As the first of my Bohemian Bag Workshops comes to a close, I have been reflecting upon my fascination with this humble little accessory. Where does my interest stem from and why is it that a beautifully beaded or embroidered bag can put a smile on my face and get my heart racing?

For as long as I can remember, I have been attracted to beaded and embroidered bags and as a young girl growing up in Botswana, I remember being enthralled by the beaded leather pouches of the San, and recall with great clarity, seeing an exquisite example of one, framed upon a friend’s wall.


An example of a beaded San pouch

These artifacts left an indelible mark on my psyche and much of my textile work has been inspired by these beautifully crafted, functional little artworks.  When I page through any of the lavishly illustrated African art coffee table books that stand upon my bookshelf, it is invariably the images of bags that attract me,  be they the sumptuous  leather camel bags of the Tuareg or the richly coloured, beaded medicine pouches of the Yoruba diviner.


An example of a Tuareg camel bag



The medicine pouch of a Yoruba diviner

Over the years I have gathered a small collection of my own, and amongst my most prized possessions is a small leather wallet with metal- studded tassels, typical of those worn by the men of the Fingo tribe of South Africa.

On a trip through the USA during the 1990’s, I was totally enthralled by Native American beadwork, and loaded my suitcase with books on the subject that I have looked at and been inspired by over and over again. The little pouches, with tassels and elaborate beaded patterns, never failing to excite me. At a pueblo I visited in New Mexico, I was able to acquire a small little pouch that now hangs upon my wall.

Then a trip to Sweden, took me through the museums of Stockholm and I discovered embroidered purses like I had never seen before.


Swedish folk costume bag 1916

That set me off, and for the week that followed, my friend Janet and I sat at her dining room table, piled high with fabrics, felt and embroidery silks, creating our own little gems.

Women at work ... making bags

Women at work … making bags

Making bags in Sweden

Making bags in Sweden

And then I came upon gypsy bags, those colourful, quirky, assemblages of beads, buttons, tassels and trims, and knew that I just had to have one for myself, but as Grahamstown is not exactly a hippie hangout, I realized I would have to make my own…

My bohemian bag

My bohemian bag

That’s how the workshop was born and judging by the enthusiasm of my first group of bag making students, I can see there will be plenty more workshops to come.

So, what is it that makes a woman love a beautiful bag? Like shoes, many women are attracted to them like magnets. Is it because they carry our most precious possessions, our documents and money that prove who we are and give us the freedom to move through our daily lives? Possibly, but there is definitely something more, and it’s in the process of making one, that I discover a whole new layer of meaning. The process is both absorbing and healing, a kind of meditation that takes one away from the troubles of this world. But beware, it can also become addictive and often, whilst I’m working on one, there is another forming in my mind!

Over the years I have created numerous bags, pouches and purses, for a variety of different reasons and so for the purpose of this post, went digging in my archives to find a few to share. My bags are not always practical, but usually soulful, symbolic and tend to reflect the place, both emotional and geographical that I was in at the time I made them. If you click on the images below, you can enlarge and enjoy:

In my next post, I will bring you some of the action and outcomes from the first of the Bohemian Bag Workshops. I have another one planned for November, so if you feel like escaping the madness out there and joining us for two days of soothing, healing therapy, please let me know.

Categories: Fibre Art, Inspiration, My Studio, Workshops | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Retreating to the Wild

It was May 1997, when my brother Anthony Stidolph and I set off on an epic journey from Durban, South Africa to Zimbabwe in search of artistic inspiration. It was a much anticipated trip and as we drove along the great North road, the balmy warmth of the sun reflected the grins on our faces. We had just passed through the J.G.Strijdom Tunnels when we drew up behind two heavily overloaded vehicles, one trying to overtake the other on a blind hill. Neither were doing more than 80 kph and both were packed to capacity with what looked like the contents of a house. I knew we were getting close to our destination, for sights like this are commonplace as one gets near to the border with Zimbabwe. As crazy and dangerous as these dilapidated old vehicles were, I felt a surge of affection and looked forward to crossing the border and smelling the air of home.


The border crossing is always stressful, but once we were through and on the road again, the vehicle felt like it was flying. We made a quick stop at the Rutenga Butchery for biltong, and childhood memories of dust, heat and the slow pace of life came flooding back. Children on bicycles and old men on chairs waved at us as we pulled out of the parking lot, with a pack of biltong in hand. Back on the road, the blue hills in the distance became magnificent granite domes. We turned off at Rutenga Halt, passing a variety of modes of transport; old bent axil buses, donkey carts and wheelbarrows, all going about their business as usual.


The mopane trees gave way to msasa trees and all along the way, amongst the rock-strewn hills, were masses of huts with silvery grey thatch shimmering in the sunshine. After Chiredzi the bush became thorny acacia scrub, the land was hot and dry and from the sky, bright, vast and open, came a penetrating light. The baobab trees became more frequent and Bateleur Eagles flew overhead. Everywhere there were Hornbills, perched on thorn trees, flying alongside the car or hopping in the sand beside the road, their quizzical expressions directed towards us as we motored past. We ploughed down the track towards the camp through thick, deep, red sand edged by bush that buzzed with life.

The camp, by contrast, was a little green oasis, with log cabins, set amongst trees and green lawns, each facing out into the wilderness. At the sound of the car, Nicky Rosselli, my youngest sister, appeared as an ethereal vision from the darkness of her hut and leant against the doorway watching us, with her paintings resting up against the outer wall. They were beautiful paintings, from which emanated light and soul.


In that instant, I understood why artists need retreats like this, a ‘time-out’ from the routine of everyday life, a period earmarked for uninterrupted focus and engagement with the subjects of our interest, a space that allows inspiration to flower and take the form of art. Nicky, who had arrived a few days before us, had clearly wasted no time in finding her inspiration.

The place is Malilangwe, a nature conservancy in the lowveldt of Zimbabwe. As far as I know, this artist retreat no longer exists, and the area has been developed as an upmarket reserve, but at that time these small chalets were reserved for artists, where in return for a piece of artwork, one could stay for minimal cost. The chalets, set in a clearing in the bush, were thatched and cool, serviced and all meals were provided, so artists who visited there had no chores and nothing to interrupt the flow of their creativity. It was an ideal and exhilarating experience, and we had a whole week in which to immerse and respond to the wilderness.

The environment was wild, alive with venomous snakes and dangerous animals. We had encounters with all of them and to this day, I have vivid memories of my visitation from a black mamba, that slithered quietly past me, its dark, beady eyes fixed upon me as I sat on a rock drawing a group of dassies (rock hyrax) not far from the camp.

Untitled-Scanned-08pswebI was focussed and calm, enjoying the sensation of the graphite marks on paper, when I became aware of a movement a metre from where I sat. I looked down and made eye contact with an impressive, sleek, fat olive green snake that undulated along the base of the rock below me. I quietly called my brother, who was also drawing among the rocks somewhere not far from where I sat. Detecting no urgency in my call, he took his time in coming and it was only when he saw the snake and in hushed tones told me to stay still, that the enormity of the occasion began to filter into my consciousness. We stood rigidly together for a few moments and then glanced about for the quickest escape route, which happened to be a drop of several metres off the granite dome. My camera and pencils were still between me and the snake, so they would have to stay behind and in a moment of decision, we both leapt off the rock, scrambled through the thick leaves and branches and hot footed it to the camp. We waited there for an hour or so and then Ant and Nicky returned to collect our things. When they returned, they told me that unbeknown to him, Anthony had been sitting on the well worn snake path not far from the snakes hole. Things could have turned out very differently had I not called him away to come and look!


That experience was one of those moments where death appears so unexpectedly, looks one squarely in the face, but the danger doesn’t register until after the moment had passed. I still shudder when I think how close I came to meeting my end, but I recognize that it was my stillness, my being completely absorbed in the moment, that gave me a sense of oneness with everything around me. I did not recognize the danger, nor feel any fear and the snake sensing no threat, was able to pass right by me. A profound life lesson was learned.

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A pencil colour drawing done at the scene where I met the Black Mamba

Well, as if that bit of excitement wasn’t enough, that afternoon Nicky suggested we visit a hide to view the game as it came down to the waterhole. We packed our sundowners into the truck and headed off along sandy roads through thick bush to the hide. Leaving the car some way off, out of site of the hide, we clambered up the wooden steps and settled ourselves down with drinks and dried wors and waited for the animals. I was sitting on the top step, sketching the veld, when Nicky’s husband, John spotted a herd of buffalo moving towards us through the bush. I carefully laid down my crayons and sketchpad and eased myself into the hide. The buffalo had seen us and paused for a bit before deciding to come down for a drink. Slowly they made their way down to the waters edge, but a small group hung back, looking uncertain, milling around in the bush. Once the main herd had finished drinking and ambled back into the trees nearby, several others stood around, sniffing the air and looking up at the hide. Despite us sitting stock still, they definitely knew we were there and when a couple of them lay down to sleep directly beneath us as if settling in for the night, I began to feel a bit uncomfortable. What if they didn’t leave? By now it was getting quite dark and with our car some distance away, as per the camp instructions, we weren’t sure what to do. Nicky suggested we should sleep the night in the hide, but John wanted to try and get to the car. The risk was definitely quite great, with the herd so close and restless, so we waited a little while longer. Eventually, John decided to move, so eased himself quietly down the steps and stealthily walked through the bush towards the car. Several buffalo, alerted by his movement, moved in his direction, so to distract the creatures, Ant perched at the top of the stairs and I bashed my crayon tin against the railing. The most menacing buffalo stopped and looked at us, giving John the gap he needed and soon we saw the headlights moving slowly through the trees, pulling up alongside the hide. We made our escape and Ant and I travelled to camp in the back of the bakkie, the air washing past us in warm and cool patches, the smell of warm, dry grass in our nostrils. Up above us the dark sky was clear and filled with stars, not a cloud to be seen anywhere.


The next adventure we had was with a lone buffalo. Nicky, who had arrived a few days before us, wanted to take us to see some bushman paintings that she and John had found on their explorations. We parked some distance away and walked through bush to a hill that had a cave. As we followed Nicky through the thick grass, I anxiously scanned for any sign of wild life. There was plenty of evidence of elephant dung and broken trees, and the smell of wild animal permeated the air. We found the cave, admired the paintings, below which were rocks stained with fresh blood, presumably from a recent leopard kill. We wandered up on top of the hill to admire the view and then decided to take a shortcut back to the car through the gap in the hills. We followed my brother-in-law through the waist high grass, crunching msasa pods underfoot, silent and lost in thought, when suddenly John jumped backwards with a shout for us to “Get back!” He had surprised a buffalo as he came around a bush. Alarmed, it leapt up and swung around. I was aware of John turning on his heels, the stamping thud of buffalo hoofs, a flash of its dark body and I turned tail and headed for the rocks nearby, as did Nicky and Ant. I scrambled upward as fast as I could, heart pounding in my ears, and glanced anxiously back expecting to see the buffalo in hot pursuit and wondered if buffalo could climb rocks. Fortunately for all of us, the beast hot-footed it in the opposite direction and I caught a fleeting glimpse of it disappearing into the grass between us and the vehicle. After that it was nowhere to be seen and we tentatively edged forward wondering if it was safe to proceed to the car. We made it and relieved, launched off onto the dusty road in search of more game. It had all happened so fast and felt slightly surreal, so I felt a strong sense of elation to still be alive!

spider web

Between all the excitement of mambas and buffalos, our days were largely spent in a state of creative bliss. Each morning we would wake to the sound of birds, raise ourselves and head to the dining area for breakfast under the trees, overlooking a magnificent dam, where the shimmering, silver surface embraced the surrounded hills. From here we collected our art equipment and peeled off in our different directions in search of things to draw and paint.

Our visit to the Malilangwe Conservancy marked the first stage of our journey and by the end of that week we felt we had truly shaken off the shackles of the mundane.  Our senses had been awoken, we had reconnected with our environment, and were finally listening and responding to the artists within. The road that lay ahead was exciting, for it was to take us forward to Inyanga, and back to the ranch on which we grew up.

This will be the subject of another post, so in the meanwhile, if you would like to see some of the work that has arisen from my travels, visit my website

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In May last year I was invited to join a group of ladies from Gauteng for a weekend of art making at Ann’s Villa, a self catering early settler Victorian mansion, that stands alone in the rugged terrain at the foot of the Zuurberg Mountains in the Eastern Cape. Helen Lunn, owner of the villa, had met me over the telephone when I had inquired about renting her space for my big birthday celebration a couple of months earlier. After the party, when she learned of my involvement in the arts, she asked if I would like to join her group of friends on an art retreat at the villa. It was an unexpected invitation and a bit of a risk to accept, given that I had never met her or anyone in the group, but I was curious and the thought of having another weekend in that beautiful environment, was enough to make me take up this opportunity. After all if I didn’t fit in, I could always return home to Grahamstown, a mere 88 kms away. That, as it turned out, wasn’t necessary and it wasn’t long before we had all settled in like old friends. It was a great weekend and so much fun to work alongside people whose experience, interests, talents and skills differed from my own. I learned much and came away from the those few days in the outback of the Karoo, wishing that I could have stayed longer, but feeling enriched, relaxed and inspired.


With the limited time available, my output was fairly minimal, but I did manage to produce a few sketches.

anns villapsweb

Outside the blacksmith’s shop, Ann’s Villa 2014. Charcoal.


anns villa 2psweb

An ink sketch of Ann’s Villa 2014


Ink and wash drawing of the rear view of Ann's Villa 2014

Ink and wash drawing of the rear view of Ann’s Villa 2014

So what is it about retreat that is so enticing? The idea of it is filled with possibility. For me it’s being able to legitimately withdraw from the madness of modern living, to step out of the predictable and well defined grooves of daily life, to enter into a space where anything can happen, where I can take time to intimately explore the outer environment and free fall into my inner world to see what’s going on in there. It’s having the time to express myself in an honest, uncompromising manner, knowing that what I produce doesn’t matter because it’s the process of doing it that counts. I love having no responsibilities and minimal expectation, where I can do pretty much anything with my day and take my time in doing it. I love the fact that I can indulge without the slightest whisper of guilt in the pleasures of making art in an environment that offers so many possibilities.

Over the years, I have been on several such retreats, and in my next post I will share another very memorable occasion when my sister, Nicky, brother Anthony and I took ourselves off to a beautiful conservancy in the low veldt of Zimbabwe.

Categories: Drawing, Inspiration, Landscapes | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Creative Art Journaling Workshop

I have a particular affection for the province of Limpopo, an area of South Africa that is steeped in history and bursting at the seams with its rich cultural heritage. It is one of the few places in the country where one can have the privilege of meeting local artists and crafters in their home villages, surrounded by their amazing hand crafts. In a world where the authentic is fast becoming something of the past, this area still has small pockets of authenticity, where mass consumerism hasn’t completely obliterated traditional craft art. My need for authenticity has drawn me back to this area several times over the past few years, and whilst I do see changes, the delight of traveling into rural Limpopo never fades. Without fail, after each of these visits, I have returned to my own home on the other side of the country, inspired, revitalised and ready to get back to my own creativity.

It was with this appreciation for the area in mind, that I decided to embark on a new creative project, one that combines my love of travel with my interest in the arts. I have been teaching drawing and fibre art for many years and last year added creative art journaling to the mix. So when Marcelle Bosch of Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge approached me about the possibility of organising an art journaling workshop in conjunction with the village tours they run, I jumped at the opportunity.

So, it is now with great pleasure that I invite you to join me on a four-day creative art journaling experience from 1st – 4th July 2015, at the Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge, which is situated at the foot of the magnificent Soutpansberg Mountains, near Louis Trichardt (Machado).

Final advert for Madi a Thavha workshop-outline 3

The four star luxury lodge is nestled in a magnificent natural environment with the comforting backdrop of the mountain. The rooms are comfortable and colourfully decorated with the work of Limpopo’s craft artists. Workshop participants will stay at the hotel and have all meals included.

The workshop will begin with a one day field trip out into the villages of the area, where, with the help of an experienced tour guide, we will explore markets, businesses and homesteads, famous for their wall paintings and get a glimpse into daily rural life. We will meet local artists and crafters, surrounded by their pots, sculptures, musical instruments and bead work, as well as travel through some very impressive scenery. The outing will give us a chance to talk to local people, take photographs and generally gather inspiration and material to use over the next three days, when I will take you through the process of visually documenting your experience.

Limpopo is famous for it's beautiful clay African pots

Limpopo is famous for it’s beautiful clay African pots

In the workshop you will spend your time creating a journal that visually expresses your response to our outing into the villages. We will use a variety of techniques and mediums, and for those who are insecure about their talents, I will provide basic instruction in drawing, painting and collage, with ideas to incorporate the written word. With the limited time available, it is unlikely that you will complete your journal, but it will certainly mark the beginning of a process that can keep you busy for many years to come.

Booking for the workshop has now opened, so if you are keen to come or need more information, please contact Marcelle at

Please note that space is limited and booking closes on 31st May 2015.

Categories: Drawing, Inspiration, Landscapes, Workshops | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Craft Art in South Africa

I recently returned from Cape Town where I attended the launch of Craft Art In South Africa, a sumptuous new book by Dr.Elbe Coetsee that features a delicious selection of work from the best of South Africa’s craft artists. It is beautiful, irresistible and worth every cent that you will pay to have this volume in your collection. Elbe and her team have done an amazing job of bringing you a treasure that will inspire and bring pleasure for years to come. Produced by Jonathan Ball Publishers, the book is available through all leading book stores and available to order online. I am happy and very honoured to say that my work features on pages 186 – 189.

AAA_CraftArtCover_ FINAL_3_NOV

Categories: Exhibitions, Fibre Art, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

A Catalyst for Hope

Every once in a while, a little gem lands on my Facebook page that is too good not to share. Take a look at this short video clip about our feisty survivor, Thandi.

It was Thandi’s story that inspired Harry Owen to put together the international collection of poems For Rhino in a Shrinking World and it was Thandi’s story that inspired me to illustrate it. So, if Thandi’s story has touched you, please share the message as far and wide as you can, for only through action and awareness do we have any hope of bringing the scourge of rhino poaching to an end.

Meanwhile, stay tuned, for another art post is on the way…!

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Restoring the Soul

In the hustle and bustle of this chaotic world, there’s nothing quite like a week in the bush to restore ones sense of equilibrium.

I have been looking forward to this week all year and am now sitting on the verandah of our chalet, perched high on the river bank overlooking the Crocodile River. Beyond the watery flood plain, dissolving into the hazy horizon, spreads a blanket of  bush veld that forms part of the Kruger National Park. We are staying at the Ngwenya Lodge that is situated to the South of the park, close to Komatipoort and near to the Crocodile Bridge entry point.

The view across the Crocodile River, as seen  from our chalet at Ngwenya Lodge

The view across the Crocodile River, as seen from our chalet at Ngwenya Lodge

For the first three days all I have wanted to do is sit and allow the tension and adrenalin of the past few months to drain from my body. I feel immobilised and am happy to do nothing but stare off into the distance, emptying my mind as the sounds of the bush wash over me. It takes a while for my body rhythm to synchronise with the  harmony  of the bush, but I am fully prepared to succumb and let Nature take the lead.

An Egyptian Goose

An Egyptian Goose

Perched on the railing in front of me are a couple of Egyptian Geese. They are cocky and noisy, hanging around in the hope of receiving titbits from the kitchen. I marvel at their colouring, the layers of richness within their feathers, and sigh as I realise that Natures artistry is so much better than I could ever hope to achieve. On the grassy patch in front of the chalet a group of excited weavers have found some seed, which they are devouring as if it were their last meal. Cheerful, chatty little characters, their yellowness creates a fluorescent halo of light.

To the left my eye catches an unexpected movement, and there, emerging from the scrub that lines the river, comes a leguaan, otherwise known as a monitor lizard, it’s scaly, dragon-like body slung low to the ground. From the look in its eye and the ominous forked tongue that darts in and out, I can see that this guy has attitude and as it rapidly approaches the verandah, I instinctively lift my feet. This is one little critter that I certainly don’t want to tangle with. I soon learn that these large lizards come to the chalets in search of eggs, which they devour by smashing the egg on the wooden railing and then gulping it down at speed.

A leguaan or monitor lizard

A leguaan or monitor lizard

Out on the sandy river bank, the scene is ever changing, a montage of elephant, buffalo, lion, rhino and numerous species of buck that come down for their daily drink and bath. The regular residents of the waterway, crocodile and hippo, are always there and it doesn’t take long to spot them, either lying on the edge of the water or lurking below the surface.

Hippo relaxing in the sun

Hippo relaxing in the sun

I could happily sit here all week, listening to the soothing sound of the rapids and the grunts of contented hippo, but it makes sense that we should also check out what’s going on in the Kruger National Park.

Looking across the river to Kruger Park

Looking across the river to Kruger Park

So early each morning and evening, we pack ourselves into the vehicle and set off to see what surprises the wilderness has in store for us. Over the period of a week, we are to see a wide variety of game and I come away with snapshots of numerous memorable moments. Now although, or maybe because I am a bush girl, born and raised in Zimbabwe, where animals roam free and far beyond conventional boundaries, I have an enormous respect for the wild and a heightened awareness of my human insignificance in the greater scheme of things. Despite the fact that our wild life is threatened by humankind, I know I am the weaker species and extremely vulnerable when up against any wild animal. So I never take anything for granted and each encounter with the wild is edged with a tingle of anticipation and a desire to know that I have an effective escape route. No matter how many elephants I have seen in my life, each time we approach one as it crosses the road or grazes quietly in the bush as we sidle past, I hold my breath and hope that it is friendly. After all, it was only a few months ago that graphic video footage of a vehicle being flipped over by an irritated elephant spread like a wild fire on social media and I sure wouldn’t want that to happen to me!

But we are careful and respectful and thoroughly enjoy our trips into the park. Here are a few images of an average day in the bush:

For me the highlight of our trip was to see the magnificent rhino and I found myself mesmerised by their every movement, willing them to stay safe and undetected by the snipers bullet. I am acutely aware that the privilege of being able to see these animals in the wild is something the next generation may not be able to enjoy and as I watch this powerful, primordial creature anxiously nudging its baby to safety, I am ashamed of the human species. I feel the rhinos vulnerability and soak up our silent interaction, not wanting it to end.

A white Rhino mother and her calf

A white Rhino mother and her calf

Another special treat was to see my favourite bird, the Ground Hornbill. They strutted their stuff and looked us up and down from beneath the canopy of their eyelashes. Such attitude is seldom seen in any other bird and if I were to choose one bird that I would like to be in another life, this would be it.

The Ground Hornbill

The Ground Hornbill

And so it was that my week in the bush sadly came to an end, but as I sat out on the verandah watching the sun go down over the river and the veldt beyond, I felt immensely grateful that we have places like this to come to when we need to unwind.

The sun sets over Kruger

The sun sets over Kruger

The end of a perfect holiday

The end of a perfect holiday

And what would life be without friends and family to share these experiences with? So to Malcolm, Rene, Tammy and Craig, thank you for making this possible and helping to restore my soul.

The family who made this holiday possible

The Sturrock family, who made this holiday possible

Categories: Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Celebrating Age

Several years ago, my friend Goonie Marsh and I were out exploring the side roads of the Eastern Cape, in an effort to get some good photographs for me to use in my painting. We had just spent the weekend at a nature conservancy in the Zuurberg and were making our way home on a track that I had not been on before. At a crossroads, a small, rusted and battered sign, partially obscured by the thorny branch of an Acacia Karroo, pointed us in the direction of the Zuurberg Pass, a historic route that would take us up and over the mountains to the Addo Game Reserve, situated on the other side. I had a slight sense of trepidation, as the road over the pass is notoriously rough and little used, but our vehicle was tough and so were we, and more than that I was keen to see some elephants. So off we set along the gravel road towards the mountain, and as we started to ascend the rocky incline, I caught a flash of a white building out of the corner of my eye. We pulled over to look back at a startlingly gracious Victorian mansion, standing alone on the side of the road, facing out over the veldt. It was so unexpected and a vision I will never forget, this grand old lady of a bygone era, with so many stories to tell.

Ann's Villa

Ann’s Villa

I soon learned that this was Ann’s Villa, built in 1864 by John Webster and named after his wife Ann, who had borne him fourteen children, not all of whom had survived. The couple had emigrated from Scotland and England in search of a brighter future and had originally settled in Port Elizabeth, where John had started a bakery. At around this time work had begun on the Zuurberg Pass, as part of the proposed new route from Cape Town to Grahamstown. Described as “an almost impassable mountain”, the rugged route through it was begun by Inspector White and a gang of 250 convicts, but was interrupted by frontier wars and plagued by problems linked to inadequate planning, extreme weather conditions and an untrained, unmotivated workforce.

The pass was finally opened in 1858, three years after John Webster and his family, having moved from Port Elizabeth, had settled at the Northern end of it. The family originally lived in a small cottage and built the current villa in 1864, but Ann died shortly thereafter, and two years later John remarried and had another daughter. At this time in history, diamonds were discovered along the Orange River, and fortune hunters began flocking to the interior via the Zuurberg Pass, which was good news for John Webster, whose villa was now Webster’s Hotel, with its seven bedrooms, restaurant, bakehouse, wagon repair and blacksmith shop, in addition to a well stocked wholesale and retail shop.

I was intrigued and preoccupied for a while, wondering what the building was like inside, imagining the women, resplendent  in their long Victorian dresses, outwardly feminine but inwardly capable and resilient as they handled their daily chores and coped with the men, dust and heat of the African Karoo.  I think a lot about the pioneering women who came by ox wagon into this harsh, inhospitable land, so different to the one they had left behind… but my reverie was interrupted by my companion who told me to get my camera out, for there were views to see and photos to be taken.

A view across the landscape from the base of the Zuurberg Pass

A view across the landscape from the base of the Zuurberg Pass

My brief encounter with that lone white building has never left my mind, so when in February this year, my sister suggested that Ann’s Villa would make a good venue for a family reunion to celebrate my birthday, the idea sounded really appealing! Before the week was out, the venue was booked and the family informed that they would be expected there for the weekend, dressed in settler/vintage style. It felt original and exciting and something so completely out of the ordinary humdrum of our lives.

In the weeks leading up to the big weekend, nobody said a word to one another about what they were going to wear, with all discussions being centred around food and timings. The only people who had actually spent a night at Ann’s Villa prior to this momentous occasion, were my sister Nicky and her family, who had stayed over one night the previous year. With her mischievous spirit, the only thing she would give away was that it would be a weekend we would never forget. This, I was to discover, was an understatement.

Stepping into Ann’s Villa  is like stepping back in time, being transported into some weird, but fascinating time warp, where the rest of the world has been cut away. The lack of ostentation and the sense of isolation from the rest of the world, made it the perfect place for a family reunion, as it gave us the freedom to be who we wanted to be, with just  family and friends and nobody else to worry about. As we crossed the threshold, I immediately sensed a lightening of spirit and the beginning of a great adventure. It was exciting to walk the floorboards that have carried the feet of generations before us, between walls that have witnessed more than we will ever know, up the winding, creaking wooden staircase to comfortable bedrooms, and out onto the balcony from where we could relax and enjoy vistas of  the Karoo. Sensitively restored, the character of this 150 year old building remains fully in tact, allowing the visitor a completely authentic experience.

Sitting on the old wooden balcony, one can enjoy views across the veldt

Sitting on the old wooden balcony, one can enjoy views across the veldt

Entering the kitchen, with its worn wooden table and wood burning  Aga stove, we felt immediately at home, for it was very similar to the kitchen at our farm in Inyanga, (Zimbabwe), where we were raised in pioneering style. To top it all, as we opened the back door, we were greeted by a flock of sheep, a joyous experience that completed our sense of homecoming. Their little black droppings fertilized the lawn that stretched away from the house and butted up against the indigenous vegetation at the base of the hill, beyond which lay the Zuurberg Mountains, with so many paths to explore.

The view from the hills behind Ann's Villa

The view from the hills behind Ann’s Villa

We spent our weekend eating, laughing, talking, walking and generally exploring the area, but one of the highlights of our stay was a fascinating and informative guided tour around the blacksmith shop by caretaker, Muran, whose cheerful nature and enthusiasm for the subject kept us riveted and wanting to know more. He set the scene of what life was like in the 1860’s and with original tools of the trade on show, we were convincingly transported back to a era when living and working conditions must have been extremely difficult. The grandeur of Ann’s Villa, with its meticulous attention to detail and good craftsmanship, became all the more impressive, given the harsh conditions and the fact it was built using the hand crafted tools that surrounded us. There was something intrinsically grounding about standing in that room, which got me thinking about modern technology, and how much we have in fact lost.

Muran tells us about the history of the villa and why the blacksmith shop was so vital for travelers who crossed the treacherous pass in their wagons

Muran tells us about the history of the villa and why the blacksmith shop was so vital for travelers who crossed the treacherous pass in their wagons

Muran gives us an entertaining demonstration on how the tools were used to repair the wagon wheels

Muran gives us an entertaining demonstration on how the tools were used to repair the wagon wheels

We were then shown around the original old shop, that is situated on the ground floor of the villa and is still set up as it was in the 1860’s.

The exterior of the old shop

The exterior of the old shop

Kelly looks through the collection of old books in the shop

There is an interesting array of goods available for sale in the shop

Katy and Matt inspect the model wagon that stands on the counter in the old shop

The young ones inspect the model wagon that stands on the counter in the old shop

As the evening of my party drew nearer, the women moved into the kitchen, laughing, chatting and bustling about with purpose, and it wasn’t long before the aroma of dinner could be caught in the evening breeze.


The women of my family prepare dinner. Tammy, Penny, Kelly and Nicky

As the sun became low on the horizon, we adorned ourselves and made a grand entrance down the wooden staircase, and the place erupted with laughter as we all got to see who we had become. The atmosphere of the villa allowed us to perform and take on the characters we had chosen, which was hilarious fun and the evening sky rocketed from there.

The family gathers at Ann's Villa for my birthday celebration

The family gathers at Ann’s Villa for my birthday celebration. In keeping with the historic, serious faced photos that adorn the villa walls, we decided to follow suit

The most perfect place for a family celebration

The most perfect place for a family celebration

Ann's Villa February 2014

Goonie Marsh, Anthony Stidolph, Nicky Rosselli, Matthew Rosselli, Sally Scott, Penny Bernard, John Rosselli, Kelly Bernard, Katy Rosselli, Tammy Sturrock and Craig Scott. Ann’s Villa February 2014

To view a few more images from our entertaining weekend at this grand old villa, click on the images below:

Nicky was right, the weekend at Ann’s Villa was one that I will never forget. Apart from being magical, spontaneous and very, very funny, it gave me an opportunity to spend quality time with those I most care about. The villa reminded me that there is character and beauty to be found in age and if I can age half as gracefully as this grand old lady, I will be more than happy.

The interesting thing is that despite having entered her doorway and becoming better acquainted, the mystery of Ann’s Villa remains, and I’m sure that the next time I travel that road, I will still find myself wondering what life was really like for the men and women who lived there. The difference will be that this time I will have my very own story to tell, and for that I am extremely grateful.

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Inspiring Exhibitions at Festival 2014

For over thirty years I have loyally and enthusiastically attended our annual National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, initially as a visitor from out of town, but more recently as a Grahamstown resident. It has been an interesting ride all round, watching and experiencing the changes in our times and more specifically the changes within our country, as seen through the eyes of the artists who perform and exhibit here.

Every year I go in search of something or someone who will inspire me to reach beyond my comfort zone and motivate me to better my own performance. Inevitably, I find  what I am looking for and often in the most unexpected places. This year was no different and my ‘ah!’ moment came as I walked into Fabricate, the retrospective exhibition of The Handspring Puppet Company in the Thomas Pringle Hall on the upper level of the Monument building. It was so unexpected, which made it all the more wonderful. At the entrance I was greeted by a magnificent rearing stallion.

Warhorse, made by the Handspring Puppet Company

War Horse, made by the Handspring Puppet Company

Beyond the stallion, I was lured into a gathering of beautifully crafted wooden characters, personalities from a variety of well known shows that have been performed over the past 22 years in more than 30 countries around the world. The works are rich in texture and personality, making it difficult for the viewer to pull away.

I left the gallery feeling that I had experienced something really special. Good craftsmanship is rare these days, but this exhibition is so much more than technical ability. One can feel the involvement of the artists and the passion that lies behind each and every work.

With the images of the exhibition still in my mind, I was delighted to find out that Joey, a naturalistic puppet horse sculpted from cane and the lead character from the production of  War Horse, would be out meeting the people in the gardens of Rhodes University. I got there just in time to see a very convincing horse, being led around the garden with a young child on it’s back. What was so incredible is that despite the two extra pairs of legs of the puppeteers, Joey was a horse and I had to keep reminding myself that it was in fact a puppet.

Joey, the lead character from the production of War Horse, takes children for rides in the grounds of Rhodes University

Joey, the lead character from the production of War Horse, takes children for rides in the grounds of Rhodes University

Beautifully crafted from cane, Joey will be performing in War Horse that is set to tour South Africa from October to December 2014

Beautifully crafted from cane, Joey will be performing in War Horse that is set to tour South Africa from October to December 2014

The puppeteers create very convincing movements that make one believe this is a real horse

The puppeteers create very convincing movements that make one believe this is a real horse

The other exhibition that I found exciting was Christine Dixie’s To Be King. Visually mesmerizing, this multi-media exhibition stirred up feelings of transience, the impermanence of things and memories of times gone by. Beautifully executed, the ever changing scene kept one riveted to the screen.

Another exhibition that had a similar effect was Homing, by Jenna Burchell, though her method was completely different. Entering the exhibition space, one was invited into a web of vertically placed copper strings, that on touching emitted different sounds, recalling a sense of place. Unlike Dixie’s work, that was completely engrossing on a private, individual level, this exhibition allowed for interaction with other viewers. As I touched a string the bells of a cathedral rang out, at the same time as another viewer’s string emitted a different sound. It allowed for play and repetition, and soon we were making music.

In the Standard Bank Gallery of the Albany Museum, it was a treat to see the work of previous Standard Bank Young Artist award winners in the exhibition 14/30, in particular Walter Oltmann, William Kentridge and Peter Schutz, whose work I have always found inspiring.

Walter Oltmann, winner 2001, Gombessa

Walter Oltmann, winner 2001, Gombessa (Coelocanth)2013, made from aluminium wire

Peter Schutz, winner 1984

Peter Schutz, winner 1984. Wood

Peter Schutz

Peter Schutz

Wim Botha’s exhibition in the adjoining room, was challenging and fascinating. The centre piece of the show, Study for the Epic Mundane (2013), is powerful, constructed of books that have been bolted together and sculpted into two figures, whose relationship is a little ambiguous. Many of the other works have been sculpted in a similar vein, all using unusual everyday materials…books, polystyrene and picture frame moulding.

Wim Botha Exhibition

Wim Botha Exhibition

Wim Botha

Wim Botha

There were a myriad of other exhibitions at this year’s Fest, but unfortunately time ran out and I wasn’t able to see them all. Those I did see have helped ‘to fill the well’, and now it’s time to return to my studio to see what I can produce. No more excuses. It’s time to get down to work.

The visitors have gone, and as Grahamstown quietly readjusts to normality, discarded posters lie flapping in the wind. We set our sights on Festival 2015 and all that this will bring.



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Mountain Streams and Dancing Fish

After a short break, I am back with the final leg of our journey through Limpopo, and we have left Mogalakwena en route to Louis Trichardt, making our way along the base of the magnificent Soutpansberg Mountains.

The Soutpansberg Mountains

The Soutpansberg Mountains

The weather is warm and Petra and I are in high spirits after our highly eventful holiday. 8 km’s beyond Louis Trichardt, on the R55 to Vivo, we take a right turn and drive a short distance through thick, lush bush up to the Madi a Thava Mountain Lodge, nestled amongst trees in a sprawling natural garden. As I climb from the dusty vehicle, I am engulfed in a cool refreshing breeze that wafts down from the mountain. Savouring the quality of the air, I wander across to the edge of the car park and remember the sense of safety this place provides, embraced by the protective arms of the mountain. I have been here before, a long time ago, and it feels good to be back. I am eager to see all the developments and to check out their amazing collection of art. This lodge is the perfect place to round off our trip, for not only do I know that I will be creatively inspired here, I also know that it is going to be a wonderfully comfortable way to spend the final few days of my holiday.

The entrance to the lodge is as I remember it, open and inviting, with large Venda pots on the verandah giving just a hint of what is to come. I am filled with anticipation as I enter the building, and feel immediately at home in the bright and tastefully furnished interior, filled to capacity with beautiful examples of African arts and crafts…and I don’t mean curio art, but really good pottery, woodwork, embroidery and beading from the Limpopo region.

Madi a Thava

Madi a Thava

A sculpture by

A sculpture that announces the presence of the Dancing Fish Gallery

We are greeted by our friend, Marcelle Bosch, who is the owner, manager and general overall superwoman who maintains and continually develops this little piece of Paradise.

Marcelle Bosch

Marcelle Bosch

Marcelle is a woman of vision, passionately committed to promoting local artists and providing an outlet through which they can sell their work, both at the lodge and through her very comprehensive website. She is actively involved in helping and motivating these artists, offering workshops and discussion groups through which they can inspire and motivate each other.

She is also extremely knowledgeable about the customs and traditions of the people who live in the area, specifically the Venda, Tsonga and Northern Sotho groups, and she offers excursions that take visitors into the rural areas to meet the local people, so that they can learn first hand about the rich cultural heritage of Limpopo.

A guest to the lodge, even an overnight visitor, cannot help but be affected by the richness of these cultures, for there is visual evidence of them everywhere, from the decor in the main lodge, to the sculptures that adorn the colourful, stylish bedrooms, to the informative Dancing Fish Gallery, which is situated across the lawn from the main lodge building.

Then, in a sunlit room attached to the lodge, Marcelle has gathered together a group of local women, who are beavering away happily on their sewing machines, producing colourful linen and other soft items, which are available to buy through her shop, but are also sold through outlets around the country, and beautifully displayed in all the lodge bedrooms.

The gorgeous bedrooms at Madi a Thava

The gorgeous bedrooms at Madi a Thava, adorned with colourful soft furnishings made by the Madi a Thava art group

These colourful cushions are an example of the work produced by the women at Madi a Thava

These colourful cushions are an example of the work produced by the women at Madi a Thava

The food at the lodge is delicious and on this warm Sunday evening we sit out on the open verandah and enjoy a candle-lit dinner with entertainment provided by the chef, who after pounding on his drum, sings to us with his most amazing baritone voice! I am delighted and savour the moment as much as the meal that follows.

We use the next couple of days to go out and see the local artists in the area, all within easy driving distance from the lodge. I have written about these visits to Thomas Kubayi and the Northern Sotho dance group in my previous blog posts.

So on the final day, we are relaxing within the grounds of the lodge and I am spending time enjoying The Dancing Fish Gallery. This houses an impressive collection of Tsonga, Venda and Northern Sotho art and artifacts, beautifully curated by Petra Terblanche, with whom I have been traveling. Petra’s passionate interest in the local traditions and her long history as a museum curator are clearly obvious as one enters the cool interior of the building. She has carefully laid out the display so that it takes the visitor on a journey through the traditions of each cultural group, with fine examples of their art and craft.

Petra Terblanche, curator of the Dancing Fish Gallery

Petra Terblanche, curator of the Dancing Fish Gallery

To view a sampling of work on show at the Dancing Fish Gallery, click on the images below:

The story unfolds through beautifully designed posters, produced by Petra’s friend, Harold Kolkman, a social anthropologist from Holland, with whom Petra has worked on numerous other projects.

A poster that explains the history ad traditions of the Hananwa people

A poster that explains the history and traditions of the Hananwa people

After a visit to this gallery, one becomes aware of just how fascinating the history of Limpopo Province is, with the arts and crafts from the area so colourful and multi layered. As it is my last day in the area, I find I am reluctant to leave this richly creative environment, trying to absorb as much as I can before I return to my studio. I stop before a quote by Nelson Mandela.

“The collision of culture does not necessarily lead to subjugation & hegemony. It may also lead to subtle cross-pollination of ideas, words, customs, art-forms, culinary & religious practices.
This dynamic interaction has always played a role in cultural enrichment which has resulted in an extraordinary fertile & unique South African culture which binds our nation in linguistic, cultural, culinary, & religious diversity in so many forms”.                                                                                                                                                           -Nelson Mandela

It strikes me that this place and the work that is being done here, is a perfect example of what Mandela was speaking about. There is a sense of good people helping other people in an atmosphere of unity and respect and to stay at the lodge is to experience a wonderful blend of cultures, all brought together in a very unique way.

Marcelle is constantly upgrading, renovating and developing the property, all the time keeping her eye on the bigger picture, which is to maintain high standards in ethical, community based tourism. This year, amongst many other things, she is embarking on a series of creative workshops, which will be held at the lodge and facilitated by well known South African artists. For participants this should be an absolute treat…to learn and be creative in a creative environment, whilst staying in the luxury of the lodge, spoiled by excellent service and surrounded by the peace and infinite beauty of the mountains.

The three days that we have spent here have left me rested, restored and inspired. It is the perfect end to a wonderful, enriching journey, and now it is time to go home to process all that I have seen and experienced.

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