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Friday, 01 January 2021

South Africa's Artists, Craftspeople, History and Unique Culture - Page 2

Written by Russ and Emily Firlik
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We departed Johannesburg with our guide for the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal towards the foothills of the scenic Champagne Valley, and the world-renowned Ardmore Ceramic Studio. Here we met with the artists and observed and admired their intricately detailed and exuberant work. This studio was founded by Fee-Halsted, with whom we met later on. This thriving artist community creates some of the most unique ceramics in the world. In addition to ceramics, they produce fabric designs, handbags featuring the flora and fauna of Africa. Our accommodations were in a thatched chalet at Didima, a mountain retreat themed around the art of the San people.


We spent the entire morning on a guided walk to see San rock art paintings. We learned more about the San people, who lived in these mountains as hunter-gatherers for more than 4000 years. The rock paintings illustrate a fascinating diary of their way of life and their spiritual beliefs. In the afternoon, a leisurely slow travel visit to a few attractive and interesting craft venues along the Midlands Meander.


The next three days were spent in the tranquil area of Didima, which is located in the Cathedral Peak valley of the uKhahlamba Park. We enjoyed the crisp fresh air of the mountains, and especially time spent at the Didima Rock Art Centre. Here we learned more about the Khoi Dan, the indigenous people that inhabited South Africa’s deserts, plains and mountains. There were many activities for us to ponder and reflect, e.g., leisurely strolling, admiring the exquisite flora, and birding. Em took many photos, and did some sketching while I did some serious relaxation.

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Our guide drove along the country roads to visit Fee Halsted-Berning in her home, studio and gallery. She was the inspired creator of the Ardmore Ceramic Studio and still continues to guide its development. She explained to us that they now have over 60 Zulu and Zimbabwean artists working in collaboration at Ardmore under her guidance and direction. After lunch we drove to the city of Durban on the Indian Ocean coastline. Our guide gave us a fascinating and detailed orientation in and around Durban. We were informed of and observed the African, Asian and European cultures that shaped this vibrant city. Our three nights accommodations were in a restored Victorian building.


Next we explored the bustling Victoria Street Market in downtown with its Indian spices, textiles and handicrafts. Another highlight was time spent at the Killie Campbell Museum. The knowledgeable and enthusiastic docent discussed and demonstrated the superb collections of colonial and regional African art and traditional cultural items. The extensive collection of contemporary African art focuses upon artists with links to KwaZulu-Natal, and their university. In addition, the African Art Center started with an exceptional collection of Zulu Artifacts and fine arts. Today, housed in the same building as the Phansi Museum, there were many fine collections of art, local traditional woven baskets, textiles, beadwork, wood-carving and art-prints. The docent at the Campbell museum indicated that if we went about twenty-five kilometers drive from central Durban we would find a little museum that carried important history linked to Durban’s large Indian population. The museum was located in a settlement where Mahatma Gandhi lived for more than twenty years, as he pushed the movement against apartheid. What a rich learning experience and unexpected delight.


After an early departure from Durban we proceeded north along the subtropical Zululand coast. With our guide, we stopped at the town of Eshowe to explore the unique Vukani Museum, a beautifully designed building housing a historical collection of Zulu baskets.

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Last modified on Friday, 01 January 2021

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