What happenswhen a quintessentially British wallpaper brandmeets a ceramic studio producing hand-painted rhinos, pelicans and vines in Southafrica? An explosion of pattern…
Whatwiththewallsofbuckinghampalace and the Houses of Parliament being lined in its wallpapers, it is tempting to typecast Cole & Son as a national treasure of a brand, the embodiment of traditionalenglishdesign. But the 1875-founded manufacturer continues to seek out unexpected creatives andcultures tocollaboratewith– andits latest crossover is possibly themost exotic yet.
Twoyearsago, thebrand’sthen-creativedirector, Shaunadennison, stumbledacrossasmalldecorative art gallery in New York’s Upper East Side where she becamebewitchedbythehand-paintedceramicfigurines created by Ardmore, a pottery studio based in South Africa, that mixes flora and fauna to great flamboyant effect. ‘Shaunawas struck by their playfulness, but also bythesophisticatednarrativeonthemore detailed pieces that explored African traditionsandculture,’ thecompany’snew head of creative, Carley Bean, says. ‘She thought immediatelyhowwell theywould translate intowallpapers.’
Cole& Sonapproachedzimbabwe-born Féehalsted, whofoundedardmore ather farmhouse home in 1985 and has grown thecollectiveever since, invitinginventive and nimble-fingered locals to the pottery toapprentice. Made fromterracotta, then finished with American Amaco paint (perfect for painting finedetailonclay) anda transparent glaze, theobjectshave earnt something approaching a cult following – pieces can nowbe found innewyork’smuseumofartsanddesign or Basel’s Museum Of Cultures, and have been described by Christie’s auction house as ‘modern day collectibles’. Last year, Ardmore became the first South African studiotocollaboratewithhermès, whichproduced a series of silk scarves inspired by the designs of teammember Sydneynyabeze.
It is impossible not to be charmed by the riot of rhinos, dancing acacia trees and elaborate urns
Toproduceitsowncollection, thecole& Sonpattern design team visited Ardmore’s headquarters by the Drakensbergmountains several times to explore the pottery’sarchive, identifyrecurringmotifs, andwitness the creativeprocessofdesigning, throwing, sculpting andhand-painting eachpiece. Cole& Son’sdesigners redrewthe sculptures fromscratchto turntheminto two dimensional wallpapers. ‘Then we played with scale and layout digitally, before hand-painting the final pattern,’ explains Bean. ‘ We wanted to include bold, daring colours to offer a very different look, but also not overlook the earthier tones of rural South Africa. We were very sensitive to doing the ceramics justice.’ It is impossiblenot to be charmed by the riot ofrhinos, dancingacaciatreesandelaborateurnswith handles fashioned fromleopards’ tails.
‘The Ardmore artists and I have toiled away for 31 years, creating fanciful ceramics that have provided anincome tofeedmany a family,’ sayshalsted. ‘It’s an honour that Cole & Son wanted to use our designs. Workingwith themhas been such fun.’ Indeed, since the collection’s launch, some ceramicists atardmore havethrownpotsinspiredbythewallpapers’graphics, which delighted Bean: ‘It’s fabulous. It feels as if this collaborationhascomefullcircle.’(cole-and-son.com).