‘A festival of claymaking’

2009-09-15 00:00

“A FESTIVAL of claymaking” is how Pietermaritzburg ceramicist Juliet Armstrong describes the African Ceramics Conference, which takes place at the University of KwaZulu-Natal from September 18 to 24.

Asked why she had decided to stage the event, Armstrong said: “I was sick and tired of going all the way to the United States to hear African- Americans and Americans generally talking about African art.”

But if you think the conference is going to be a talking shop, think again. Participants will be able to watch demonstrations in the ceramic courtyard and studio at the Centre for Visual Art (CVA) in Scottsville, buy works on exhibition in the Jack Heath Gallery and visit ceramic exhibitions at the Tatham Art Gallery and Ardmore Ceramic Art in Caversham.

The conference starts on Friday with the opening of the UKZN Alumni Ceramics exhibition in the main exhibition room of the Tatham at 6 pm.

Among the artists being celebrated are Hilda Ditchburn (1917-1986), who built the first studio pottery stoneware kiln in South Africa and was responsible for setting up the university’s ceramic studio; Bryan Haden, who made stoneware in the sixties; functional potter, John Wilhelm; Fée Halsted Berning, the mastermind behind Ardmore; and Clive Sithole, artist in residence at UKZN. The exhibition runs until October 18.

From September 19 to September 21, there will be workshops during which Zulu, South Sotho and Venda potters, including members of the celebrated Magwaza family, Lenty Nhlapo and Peni Gumbi, will demonstrate how they make and fire their traditional pots.

There will also be demonstrations on wood and gas firing, burnishing techniques, glaze techniques and throwing techniques. Third-year students will be demonstrating a newspaper kiln. School children from Sterkfontein will show visitors how they make clay animals, and school teachers will be shown how to do sawdust firing.

On September 21, in the John ­Oxley lecture theatre, there will be talks by Ralph Johnson on glaze technology for his porcelain and Julia Keevey on her experiences at the clay festival in Aberystwyth, Wales.

At 6 pm the same day, Pietermaritzburg/Msunduzi Mayor Zanele Hlatswayo will open the Utshwala Ceramics exhibition in the Jack Heath Gallery, which showcases works made by rural potters in the province. Works will be on sale and some of the artists will be present to discuss their work. Alongside this exhibition, in the drawing studio of the CVA, will be miniature ceramics made by conference delegates.

The academic element of the event runs from September 22 to September 24. Speakers have been drawn from Europe, Canada and Africa, and will be discussing subjects ranging from ritual vessels used by traditional healers to pottery in Nigeria, the contemporary ceramic art industry in Uganda, and Zulu ceramics.

“We want to try to include as many people as possible in this conference and show them that there are so many things they can do with clay,” Armstrong said. “The event is aimed at school teachers, matric art students, university students, community workers and those interested in ceramics.”

• Admission to the conference is free but you need to register at www.ceramics2009.ukzn.ac.za Lunch will only be ­provided to those who register.

• On September 19 at 4 pm, a bus will be provided to take delegates to Caversham for the opening of the Remembering Artists Past exhibition at Ardmore. Tickets are R20 and space is limited.

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