Ardmore’s story began with one woman’s journey from her birthplace in Bulawayo, modern-day Zimbabwe to KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. Not only did Fée Halsted acquire unique skills as a ceramicist, but she also discovered that she had an aptitude for finding and nurturing talent in others.
The name Ardmore comes from the first farm that Fée lived on in the Champagne Valley in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg.
Fée’s first student was Bonnie Ntshalintshali, the daughter of a farm employee. Bonnie had survived polio as a child – a condition that had left her too weak to undertake physical farm work, but which had done nothing to stunt her imagination or artistic talent.
Bonnie’s natural aptitude for ceramic art soon encouraged other members of her family to ask Fée to teach them the secrets of the studio. These farmworkers – people with a deeply rooted sense of place, and a real affinity for the landscapes and creatures of Africa – became the nucleus of South Africa’s largest and most renowned ceramics studio.
Bonnie and Fée ran the studio more as partners than as an artist and her apprentice. After her life was tragically cut short, Fée established the Bonnie Ntshalintshali Museum in her memory – the first museum in South Africa to bear the name of a black female artist.
Fée has been described as ‘a creator of artists’, and she ranks her success in empowering local artisans to share their unique takes on nature, Zulu folklore and traditions as her greatest achievement.
Under Fée’s tuition, a talented group of sculptors and painters has emerged, and coalesced around a fusion of Western ceramic techniques, the wonderful Zulu sense of colour and rhythm and their gift for design and balance.
Ardmore has given local artists the opportunity they needed to create artworks based on meanings within the context of their culture, and which have become much sought-after ‘modern collectibles’.
Ardmore design launched the Sabie fabric range which Fée conceptualised while in the Sabie region of the Kruger National Park. The Covid Lockdown Months resulted in some of the most exquisite creations the Ardmore Artists had ever produced. Their masterpieces demonstrated how even through the toughest of times, positive creative energy and Hope shines prevailed.
2016 was an iconic year for Ardmore. The collaboration with Parisian fashion house Hermés, resulted in the launch of two scarves, La Marche du Zambeze and Savanna Dance. This inspired the Great Zambezi Exhibition at Mavros London and in February at Cellars, the Kalahari Cats exhibition enthralled the Cape visitors. Fée won the womens Mbokodo award for her contribution to art in South Africa
Fée is honoured by Philadelphia-based Women’s Campaign International for the difference Ardmore’s work has made in the lives of rural women in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Ardmore launches its experimental design collection, a range of luxury lifestyle items including the Qalakabusha sofa. This new venture was made possible through a generous grant by the Business Trust’s Shared Growth Challenge Fund, and has since grown into a separate business. Ardmore also exhibits at the Sculpture Objects & Function Art (SOFA) fair in New York and Chicago, and the Global Africa Project event at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.
One of Ardmore’s most celebrated artists, Wonderboy Nxumalo, dies of an AIDS-related illness. He used the monkey as a metaphor to illustrate his message in the AIDS-awareness works he created from 2000 until his death in 2008. His works continue to be exhibited at museums and galleries across the world.The Bonnie Ntshalintshali Museum reopens in 2008. Each artist was commissioned to produce a replica of a work made by Bonnie, or to create a new piece inspired by her creativity. A landmark event for Ardmore: Eleanor Kasrils arranged for a large event of Ardmore work to be held at Groote Schuur, the historic home of Cecil John Rhodes. The 400 piece event, opened by Dr Lindiwe Mabuza, was a stunning success. Nearly every piece was sold.
The Ardmore team continues to grow, and now employs close to 70 artists. More men joined Ardmore as they began to realise they could return to the countryside and earn as much as women artists do. This created a creative and energetic spirit which placed Zulu women and men on an equal footing. The Men event was hosted at Gallery on the Square and was a wild success. This Insect Teapot was sculpted by Sfiso Mvelase and painted by Zinhle Nene. Christie’s hosts landmark auctions of Ardmore ceramics in London, describing them as “modern collectibles”.
Bonny Ntshalintshali, Agnes Ndlovu, Phineas Mweli and other artists die of AIDS-related illnesses. The virus would claim the lives of scores more artists over the next two decades. Ardmore established the Ardmore Excellence Fund which provides ARV medication to AIDS sufferers, assist artists with medical expenses, education, funeral costs, basic nutrition and cares for orphans whose parents died of AIDS.
In 1991 Bonnie's work was selected for Aperto Venice Biennale. Charles Greig Jewellers began purchasing Ardmore in the early 1990s and have been great supporters of our work ever since. The first display of Ardmore ceramics in the jeweller’s upmarket stores was in 1991. Since then Charles Greig and Ardmore have collaborated on many other events.
In 1990 Fée and Bonny jointly win the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, an incredible achievement for both artists. Josephine Ghesa joins Ardmore Unique and haunting, Ghesa’s work was described by Chicago University Dean Carol Bekker as “some of the strongest work I’ve seen”. Self portrait, 1990, was sculpted after her arrival at Ardmore, with her baby tied to her back in traditional style.
Packing a punch Two sisters, Punch and Mavis Shabalala join a growing Ardmore team. Each develops a unique painterly style. Plate, 1990, was sculpted by Mavis Shabalala and painted by Punch Shabalala. Artists Phumelele Nene tragically dies of AIDS, becoming the first of many Ardmore family members who would succumb to the disease.
Later that same year, Bonakele (Bonnie) Ntshalintshali, who was born on the farm and 18 years old at the time, began a ceramics apprenticeship under Fée. “Ardmore became a success because of Bonny’s craftsmanship, skill and meticulous attention to detail.” – Fée Halsted. Ardmore also exhibited at the Cape Town Triennial.