Posts Tagged With: Sally Scott art and travels

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.

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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.

Categories: Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Stitching Stories

It’s night time in the Bushveld and I sit under a canopy of stars. From the foliage alongside my verandah, a chorus of insects provides the backdrop to the frogs that croak melodiously from the banks of the Mogalakwena River, flowing silently not far beyond the boundary fence. Far across the treetops comes the call of a nightjar, and behind me, high in a tree, the intermittent, soft tones of an owl. The night orchestra is joined by the occasional bray of a donkey and superimposing it all, come the lyrics of “Mandela”, blasting from a transistor radio in the nearby village. The balmy air brushes my skin gently and I sit here in the darkness, breathing deeply, wallowing in the sensation of a night in the African bush. I don’t want to move, for this is balm to my soul, so I linger a while longer before disappearing under the mosquito net and drifting off to sleep. At three in the morning, I surface briefly and hear the distant throb of drums coming from the direction of the village. It is a comforting sound that I know well from my childhood, living on a Zimbabwe farm.

I awake in the morning to a cacophony of bird calls; little brown jobs twittering outside my window, and the screech of a Woodland Kingfisher as it swoops from tree to tree. Not far off, there is the distinctive chatter of Guinea fowl and Natal Francolins going about their way. I blink at the sun that is pouring in through the window and when I hear the tinkle of cow bells and the swish, swish of someone sweeping the driveway, I become alert and realize that a new day has begun at the Mogalakwena Artist’s Retreat and that I’d better get up to see what’s going on.

My room at the Mogalakwena Artist's Retreat

My room at the Mogalakwena Artist’s Retreat

The Artist's Retreat at Mogalakwena, near Alldays,Limpopo Province

The Artist’s Retreat at Mogalakwena, near Alldays,Limpopo Province

The comfortable rooms of the artists retreat at Mogalakwena

The comfortable rooms of the artists retreat at Mogalakwena

As I gather my things together, I hear the sound of the gate being opened and the voices of laughing women.

I am excited, for this is what I have been waiting for… a chance to meet these women and see the work that is being done at the Mogalakwena Craft Art Centre, which is situated just across the garden from the retreat. The farm, Mogalakwena is owned by the Coetsee family, and is situated near Alldays in Limpopo Province, South Africa. There are various sections to the farm, and apart from the art retreat, they offer accommodation at their luxury river lodge and bush camp. From the time that I first read Craft Art in South Africa, authored by Dr.Elbe Coetsee, I have been intrigued by the work being done by this remarkable woman, and I look forward to meeting both her and the women who work at the art centre.

Elbe Coetsee, founder of the Mogalakwena Craft Art Development Foundation

Elbe Coetsee, founder of the Mogalakwena Craft Art Development Foundation

It is most fortuitous, therefore, that my friend Petra Terblanche, with whom I am traveling, is currently living in this tranquil paradise and what’s more, she is directly involved in the project and is documenting and collating the creative work being produced on the farm.

The Mogalakwena Craft's Centre

The Mogalakwena Craft’s Centre

A group of women from the nearby village come each day to this centre to embroider and document their stories

A group of women from the nearby villages come each day to this centre to embroider and document their stories

I learn that Elbe established The Mogalakwena Craft Art Development Foundation in 1994, in an effort to improve the lives and living conditions of the local communities. With a PhD in social entrepreneurship and a deep interest in the craft art business, she was ideally positioned to set up the foundation and the craft art centre from which the women could work. Her main aim is to create sustainable, value-adding employment opportunities for disadvantaged women and to restore and develop traditional craft art skills that for various reasons have to some extent become dormant or lost. She is actively involved in the product development, raising standards so that the goods are suitable for the international market. The products produced at the centre are sold through a variety of South African outlets and can be viewed and purchased from the Mogalakwena Gallery, which opened in Capetown in 2008.

Another important aspect of Elbe’s work is the research, documentation and preservation of African oral history, traditions and material culture. Her foundation promotes research with the aim to further not only the understanding and knowledge in the field of anthropology, ecology and social entrepreneurship in Africa, but also to establish a national and international awareness and appreciation of African culture.

I am shown around the craft art centre by Alletha, whose task is to see that everything runs smoothly whilst Elbe is in Capetown running the gallery. Although the women produce a wide array of goods, the work that most captures my attention when I enter their workshop are the delightful embroideries that document the local African traditions. These beautifully rendered embroideries are physical documents of traditional beliefs and customs that can be passed on down through the generations. It is Petra Terblanche’s task to photograph them all and to create a written and digital record of all the work produced, ensuring that these valuable stories will not be lost.

To view some of these embroideries, click on the thumbnails below:

On many levels the work being done here is of interest to me, for not only am I a fibre artist with a passion for textiles, I believe that it is important to journal and document the rich stories of our lives, be it for personal, therapeutic purposes or as a record for future generations. I am also admiring of women who are committed to helping those who are less fortunate. I believe that the empowerment of women is essential in this modern society and I applaud women like Elbe and Petra, who are giving so much of themselves to help others.

Three days later, we have crossed the Mogalakwena River, and are making our way along a dusty road towards the magnificent Soutpansberg Mountains that are beckoning us from the horizon, and I am musing upon the fact that despite this country’s problems, there are many good people beavering away, doing their bit towards creating a stronger and healthier society.

In my next post, the final in this Limpopo series, I will be sharing the work of yet another amazing woman…!

Categories: Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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