The story of Ardmore begins almost thirty years ago when in 1985 Fée Halsted started on a journey teaching ceramics to a talented group of rural people on a farm in a remote corner of the Kwazulu-Natal province, South Africa.
“Ardmore” is derived from the name of the first farm Fée lived on in the entrancing Champagne Valley in Kwazulu-Natal, this farm being the place she first met Bonnie Ntshalintshali. Bonnie became Fée’s first student and in 1990 under Fée’s mentorship they were jointly awarded the standard bank young artist award. Bonnie along with other artists then sadly passed away from AIDS in 1999, and the Bonnie Ntshalintshali Museum was erected in her honour.
A few years later and with the exponential growth of Ardmore, Fée moved to a picturesque smallholding in the Caversham Valley, relocating the Ardmore studio and Bonnie Ntshalintshali Museum to her home and creating a unique home for the Ardmore family.
At the turn of the decade, Ardmore celebrated its 25th anniversary that saw the company take a bold step forward with the release of a hugely successful, experimental textile range in 2010. The release of this range sculpting the future of Ardmore Design which would later be launched in 2013, aiming to create a multi-faceted future for the Ardmore name, the artists and Fée’s children, Jonathan, Catherine and Megan Berning. That same year Fée was honoured by the Women’s Campaign International in recognition of her contributions towards empowering women and not long after accomplished yet another personal creative project, publishing her book in 2012, Ardmore – We are because of others.
Today the bustling studio is home to over 70 African artists whose ceramic works have been recognized as modern day collectables by auction houses Christies, Bonham’s and Sotheby’s. Ardmore Design has emerged creating vibrant and elegant fabric collections sought after by leading interior decorators as well as working in collaboration with renowned French fashion house Hermès, producing a line of lavish scarves of the highest quality, and British wallpaper manufacturers Cole and Son.
Ardmore has now proudly earned itself a reputation for its iconic imagery through its uniqueness in its family values and the authenticity that exists at the heart of every artwork.
Ardmore 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 artworks the Ardmore Artists had ever created. Their masterpieces demonstrated how even through the toughest of times, positive creative energy and hope prevails.
In February at Cellars Cape Town, the Kalahari Cats exhibition enthralled the Cape visitors. It was an iconic year as the collaboration with Parisian fashion house Hermés, resulted in the launch of two scarves, La Marche du Zambeze and Savanna Dance. The Great Zambezi Exhibition at Mavros London was followed by Fée won the womens Mbokodo award for her contribution to art in South Africa.
Ardmore celebrates its 30th anniversary by hosting a series of events in South Africa and abroad. The Animals and Botanicals exhibition was a fantastic celebration of South Africa's Fauna and Flora at Cellars. Our themed exhibition was Parrots and Pomegranates which exhibited at Christopher Greig, Hyde Park, Johannesburg.
Ardmore continued on it’s incredible momentum from 2013 and takes its Great Herds exhibit to Cellars Hohenort and then on to Nairobi, Kenya and later London. Ardmore Design shows at 100% Design and Design Indaba. The Birds of Africa exhibition was a riot of colour. Fée received her honorary doctorate from UKZN in Fine Art. This is an incredible honour and well deserved for someone who has dedicated her life to her art and her community. Animal Botanicals show in London is a fantastically whimsical take on Africa’s Fauna and Flora. The Vienna Art Show featuring South African Art showcases Ardmore as part of their exhibit. Ardmore then goes on the road and shows the Christmas Exhibit in Zimbabwe.
Ardmore launched it's new design company, Ardmore Design, that translates the bold Ardmore Ceramics designs onto fabrics, furniture and homeware. Ardmore exhibited “Back To Earth” at the Gerisch museum in Hamburg, Germany. The year of 2013 was once again filled with wonderful exhibitions all over the world, Monkeys and Magnolias in London at Patrick Mavros, Crocodiles and Curiosities at Charles Greig, Hyde Park to Terre Rouge les journées de la céramique Paris. Ardmore also showed their bold artworks at NAADA faire and Cora Sheibani London. Ardmore artists also created powerful artworks for The Cop-17 Exhibit at William Humphreys Gallery in Kimberley is a powerful comment on the positive and negative forces in South Africa.
Ardmore had an incredibly busy year, introducing the Ardmore Aviary at Cellars Hohenort.Ardmore begins a collaboration with Patrick Mavros, the highly regarded Zimbabwean silversmith, and Fée's brother-in-law. The Patrick Mavros flagship store in London hosts an Ardmore event in May every year, helping to bring Ardmore to a new international audience. Later in the year they show The Grand Carnival at Charles Greig, The Mauritius Forbes Mavros Ardmore show in Terre rouge and Endangered Species at Patrick Mavros London. Ardmore celebrated 25 years with the book: Ardmore, We are because of others. The first fabric designs were launched with Mavromac.
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.
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. 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. 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 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.