Ardmore was established by yourself in 1985 – can you tell us the story behind launching the brand?
Having studied fine art, majoring in painting and working in ceramics, I followed my heart to the Drakensberg Mountains and began working with the daughter of our domestic carer. Her name was Bonnie Ntshalintshali, she suffered from Polio and could not find work as a farm labourer. I offered her an apprenticeship at Ardmore, learning the craft and developing Ardmore ceramics. Bonnie and I won the Standard Bank Young Artists Award in 1990. This gave us a leg up in the art world, giving our small studio visibility to the wider art community. This was definitely a turning point in our careers as we suddenly found ourselves at the forefront of attention, gaining new artists at the same time.
How do you work with the local community?
Ardmore employs over 70 commissioned artists from the local community and surrounding areas. We supply all the materials and technology and an umbrella for the artists to showcase their magnificent artworks. They are not just our artists but our extended family and we like to provide the markets and infrastructure needed so our artists can focus on their creativity. On a broader note, we provides a daily lunch and healthcare for the artists. We are also in the process of setting up a non-profit fund to help uplift the local community through educational training.
Each piece has its own unique story to be told; often this story is a work in progress as the artist models and paints it.
What is your inspiration behind the collections?
I have a deep love for Africa’s fauna and flora and its people which undeniable is our greatest inspiration.
Each piece is unique – is there a story behind each design?
Each piece has its own unique story to be told; often this story is a work in progress as the artist models and paints it. As part of the creative process our artists like to walk and explore the landscape, absorbing all its nuances. This is then translated into the designs so every piece is a personal and unique portrayal of what the particular artist has encountered during that walk and moment of reflection.
Each piece is incredibly ornate – do you go through a special process of creation so that nothing breaks during the blasting process?
The work is very fragile but the artist and kiln operators handle the work with the utmost of care. There is risk from the raw clay to bisque firing to painting to glazing, and then packing for shipping. However we have overcome issues with this by inventing our own packing system that has become almost fool-proof.
How many artists do you work with?
Currently it’s about 80 in total.
How have the designs of Ardmore developed over the years?
In the beginning the work was very naïve and folk like, but as the artists became more skilled the works became more and more elaborate and finely executed. With the introduction of the Ardmore-Design business and collaboration with Hermes and Cole & Son, the colours and designs of our ceramics have become more stylised and sophisticated in colour and design.
Ardmore photography © Ardmore. Annabel’s image © James McDonald