forgiven for mental images of swashbuckling salads, but once you’ve experienced one of their live performances, or at least searched for one of their videos on the web, you’ll be, like the growing number of their fans, delightfully addicted.

The instrumental duo of Reinhardt Buhr and Eugene van Pletzen play a hybridised homegrown world fusion that subtly mixes Spanish flamenco with antipodean tribal and hard rock. They are musical alchemists whose attitude to their art is summed up in percussionist Eugene’s words: “We’re just vehicles. We’re just here transporting the music.”

This straightforward philosophy is translated into beyond-their-years skill and virtuosity when they perform. Reinhardt’s guitaring is mesmerising and his addition of the electric cello has added an exciting dimension to their repertoire. Combine this with his use of the looping pedal to overlay Eugene’s slickly stitched together variety of drums, didgeridoo, and a handful of other percussion instruments, and the result is a slew of sounds that transports the audience on a musical journey.

Their music crosses cultural, generational and geographical barriers. In 2011 they were invited to perform at a resort in Zanzibar but their trip almost fell apart at the last minute as it coincided with the holy month of Ramadan.

However, after performing a few gigs, word spread and they ended up performing up to five times a week, including at a full moon party for 2 000 people.

Where to next

The guys met at a fortuitous jam session at the Wild Farm Backpackers a few years ago, but ironically both grew up and lived in the same neighbourhood in Vereeniging without ever meeting each other. Since 2010 they’ve been playing and touring extensively, and make use of their regular Saturday morning performances at the Sedgefield market to sell their CDs.

They’ve timed the release of their new album with the colder months and have a coastal tour planned to launch the new release.

“We want to get our music out to as many people as possible, so social networking is vital. We got our sponsorship from Staccato Music through an online video and are hoping to secure a vehicle sponsorship as our equipment and rig have now grown to the point where we can hardly travel with it,” Reinhardt says, half-joking.

Perhaps its coincidence, or it has something to do with the area, but there is an unspoken yet permeable respect for the music these three musicians are gifted with. Although imbued with this quiet appreciation, they all work very hard for their success.

Wendy Oldfield www.wendyoldfield.co.za Wild Lettuce www.wildlettucemusic.com

 

A lonely sentinel that has witnessed life pass by for over a Century, plans are finally afoot to restore the Toll House to its former glory, allowing it to shine as a beacon of hope in South Africa’s heritage.

WORDS Fawa Conradie PHOTOGRAPHS  Charlene Harte

A few of kilometres outside George, where the Montagu Pass meets three other passes, you’ll find a monument known simply as the Toll House – alone, forlorn and almost forgotten.

A gutter flails squeakily in the mountain breeze like a broken limb; the rust bears testimony to its many years of neglect. Its walls are solid stone, craftily built to last another 162 years. It is a survivor. It has survived an industrial revolution, two world wars and recessions.

It has seen countless wagons laden with merchandise make their weary way past its front door, carrying hope to the dry Karoo regions and returning with dreams to far away families and distant, exotic places near the sea. It has seen the first aeroplanes fly overhead and seen the first train steam by. It has stood on that same bend in the narrow dirt road, clinging to the side of the Outeniqua Mountain since 1847, smoke curling from its chimney as the only sign of life for many hard years. It has seen its fresh thatch roof burnt in 1855 and has sported a number of new corrugated roofs since. Snow and veld fires have occasionally been uninvited companions during cold and dry winters; rain and mildew have found solace at its feet in the milder wet seasons. Pigeons have perched on its roof over countless summers, staring out over the growing town of George in the distance and the sea beyond. It has seen its very right to existence disappear in 1918 when all tolls were abolished and again when the dual carriage-way Outeniqua pass was built.

Yet, the Toll House has survived and was declared a National Monument in 1972.

Today the sturdy, empty shell stands proudly pushing its chest into the south easter and challenging its attackers: “You have broken my bones! You have sawn out my yellowwood rafters and ripped out my floors. You have burnt and twisted my windows into useless holes, scribbled disgusting filth in my guts, even proudly signed your names. You tried to take my official little sign of respect; with a crowbar and a hammer you tried to pry my brass Monuments Commission plate from the stone plynth to sell as scrap metal. You have seen me suffer . . . made me suffer, and done nothing about it. But here I stand; I am a survivor and I will be here long after you have all gone because I stand for something good and my foundations are built on rock.

“You look at me and you see your past, your roots. Where you come from and how your fathers suffered to achieve what you can enjoy today. I represent a different era; a time gone by. I represent a life without electronics along a simple dirt road. No info super highway, unaffected by a wireless grid of invisible pollution, not counting seconds ticking away precious time. I time myself by the seasons, the moons and the tides. I stand for something simple and good. I stand on a mountain with my roots deep in Fynbos. My companion is an owl, my memories my pride. I am the Toll House and I will survive.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Government Gazette of July 1867 announced toll fees of two pence per vehicle; animals pulling a vehicle – one penny; other animals not pulling a vehicle – two pence; sheep, goats and pigs – one halfpenny each.

How long before all road users will have to stop at another SA National Roads Agency (SANRAL) toll gate and pay a fee to proceed along the N2 through the Garden Route, or to travel along the Outeniqua Pass? Will they glamorously name it “Eden Plaza”? What will their motivation be for charging this fee on public roads? What alternatives will they offer? Perhaps they will suggest that you used the Montagu Pass – you know, the dirt road that winds past the old Toll House?

After decades of weathering her woes alone, the Toll House has a few new friends.

Friends of the Toll House was formed by a group of concerned citizens some five years ago. Their aim was to try and raise awareness and much needed funds to repair and ensure a sustainable future for the Toll House. Gerda Stols and her late husband Johan have driven this process with enthusiasm and passion for more than 12 years. Today, the Friends of the Toll House has achieved the first laborious stages of the restoration process: some metal burglar bars have been installed to prevent further vandalism; clean-up weekends have been arranged; the brass monument plaque has been removed for safe keeping; the SA Heritage Resources Agency has been lobbied, two local architects have drawn up and submitted the required plans, which have been approved, and the thankless task of recruiting sponsors for building materials and services has been accomplished.

The Friends of the Toll House has learnt from perseverance and determination to survive from the very monument they seek to restore. In order for the renovation to be a success, it has to be sustainable. To achieve this ideal, the Toll House must help to generate its own funds for maintenance. To this effect, there are plans afoot to create a little museum inside that will showcase interesting facts and memorabilia about the Toll House and the Montagu Pass.

The career of colourful engineer Thomas Bain, who built a number of passes within a 100km radius, will take a place of pride in the museum and his courage, ingenuity and skill will be commemorated.

The fascinating history of Fancourt will also form part of the exhibition as Henry Fancourt White built the Montagu Pass and he will be honoured for this magnificent task.

Another focal point could be the legendary toll-keepers over the many years. As far back as the mid 19th Century, second-generation toll-keeper William Kirk Smith and his son made “velskoens” at the Toll House and sold them to travellers who passed by. Their enterprise grew and grandson JK Smith started operating a much bigger shoe factory from Market Street in George. JK Smith and Company eventually flourished into Modern Shoes Ltd.

A tea garden and deck with a spectacular view could be operated from the Toll House. The structure could also serve as a church for small gatherings, exhibitions or special functions.

The Toll House makes for an excellent departure point for travellers by bicycle, motorbike, vehicle and on foot. From the Toll House, one can see the train line, the Outeniqua Pass, the Montagu Pass and a foot path leading up the mountain to various beautiful walks.

All of these plans can only be implemented once the renovations are funded, and this could amount upwards from R400 000, depending on exactly what needs to be done.

Soliciting funding and sponsors is the crucial piece of the puzzle that will bring the whole project together.

Sadly, this beautiful old dame, so rich in history, pedigree and stories to tell, is poor in support. It certainly deserves the support of government (to whom it officially belongs), local authorities, business and public.

The Toll House could be turned into a museum for all, a lighthouse of hope clinging to the side of the Outeniqua Mountains next to a simple gravel road.

Gerda Stols: [email protected]