CNN visits Midlands Meander

2018-11-14 06:00
PHOTO: supplied

PHOTO: supplied

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THIS week on Inside Africa, CNN International followed the trail of South Africa’s Midland Meander in rural KwaZulu-Natal to explore how the province, once renowned for its agricultural product, is best known now for the community created by a group of artists and craftsmen.

Potter Ian Glenny remembers how thirty years ago a simple idea created South Africa’s longest art trail.

He told CNN: “I first came through here and it was all dirt, then we drove through and I looked down in this valley and I thought that’s where I want to live and die … The whole thing started at the Mill, we had supper there one night and decided we needed to get together, find a name and start advertising ... It’s grown and grown. I think it’s about 180 members now.”

Glenny, who is often described as the Father of the Meander, welcomes customers from all over the world to his pottery in the Dargle Valley.

He said: “I’ve had about a quarter of a million people through here over the last forty years. We wanted them to come and experience a rural area out in the country, visit the potters, see the world being made ... In 1985 when we started the Meander we had no idea how popular it would become … I just had a vision.”

A collaboration of craftsmen and artists have helped the Midlands Meander in South Africa continue to grow and diversify while still maintaining its roots in crafts, ceramists, woodwork and metal work.

Theresa Sizakhela, who works at Shuttleworth Weaving in the valley praises the work happening in KwaZulu-Natal, said: “The Midlands Meander has definitely contributed to the jobs in the area … we’ve managed to raise up to three generations of our family through working here.”

Barry Downard, a metal worker and photographer at the Midland Meander believes the tourism brought to the area has a lot to do with its creative community as people are drawn to the beauty of the region.

Speaking to CNN, he said: “As a photographer you drive down the road … everything is saying to you all the time ‘photograph me, photograph me’ … It’s off the beaten track without being too far … beautiful climate, incredible scenery, there’s a great community here as well.”

Fee Halsted of Ardmore Ceramics tells African Voices that the products they make in the small factory in the Midlands Meander sell to a global audience: “It’s worldwide. We’ve even sold to Alaska … we sell all over the world … The French adore Ardmore and of course London — because the world is in London.”

Halsted goes on to explain how the artists were originally women until men began to see the benefits of the work they did.

“It was interesting how the herd boys, the young boys thought that the women’s work was not proper work and then they realised that the woman folk were earning more than they were … So, you’ve got husbands, wives, sisters, cousins, and now we enter the second generation, where we have daughters, and of course the mums or fathers want their kids off their payroll quickly, so they teach them.”

For the last 26 years, the Midlands Meander has hosted the Hilton Arts Festival which draws together seasoned and upcoming artists and crafters.

One attendee, Muzi Ndlela, told CNN: “It’s a very good opportunity for artists to exhibit because here we meet different people besides the clients who come to buy, we meet artists who can do some networking with them and help each other with some ideas to move forward as artists.”

Now, the Midland Meander is home to a cross-section of well-established and internationally renowned crafters, restaurants and hotels.

Amanda McCarthy, founder of Groundcover, The Leather Company says: “The Midlands community I think really is that, it’s a community and it’s grown up together with people coming to the area and because it’s grown together people support each other ... If one of us does well, we all do well, and I think that’s what’s built the amazing community that we are part of.”

Inside Africa aired on Friday, November 9 on CNN International.

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