Ardmore Ceramic Art was established by Fée Halsted on Ardmore Farm in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains of KwaZulu-Natal, where she lived after obtaining her BA (Fine Arts) Honours degree and lecturing at Natal Technikon. Here she met Bonnie Ntshalintshali, daughter of their housekeeper, whose polio meant that she was unable to work in the fields. Fée and Bonnie quickly developed a synergy and under Fée's mentorship, Bonnie's natural skills as an artist blossomed. Five years later, in 1990, Fée and Bonnie were jointly awarded the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award, the first such artistic partnership to be recognised. With this success came the demands of creating ceramics for their exhibition, so Fée offered other local women the opportunity to train at Ardmore, producing pieces to generate income for the fledgling studio.
Fèe, through necessity, developed the exuberant exotic style that has made Ardmore ceramics famous. "I made tiles and if one cracked, I'd stick a rabbit or bird on the top to hide it," she recalls. Their work broke from the ceramic conventions of the time: fired terracotta clay was painted with plaka paints, boot polish and oven blackeners. Glues and putty were also used. Later American Amaco paints and transparent glazes brought vibrant colour and fine painting style to the ceramics.
Ardmore has grown into the largest ceramic studio in South Africa. The studio provides the infrastructure for a large diverse group of self-empoyed artists, giving them training and direction, materials and equipment, a place in which to work and a quaranteed market for every piece of artwork completed.
The artists have the opportunity to work in an environment that encourages the expression of their imagination based on nature, Zulu folklore and tradition. The result is an incredibly rich tapestry of art that blends African artistic talent with western ceramic technology. The distinctive pieces are both flamboyant and sophisticated, and have captured the attention of collectors worldwide.
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 acclaimed auction house Christie's has acknowledged Ardmore artworks as "modern day collectibles". In addition a museum dedicated to Bonnie Ntshalintshali was opened to serve as an educational and research centre for young artists as well as providing a fascinating record of Ardmore's twenty-year history. This showcase is in the process of being reopened at Ardmore's new home in Lavendula.
Six percent of all the sales from Ardmore are transferred directly into the Ardmore Excellence Fund which has been set up to help Ardmore's artists and their families. This non-profit Fund has been awarded Section 21 status under South African law and accepts donations both in South Africa and internationally.
Text - Ardmore