Londolozi had the honour of hosting the talented Ardmore Team, a remarkable experience uniting artists with the wilderness of Africa – the source of their inspiration. For those of you who haven’t heard of Ardmore, well, you’ve been missing out!
Ardmore Ceramics and Designs is a South African business creating exquisite African-inspired ceramics as well as fabrics and other interior items. As a stand-alone family brand (just like ours), we are in awe of what they have created, and we knew that they’d be an instant fit into the Londolozi Family, so we invited them to come and visit us!
Today Fée has a team of 80 sculptors and painters who she says are unique and have formed their own artistic blueprint while using their knowledge of tradition in their designs. Each piece created is full of quirks, humour, detail, exaggerated colours and features, and tell an individual story, captivating people from all corners of the globe. “Africa is colourful”, says Fée, and we couldn’t agree more as we take note of the feathers in a lilac-breasted roller or the pinks in the ear of a hippo.
Fée has allowed for her locally-employed staff to grow and empower themselves by compensating them on their individual pieces rather than giving them a basic salary – creating motivation to learn and allowing younger artists to thrive. She has also established the Ardmore Excellence Fund providing ARV medication to AIDS suffers after the disease took many of her artists. Since the opening of this fund she is proud to say she hasn’t lost another artist – a tribute to her foundation.
Although Ardmore began with ceramics, it is not surprising that their unique look caught the eyes of Cole & Son, Hermès and many more, who have begun producing wallpapers and scarves in their exquisite designs. We have touches of Ardmore throughout our camps but is best showcased in Londolozi’s Private Granite Suites which embody Ardmore wallpapers, reflecting our grey colour scheme of elephants and granite rocks flanking the suites.
This visit to Londolozi was a special occasion as we invited two of the Ardmore Zulu artists. Fée and her team chose two individuals who shone to them and who they wanted to recognise for their work and demeanour. “Money doesn’t inspire them, it’s not enough. Experience is the inspiration for these artists” states Fée. And so Mama Ntombela and Punch Shabalala were selected for this trip, two artists who have painted wildlife based pictures for years and yet have never seen these exquisite creatures with their own eyes!
Mama Ntombela is the younger of the two. She was selected to join us at Londolozi for three nights as she had been recognised as a teacher for Ardmore. For the past six years working for Ardmore, she has given back, gone beyond and advises the younger generation out of her own accord. Punch Shabalala has been with Ardmore for 30 years, along with most of her family. She was one of the ladies who stood with Fée in the creation of this spectacular brand, and so her trip to Londolozi was a thank you for her hard work and loyalty. An HIV survivor and someone who has saved many lives by encouraging individuals onto antiretrovirals, Punch is truly admirable and her strength resonates through her art – the epitome of how women show a new kind of leadership.
The ladies were accompanied by Fée and Megan, who we were to learn a lot from over the next few days and realise how similar these two family-run businesses were. The title on Ardmore’s book reads “ubuntu”, a word very familiar to our extended Londolozi family. In the days to follow this sense of value, family and togetherness would reveal itself.
As the Ardmore Team drove into Londolozi they were interrupted by elephants and hippos and instantly the artists were captivated by the animals’ sheer size. Punch was previously under the impression that a hippo was as small as a warthog! What an incredible experience to have painted wildlife for years from pictures alone, and to finally have the opportunity to witness first hand the colours, the size and the behaviour of these incredible creatures.
Game drives were new adventures on which the artists’ attention to detail was evident. We’d stop at a waterhole and watch a hippo rising up to take a breath. I’ve seen this many times on safari, but this time was different; this time we were viewing this hippo through the eyes of an artist. “Look at the pinks in its ear and around its eyes”, said Punch, “and the hairs on its ears”. Details were instantly being noticed, ones which they could exaggerate and play with back in their studio. We were fortunate to see the Big 5, but the best part was feeling the awe and excitement through Punch and Mama’s eyes and reactions – a beautiful merge of art and nature. Watching the attention to detail through these artists’ eyes taught us a new way of seeing the Londolozi wilderness.
We had more in store for this incredible bunch: we decided to put together Ardmore-inspired bush events. A dream come true to Fée, as she finally saw her work come to life in an African safari setting. Tablecloths reflecting the exquisite hues of the bush were laid out on a crest, ceramic bowls surrounded in pangolins were filled with dips and snacks, and Moet et Chandon was wrapped in gorgeous Ardmore cloth. Our chefs and hosts for these events were adorned in Ardmore fabric, which made for an even bigger surprise to the team. While enjoying this magnificent setting against a dipping sun, Mama noticed that one of the ceramic bowls was one that she had painted. A big smile crossed her face as she saw her piece in all its glory, set amongst a delicious spread and in the middle of the African bush.
Punch and Mama also provided an interesting demonstration of their skills in our village at the Londolozi Ubuntu Hut whereby all staff were welcome. The ladies from our Living Boutique – who have been selling Punch and Mama’s Ardmore pieces – were truly amazed and in awe at how quickly and delicately these two ladies worked. This demonstration was truly inspirational and a clear sign of upliftment through the development of one’s skills, and what an impact a family-run business has on its local communities.
It was a privilege to watch as the artists’ inspiration and enthusiasm grew with every minute spent out in the bush. We thank the Ardmore Team for sharing a collaborative art safari where we could all feel the joint values of ‘ubuntu’, family, love and community come to life, and the shared opinion that true luxury is time spent together. We hope to have this team back with us again soon to cement the beautiful and creative ideas shared and connect in our love for Mother Nature, art and the beauty of our country.