Showcasing South Africa’s fantastical florals


25 February 2015

Ardmore Ceramic Art, a studio based at the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains in KwaZulu-Natal province, marks its 30th anniversary this year.

Best known for its work in clay, Ardmore pieces can now be found in prestigious public and private collections around the world. The pieces are highly prized and have been given as state gifts to visiting leaders and luminaries, including Bill Clinton, Queen Elizabeth II and Empress Michiko of Japan.

In 2011, Ardmore produced a limited number of the Qalakabusha (a word meaning “new beginnings”) sofa. A year later, the collective collaborated with Mavromac on a linen fabric range.


The Qalakabusha – “new beginnings” – sofa, which marked Ardmore’s foray into fabric design. (Image: Ardmore Ceramics)

At the Design Indaba, an annual conference and expo focused on design, Ardmore launched a range of homeware. Named “Halsted” after its founder, Fee Halsted, the range featured the art and writing of Wonderboy Nxumalo, one of Ardmore’s artists.

This year, Catherine Berning, Halsted’s daughter, has designed the range which translates South Africa’s vibrant flora and fauna on to fabric, including tablecloths, mats, serviettes and runners.

“We needed to bring back shape, colour, pattern and humour that add comfort and sunshine to the home,” says Berning.

Many of the creatures are recognisable from the ceramics. The two Halsted ranges being launched at the Expo this year are “Royal Leopard” and “Fynbos Bird”.

“In the ‘Royal Leopard’ range we have used the leopard, monkey, zebra and croc; and in the ‘Fynbos Bird’ collection, I have married elements of ‘Protea Field’ fabric design with bird drawings.”


Fee Halstead’s collaboration with Bonnie Ntshalintshali was the spark that lit the fire of Ardmore Ceramics. (Image: Ardmore Ceramics)

Ardmore began in 1985 when Halsted went into an artistic partnership with Bonnie Ntshalintshali, her housekeeper’s daughter, whose polio had kept her from working in the fields. “I had no idea that it would be the most adventurous and exciting organic experience,” Halsted says of their artistic union.

The signature three-dimensional style of the Ardmore ceramics, where creatures and flowers often burst forth, came out of an attempt to cover up imperfections. A bird would sit on top of a crack in the clay, or a leaf hid a chink. Now it is this energetic movement, the intricate details and vibrant colours that define the Ardmore aesthetic.

The studio houses around 60 Zulu and Zimbabwean artists – some now span two generations of the same family. Each piece is handmade, individually painted and unique.

Jonathan Berning, Halsted’s son, took over the management of the Ardmore business in 2011. The Halsted range has been produced in collaboration with Fleur Heyns, an entrepreneur from London.

Heyns bought her first piece of Ardmore ceramics in 1999, and met Halsted in 2010. Heyns originally came on board to advise Jonathan on the business side of things and the two of them came up with the separate entity that is now Halsted.

“Every year brings new opportunities and exciting projects lie ahead for us,’ says Catherine. “I feel honoured to be the next generation working alongside 70 super-talented Kwa-Zulu Natal South African artists with a brand that is recognised worldwide.”

This piece pays tribute to Ardmore’s first artist Bonnie Ntshalintshali. Here she is depicted as a Zulu maiden riding a black rhino. (Image: Ardmore Ceramics)

As part of its 30-year celebrations, Ardmore has chosen its best painters and sculptors to collaborate in the creation of 30 pieces that document Ntshalintshali’s journey as an artist. Ntshalintshali started by creating totems of animals stacked on top of one other, and jointly won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award with Halsted in 1990.

Ntshalintshali is depicted as a Zulu maiden, sitting in a protea-painted saddlecloth, riding a black rhino. The vulnerable animals, some of which are almost extinct, is metaphorically linked to the tragic loss of Ntshalintshali to AIDS in 1999.

Over the years, Ardmore’s artists have won numerous awards and exhibited widely in South Africa and around the world. Ardmore artworks feature in leading galleries and collections, including the Museum of Art & Design in New York, the Museum of Cultures in Basel, Switzerland, and the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

The Design Indaba festival, which encompasses a conference, expo, film festival and other events, runs in Cape Town from 20 February to 1 March. Visit Design Indaba website for more information.

Source: Design Indaba and Ardmore Ceramics