Out of Africa
This year, Fée Halsted, founder and the creative force behind the iconic South African brand, Ardmore Ceramic Art, celebrates her 60th birthday. Little did she realise, back in the mid-1980s in rural Kwazulu-natal when she started producing ceramic artworks, that she was building one of the continent’s global success stories.
Back then, having completed a Fine Arts degree, she invited her housekeeper’s daughter, Bonnie Ntshalintshali, to learn the ways of clay. Five years later, the pair were jointly awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award. Ntshalintshali would become one of Ardmore’s most prolific artists – the first of many to train under Halsted’s expert hand. Tragically, she died of an Aids-related illness in 1999, a painful reality that would befall many Ardmore Artists. The Bonnie Ntshalintshali Museum, which is situated beside the studio, was opened in her memory.
The museum underscores the fact that family values and authenticity are at the heart of the Ardmore brand. Ardmore works in the spirit of Ubuntu, the Zulu word for compassion and humanity.
The philosophy of “we are because of others” originated with Ardmore’s humble beginnings in the Drakensberg mountains and continues to this day in the bustling studio that is home to over 70 artists. These artists, under the guidance of Halsted and her daughters Catherine and Megan, produce exquisite and internationally acclaimed that travel around the world.
The renowned artworks draw inspiration from Africa’s fauna, flora, and Zulu folklore, and can be found in museums and galleries across the globe, with avid fans in all corners. Famed London auctioneers, Christie’s, consider Ardmore a “modernday collectible”.
There is more to Ardmore than clay. In 2010 Halsted and her son Jonathan successfully launched a sister brand, Ardmore Design, to translate the distinctive imagery and playfulness of the extraordinary ceramics into exquisite lifestyle products. Look out for a brand new table linen range based on their Zambezi Fabric Collection – elegant hues and animal magic to enhance any interior.
This follows a successful collaboration with French fashion house Hermès, who approached Halsted at a Paris design show in 2013. Halsted’s daughter Catherine, who heads up the design team at Ardmore, is responsible for the creative collusion between the two brands – a collaboration which resulted in a number of stunning silk and cashmere carrés or scarves, the latest entitled Flowers of South Africa. It’s no surprise that the French powerhouse saw the potential for a blooming partnership: Ardmore’s designs exude a luxury and elegance coupled with a sprinkle of African playfulness that pretenders to the crown – and there are many – can only hope to emulate.
Celebrated British wallpaper house, Cole & Son, also recognised Ardmore’s star quality. The Ardmore Collection of artworks wallpapers, launched last year, has been a resounding success, tapping into the global love affair with Africa so prevalent in interior and design at the moment. “Customers have been utterly charmed by the vibrancy and wit of the designs. Many have commented that they can’t help but smile when seeing the papers,” Carley Bean, Cole & Son’s Head of Design, says.
And that, put so simply, is perhaps what epitomises the allure of what Halsted and her team do so well – prompt a reaction of joy, awe, or a wry smile that stays with you long after.
If you have the opportunity to view the ceramics and fabrics in London, Ardmore’s latest exhibition, Voyages of Discovery, will be on show at Patrick Mavros’ flagship store from 18 to 27 May – pop in and see what all the fuss is about.
For more information on Ardmore, ardmoreceramics.co.za. visit