Exploring the colorful world of South Africa, we stumbled across one of Cape Town’s best-kept secrets: Montebello Design Centre. This hidden gem sits away on a historical old farm estate in Newlands surrounded by greenery. Within the estate, you can explore twenty-five unique workshops and art studios and watch local artisan people work away at their crafts. It is a hotspot of innovation, self-expression, and artistic activity.
Montebello Design Centre showcases everything from unique embroidered homeware to intricate woodcarving and ceramics. The studios provide huge insight into the African art and skills of the locals, a true celebration of their culture and history. Two workshops, in particular, stood out to us – those of Dr. Elbe Coetsee and John Bauer. Here is a closer look at what made these two artists stand out from the other talent on display.
Mogalakwena Craft Art, Dr Elbe Coetsee
Inside the beautifully kept old stables at Montebello Design Centre lies the Mogalakwena Craft Art Development Foundation (MCADF), established by Dr. Elbe Coetsee. The Foundation specializes in the traditional skills of embroidery, beadwork, and weaving to create unique interior accessories. They have worked with several renowned artists and designers, including Nicholas Hlobo, Colbert Mashile, and Haldane Martin. Some of the pieces created by MCADF were commissioned for several hotels in the region, including the V&A Waterfront and The Grand Westin.
We were most impressed by the hand-embroidered artworks that depicted daily life scenes for South African villages remote from modern-day civilization. Inspiration for the pieces has come from their cultures and customs. These pieces are primarily made by women in the remote Limpopo region of South Africa. All the women involved in the projects utilize their traditional craft skills passed down through the generations. In this way, The Foundation is helping to safeguard these craft skills and documenting traditions while simultaneously supporting the local community and preserving indigenous culture.
It is no wonder that the logo of the MCADF reads “Experience the Soul of Africa.” From the images depicted and the traditional methods used to the involvement of local women, each piece holds the spirit of the people. The work is a true representation of the country’s culture and symbolizes the development of the creative skills of locals. Dr. Coetsee has ongoing research projects on culture, craft, and design, and ecology of the local area, further supporting The Foundation’s mission to promote and share traditional crafts and culture.
John Bauer Ceramics
The second must-see workshop at the Montebello Design Centre was that of John Bauer. You may have heard of John Bauer before. He is a popular ceramics artist whose work is recognizable both in South Africa and overseas. By the age of 30, he had his work displayed in two museums. It is his individual take on ceramics that has made him hugely popular in the creative world. Rather than creating negative impressions in the clay, his designs protrude out from the clay’s surface. The result is pieces that exude emotion and are eye-catching detailed.
A recurring theme of Bauer’s work is the doily pattern. He uses crochet cloth and lace pieces to imprint the fabric into the porcelain, making these intricate stitched patterns everlasting. The impressions of the lace create unique pieces of all sizes. He also has worked with other items from the past, such as old money and carvings. By doing so, Bauer is paying tribute to the creations of the past and ensuring they are not forgotten. His work guarantees that they hold a place in our future. Other themes that run through his work are that of angels and mythical creatures, often depicted on his signature bowls.
His technical skills also push the limits of what is possible with ceramics. Bauer uses an ancient technique that creates work similar to the pieces archaeologists have discovered from 997 AD. Unfortunately, the secrets behind this historical technique are unknown, and many have tried to learn more about this impressive art form. We love the connection that Bauer brings between the past, present, and future, both in his technique and designs. Maybe one day, he’ll share the secrets of his magnificent creations.