Monday, December 15, 2008


Photograph of one of Peter Beard's many African journals

It was a hot weekend and all we felt like doing was lazing inside, sipping glasses of iced ginger tea. I however, cannot sit ...or laze... for long so I hauled out a pile of my favourite books to get my mind off the heat.

When re-reading my books there are certain pages that I return to over and over again. Pages that either inspire or stir my curiosity enough to send me off on a google frenzy. Actually it doesn't take much to stir me into a google frenzy!

I thought I would share some of my favourite pages with you. The pages that stop me in my tracks even though I've seen them many times before.

The first one, from Africa Interior Design is a beautiful room in a farm house in Cape Town. The carved door from Mali caught my attention but the rest of the room is just as gorgeous. This house is featured in many books and magazines here in South Africa.

The Basket Room, Hotel Le Saxon, in Johannesburg --from At Home With Art by Tiddy Rowan.

The home and studio of sculptor Axel Cassel in Normandy. I love the mingling of books, african artefacts and ethnographic objects with his own pieces. From Contemporary Natural by Phyllis Richardson and Solvi Dos Santos.

An old favourite which I picked up on a sale for next to nothing, many years ago. Henry Moore: My Ideas, Inspiration and Life as an Artist by Henry Moore and John Hedgecoe. Seeing artists working in their studios is a big thrill for me.

This page from Art Making, Collections and Obsessions by Lynne Perrella is so my cup of tea!

In Amulets by Sheila Paine there are hundreds (431 to be exact) of intriguing illustrations. This cabinet is an 18th-century apothecary's cabinet filled with amulets dating from antiquity to 19th-century, France.

South African artist, Norman Catherine sitting amongst his giant fibreglass sculptures. They all have humerous names and are far more impressive in life than they are here in the book, Norman Catherine by Hazel Friedman.

There are so many pages that I gravitate to in The Artful Dodger by Nick Bantock but I'll share just the one of a collage which is included in Bantock's book The Venetian's Wife.

Last but not least are a few pages from Peter Beard's African journals. Many of the pages in Taschen's double volume, PETER BEARD, leave me feeling quite gobsmacked.

Can you believe the size of this mighty croc?

...And the young Peter Beard himself.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Delicate Wait III (detail) by Giselle Hicks

Who wouldn't be amazed at the beauty of a tiny Hummingbird's nest covered in moss and lichen.....or watching a Thrush feed a nest full of chirping, gaping mouths.........or at finding a clutch of speckled eggs in a hollow nest, still warm from the mother bird.

Passage by Giselle Hicks  (photograph from the book 500 Figures in Clay).

Giselle Hicks writes in her artist statement...

"I am fascinated with the idea that skillful construction with delicate materials can yield a structure strong enough to house and protect the fledgling inhabitant of the nest. This process demands diligence, patience, careful craftsmanship, commitment and resilience. These same qualities are required to build and maintain relationships to a person, family, and community. "

Bird in Nest, Etching by Scott Fitzgerald

Bird Nest by Antonia Munroe. See more of her delicate bird nest paintings here.

Joe Pogan's Bird and Nest made from found objects.

Fiona Hall has made a series of nests from shredded dollar bills. Lifelike aren't they?

Nils-Udo Clemson Clay Nest 2008 Installation.

Man sized nest created by Benjamin Verdonck. (There is an egg in the well as a man)

Monday, November 24, 2008


I spent the morning carving a small nature box to hold some of my found objects and found great comfort in doing something so simple. For the first time in weeks I could actually feel the tension seep away as I relaxed into my work. Creating in solitude works every time. It's not that I'm antisocial but I feel so much better in my self if I can maintain a balance between my social and my solitary pursuits.

The christmas beetles have arrived in full force and they sing heartily from the forests. These cicadas usually come with the heat of summer, reminding me of my childhood. The first cicada song always sent me into a wild spin because it meant christmas was just around the corner.

I've been doing a lot of reading over the past few days. Dipping into old favourites rather than reading something new from beginning to end.

Susan Woolridge offers many nuggets of wisdom in her book Foolsgold.

"Maybe some of us need to dive into the depths of self, no matter how dangerous it seems, to uncover more meaning, passion, expression of soul, and, indeed, more light. We might feel most alive in the presence of what seems most dark within us. There are many ways for us to begin to plumb our unknown depths and free creativity without going crazy. To honor our boundless nature, it helps to shift perspectives and turn ourselves inside out and upside down."

"Go to wild places and invite the unexpected. Gather what you want onto a page or into a small box and allow yourself to sense the mystery in whatever is around you. Travel as much as you can, even within your own yard or town. Spend time contemplating water. There are many activities that can jog our brains and hearts and help us tap hidden tunnels leading to bottomlessness. Inviting playfully expansive "craziness" as well as regular depth soundings in our lives might help us stay more deeply sane, in touch with the ongoing present moment and with our true boundless and timeless natures, where the depth we seek is simply waiting to be perceived. "

Thursday, November 13, 2008


"Hands Like Wings" fibre art by Renie Beskin Adams.

A flock of birds before my eyes when will be my next surprise. I can remember as a child when we all clambered into the car for a long drive to the beach for the day. Great Excitement! We would play "I spy with my little eye" to pass the time. When that became tiresome we searched the sky for birds. We probably drove my parents scatty with our piping voices "A flock of birds before my eyes, when will be my next surprise?" My stepdad would always say "Christmas" which prompted many howls of "Nooooo, that's too long to wait". 
Escher's birds/fishes have always fascinated me.

Year 2: Still Counting, by Don Wesley

Don Wesley pays tribute to the US soldiers killed in Iraq. "For every soldier that has perished in the conflict, Wesley paints a bird on a six foot wide painting that represents the total lives lost for that year. Each anniversary of the conflict marks the end of that year's painting. Then, Wesley begins another painting. There are now 6 of these large canvases with the sixth year now in progress."

"The Bird Tomb" of Neferherenptah at Saqqara.

Steampunk birds by Jim Mullan.

Illustration by Ken Orvidas.

"Wheatfield with Crows" by Vincent van Gogh. (the last painting Van Gogh painted)

My favourite piece is the perfect flock of wooden birds carved by South African artist, Daan Samuels. This sculpture was voted the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa at the Design Indaba Expo held in February.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

MAKING THE BEST OF IT....during daylight anyway

"Everything has a value, provided it appears at the right place at the right time. It's a matter of recognizing that value, that quality, and then transform it into something that can be used. If you come across something valuable and tuck it away in your metaphysical suitcase there's sure to come a moment when you can make use of it." - Jurgen Bey.

We had two days of power outages during which three of my kitchen applainces blew. At 9.00 a.m. on the first day we heard we would be without electricity for about 12 hours. Okay! I could either seethe about it or make the best of it. Since I had managed to make a cup of coffee just in the nick of time (which goes a long way to soothe frazzled nerves) I decided to be grown up about it and take advantage of being without appliances. No vacuuming or washing and ironing! What more could a girl ask for?

The weather was perfect for outdoor carving so most of my day was taken care of, whittling, hammering, attaching, contemplating and generally being gratefull that I could get on with my work. Added to that I had a chunk of free time to collage my next assignment for the Shelley Klammer Course I'm doing.

All in all it was a good day though I don't profess to being happy without my computer all evening. The air was a little blue for a while !

Saturday, November 1, 2008


With all this talk of bone collecting I decided to feature the work of one of our local but internationally acclaimed sculptors, Carl Roberts.

His work is brilliant and though he carves in wood a lot of the time he also carves wonderfully whimsical pieces from found bones such as the scapula of an elephant or buffalo, the pelvis or humerus of a giraffe, the mandible of a hippo or the vertebra of a whale.

The shape dictates what he will carve. A scapula, for example, lends itself to carving trees with lattice type branches, sometimes housing baboons, leopards, owls or .....a man.

"Like the Rorschach (ink blot) test, the material often suggests images and sometimes presents them in an unusual way. " says Roberts.

"I work like the automatic artists of the Surrealist movement in that I trust my subconscious to generate ideas."

"The image made depends ultimately upon what lies in the subconscious, elements of chance and the spirit of the times." - Carl Roberts
The Stormbringer by Carl Roberts. All photos from the Carl Roberts website.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Last week a friend of mine remarked on all the perfect happy-happy blogs that continue to be happy, day in and day out with never a hair out of place or a glitch in the works. She wondered if those bloggers were really happy all the time or whether she was the only one who was screwed up.
This got me thinking. I know I am guilty of trying to keep my blog a positive place to visit. I've written many posts about how content I am, carving away at my totems in the courtyard with the sound of the stream rushing by, birds twittering, monkeys visiting. Yuk, cloying isn't it?.....but those peaceful times I write about are usually when everything is going well and I am brimming with creative energy. However, there is an ugly side to living in South Africa. The truth is I live in fear a lot of the time. Fear for my daughter who drives home alone at night, fear for my husband who has had death threats for speaking his mind, fear for my elderly inlaws who would have little chance against the intruders who have almost broken their door down several times and fear for myself especially when my husband is away and there is only one pair of ears to listen for thugs who might break in during the night. Armed thugs are a reality here. We have to barricade ourselves in to stay alive because these people have no respect for life and will rape, torture and murder at whim. Not even children or the elderly are exempt.

We are often shocked by the violence in this country. My best friend's husband was shot in cold blood leaving a wife and 5 children to battle on without him. Our beloved Dr. Bhamjee was brutally murdered during her lunch hour in her own surgery. My G.P.'s mother was beaten and left for dead by a group of men at 8.00 a.m after waving goodbye to her son from the garden gate. The son of a friend of ours was murdered whilst he was working his shift in the family hotel. A young matriculant who was studying for his last exam on the beach in front of our beach cottage was stabbed to death for no obvious reason. My step niece was shot 7 times by 5 thugs in front of her tiny children and left for dead. These are only a few of the incidents that have happened to people we know. There are millions of victims that we don't know . Victims of every race, colour or creed.

Perhaps we do need to share some of the negatives in our lives to balance all the positives we write about...or should our blogs be our sanctuaries where we unwind and escape to. I wrote about how my teenage daughter lost her battle with cancer and also my husband's recovery from this disease...and it worried me for days that I had shared too much information. Should we keep our private lives private or do we share our worries and benefit from all the feedback we get from the bloggersphere? I lose myself in my blog and the dozens of blogs I read. They uplift me and generally I come away feeling inspired. Last week Denise from grrl+dog shared her story about discovering a lump. Her journal pages during this period in her life are deeply moving. It is posts like these that make me feel so proud and grateful to be part of a blogging community such as ours. ......And yet I still worry that I am sharing too much.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I'm just getting over a lull and now enjoying the storm. It feels as if all my senses are sharpened. My idea book is filling....I have sketcher's cramp in my hand...... not that I'm moaning, mind you. I'm loving this flood of ideas and inspiration as well as abundant gifts from friends and family. My mother inlaw insists that I  buy a few lottery tickets because this is obviously my lucky phase.

For years I've been searching for a Lukasa and on Monday I found the first Lukasa I've ever seen face to face and I've been floating in a fog of euphoria ever since.

A little history on the Lukasa (nkasa - plural). These wooden memory boards are used by Luba kings, diviners, geneologists and court historians in the Congo. The Lukasa is a memory aid, a means for evoking events, places and names which assist in initiation ceremonies. According to the book I have, A History of Art in Africa, "It stimulates thought and instructs in sacred lore, culture heroes, migrations, and sacred rule". "A configuration of beads, shells and pins coded by size and colour on one side may refer to kings' lists. Beads may stand for individuals, a large bead encircled by smaller ones perhaps representing a chief and his entourage. Bead arrangements also refer to proverbs and praise phrases" as well as migratory paths and roads.

On with the story......

Coming out of the bead shop I noticed a new shop next door filled with eye catching artifacts. A magnificent shield from Afghanistan, several unusual scrap metal sculptures, many African carvings ................and two beautiful nkasa. I think my heart stopped beating for a moment and way deep in my foggy brain a voice insisted that it couldn't be what I thought it was.  Then my heart kicked into overdrive.....because it really was a Lukasa now nestling in my hand. I was looking down at the ancient history of a particular tribe.....there .... in MY hand.

I had enough cash on me to buy one of the Lukasas but when M saw the look on my face he said "Look Babe, this doesn't happen've worked hard and you deserve it." and then the dear man promptly bought me the other one.  So now I am the beaming owner of two nkasa :-)

The next time I go I'll take you all along for a browse. On this occasion I left my camera. The shop is simple with carefully selected items, obviously chosen for their aesthetic beauty....but what I haven't been able to get my head around and I'm still puzzling over it two days later is the fact that in one corner amidst the stunning artifacts, was a small rack of very sexy red and black lingerie. I stopped in my tracks feeling slightly confused. Wha???

Saturday, October 18, 2008


We were up at the crack of dawn to go to the Shongweni farmers market about 30 minutes drive away.

The first thing we notice every time we go there are the dogs...everywhere! Walking, sniffing, begging, yapping, lifting legs, perching on laps.....

..........sitting on tables,

........pulling, nudging, entwining leashes, tripping up their owners..........

......a veritable doggie festival.

Though it sounds like chaos, it isn't. I've only seen one dog bare it's teeth. The others are pretty amiable.

It is quite the event with over 90 stalls selling fresh breads of every discription, dozens of different types of sausages, cheeses, pastas, stone milled flour, smoked duck breasts and trout, biltong, danish pastries and so much food that the the air is filled with the most tantalizing aromas.

There is much to look at, from Nguni skins to sandals made from car tires....

Christmas decorations made from wire and glass beads....

Some of them made on the premises.....

Paintings, ceramics, jewellery and life sized giraffes made from tin.

At the end of all the meandering, tasting and shopping we sat on hay bales to sip coffee and watch life stroll by.