EDITOR’S LETTER Tiaan Nagel explains the ideas behind our New Craft issue
I’m not sure what is about craft that piques my interest but I’m preoccupied with it, and while I know that designers and creatives like me bandy the term around rather too readily these days – perhaps without considering what it really means – the fact remains that I’m obsessed with craft. It all started with long trips to the Kruger National Park as a kid, journeys that usually took place in the Easter holidays. Looking back now and knowing the limitations of my own child’s tolerance of long drives, I think that it was perhaps to offer me relief from the back seat that my parents would stop at all the roadside stalls. They would buy hand-carved wooden bowls, embroidered cushion covers, woven tapestries and leather cutouts that ended up being used as wall decorations. Fast-forward to my life now, and those traditions have become an essential part of our own road trips. Unfortunately for my young son Raf, rather than spending two weeks just beach-bumming around KwaDukuza in KwaZulu-Natal last December, he had to put in some quality time strapped to the car seat as his parents drove from one craft market to another. We did it all, from browsing the KZNSA Gallery shop to picking up a few things from Durban’s beachfront and even trekking to the Midlands to visit Ardmore Ceramic Art’s studio to watch crafters paint those incredible pieces… Some might find the old-school charm of them a little kitsch, especially if you only get to experience them in centre court installations in shopping malls. But I’ve always had a great appreciation for these works – and you’ll see why in the calm studio, where you can observe each painter’s detailed take on the item they’re decorating.
We also saw the most beautiful bowls and ceramic objects made by Andrew Walford, bought pottery from Ian Glenny and admired Andrew Early’s large wooden vessels. Raf touched a few bowls and looked at some pieces, but he was more excited by the chickens on the werf, caused havoc with the grumpy dog at Ardmore and threw a tantrum when he couldn’t sit on the hobbit-friendly furniture at Glenny’s studio in the rain.
I knew then that I wanted to do an issue of House and Leisure dedicated to craft – but craft, although inspired by traditional techniques, with a modern take that lives alongside the digital age. I’m not sure whether it’s the constant sliding on Instagram or my general everyday dealings with glass screens that made me think of an issue that embraces these two seemingly extreme worlds, or whether modernity is simply the context for craft in 2018.
Whatever the reason, I found the idea of the extremes of a woven basket lined with clear heavy plastic new and interesting; I wanted a carved wooden footstool covered in red lacquer; traditional beadwork done in a contemporary, strict kind of way like the jewellery pieces made by Joni Brenner in collaboration with the beaders at Marigold in Bulawayo. I like the notion of traditional techniques inspired by the future – a local ‘ back to the future’ story.
There are so many great, skilled artisans in this country: some are lucky and study at fancy conceptual design institutions and make their own products from sophisticated materials, while others who don’t get to sit in the front row at Design Indaba nonetheless make breathtaking products using materials around them – inspired by personal stories, experiences and a need for income. As South Africans, craft, handiwork and making things from scratch is in our DNA: it’s part of our can-do spirit and informs a rich, tactile product offering that’s seen as exciting and interesting all over the world. I hope you enjoy seeing the outcome of all these thoughts as much as we revelled in producing this beautiful issue.
PS We’ve kept it crafty throughout this issue but our four section openers this month are all focused on the phenomenal work of ceramicist Zizipho Poswa of Imiso Ceramics, as featured in GUILD’s remarkable exhibition of some of the very best in South African contemporary design, Extra Ordinary, which ran from 14 January to 18 April 2018. Visit southernguild.co.za and imisoceramics.co.za for more information.