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4 local artisans using ancient craft to create modern collectables

Weavers, ceramicists, chandlers – and even a curtain couturière, meet the makers behind the local luxury brands that honour ancient craft in modern ways

By Piet Smedy  | August 21, 2021 | Category

Image: Supplied
Image: Supplied

Weavers, ceramicists, chandlers – and even a curtain couturière, meet the makers behind the local luxury brands that honour ancient craft in modern ways and, in doing so, are bringing a human connection into our homes.

Photography: Greg Cox

Stephen and Linda Nessworthy, Aymara Yarns

Simple, classic and luxurious woven and knitted goods from alpaca fibre are homegrown, spun and made at Klein Limietrivier Farm, a rare and unusual building in Wellington erected around 1715 from unbaked clay bricks and later lovingly restored by its owners Stephen and Linda Nessworthy.

It is the only mill in South Africa able to process alpaca from raw fleece. Its sensitive use of colour, as well as simple design, make its products easily recognisable. Aymara is a language of the Andes, and pays homage to the origins of the alpaca. Much of the brand’s inspiration comes from the surrounding Hawaqua range, which extends from Bainskloof to Tulbagh Pass.

Photography: Greg Cox

’Currently, we have 260 alpaca with around 50 more births anticipated this year. They grow a myriad of natural shades, which we enhance with touches of hand- dyed colours,’ explain Stephen and Linda. ’A lpaca is known as a noble fibre that is soft, warm and hypoallergenic.’

Aymara combines fibre produced on the Farm with other natural fibres to create unique blends. The origin stories of the machines used are as fascinating as the building they inhabit: a carder branded Biela, from the city and commune in Northern Italy, a comb from Serbia, a gill Box from France and a fly frame, a spinning machine and winder from the UK.

Linda and stephen share a human connection with and, for fun, have named every alpaca on the farm. ‘The process of dealing with every aspect – from breeding and births, general animal husbandery and shearing, to sorting and spinning and final product design and manufacture – gives us a rare insight into and intimacy with our products,’ they say.

Alpacas are gentle on the earth; they require little water and have an efficient digestive system. Aymara also employs sustainable practices by using every scrap of fibre grown to create its diverse range of products, environmentally friendly processing chemicals and distributing water used in the mill to a small olive grove on the Farm.

Photography: Greg Cox

Sikho Mququ, Ckho Ceramique

Nature and experiences inspire me, but I do not aim to show that realistically in my artefacts, rather I choose a more abstract approach,’ says Mthatha-born ceramicist Sikho Mququ, who creates his pieces at a studio in Cape Town under the brand Ckho Ceramique (the first part being his creative nom de guerre, the latter a portmanteau of ‘ceramic’ and ‘unique’).

‘Looking at my work, you notice patterns showing a more organic texture with endless scratch lines that do not seem to have a beginning or end. It is a visual translation of our mixed emotional life experiences; the ups and downs, the good and bad.’

A creatively precocious child, Sikho spent much of his time building brick and wire cars or gathering clay from the river banks to make toy cattle for play battles later (his first, albeit unintentional, foray into the world of ceramics), or collecting flowers and insects that piqued his interest. At that age, I was completely unaware of it, but I had been attentively studying the nature all around me,’ he says.

Through mentorship, workshops and industry engagements, creative need bred entrepreneurial understanding – ultimately leading Sikho to found Ckho Ceramique. ‘Clay is more like a 3-D canvas for me,’ he says. stoneware clay is his specific medium of choice, along with glaze powders (which he mixes into a thick liquid for dipping pieces into colour before being fired) and oxides such as copper and manganese for tonal plays. His craft focuses predominantly on homeware – cups, plates, bowls – that he executes in the traditional chequer-line patterns of the iTyali blankets typical in Sikho’s native Eastern Cape. The inspiration here is two-fold: ‘Women typically wear an iTyali, which they usually receive on their first visit to their in-laws. as such, it becomes a symbol of both pride and the home,’ he explains. And, as we know, blankets are warm, and I am trying to clothe my work in the same warmth my mother passed into our home through her hands, sweat and hard work.’

Sipho’s work has a real sense of human connection to living traditions and the childhood memories of its maker. ‘My work becomes an experience because you blend with the piece at that moment you are presented with a plate of food or a warm cup of tea,’ he says. ‘In a way, it becomes a range of emotions right in your hand.’

Photography: Greg Cox

Jan Ernst, Jan Ernst Ceramics

‘I find organic forms such as coral, fungi and rock formations fascinating,’ says Cape Town-based artist Jan Ernst, whose ceramic art, driven by a fascination and a desire to make, pried him away from architecture.

A Nelson Mandela Metropolitan university graduate, Jan completed his Masters in Spain and, after initially practising as an architect, soon realised he would find making more fulfilling.

I have always been fascinated by the process of conceptualising and bringing an idea to life. Today, almost everything is digital. creating art and design from clay allows me to throw my body and mind into the work.’

For his latest collection, ‘origin’, Jan collaborated with Vorster & Braye ceramics on a few eclectic clay furniture pieces, all drawing inspiration from nature. They include the ‘roots’ bench, ‘Fungi’ side table, ‘cells’ desk and ‘sprouts’ floor lamp. Says the 31-year-old artist: as the names suggest, these designs are inspired by different natural elements. They are abstracted and translated into something functional and visually exciting. It was crucial to use this collection to highlight that clay can be a structural and functional material in interior design.’

Recently, Jan partnered with The Urbanative on their latest furniture range, homecoming, comprised of six wall vessels and a candelabra-vase combination.

Photography: Manesha Cald

Robyn Britz, Moat

After finishing her studies at Vega in 2013, Robyn Britz went straight into the textiles business with her mother, who has experience in print and production. Nine years later, their entrepreneurial venture, Zana, is a thriving textiles business. But a little experimentation combined with a desire to get back to the roots of making has led her to start Moat designs – making 3-D printed table-top structures and candles.

Image: Supplied

‘I wanted to work on something completely different from textiles. I saw how moulded candles were trending overseas, and knew I could make something unique due to the fact that I have access to a 3-D printer,’ she says. ‘It started as just experimentation and for fun but when the 3-D objects started to come out so beautiful that I shocked myself, I knew I should start a brand.’ While 3-D printing has become popular as a manufacturing process, it is not something the South African design industry tends to use. One of Britz’s first table-top ideas was a vase with stackable interchangeable accessories, aptly named the ‘Bangle Vase’. ‘The rings slide off and can be stacked in a different order. That shows not only the beauty of the various colour combinations, but it allows the customer creative freedom and shows the incredible accuracy of 3-D printing.’