It is icy cold here in the sub-tropics and we are longing for the soft warm weather of summer, which Mark assures us, is just a few days away....... Although the cold weather seems to last forever, time still moves too fast. Loads has happened since we last wrote at the end of January.
Regarding the studio's birthday festivities we have our Green Award, which after much deliberating goes to Brendan Copestake and Jill Ross, who have done amazing things within the constraints of urban living (now there is really no excuse for those of you city living night owls not to do the same). From growing their own veggies and keeping a beehive to setting up recycling stations at their workplaces they are real eco-warriors. Other submissions included Gavin Ritchie who has painted his vintage car green (a rather creative entry), Ann Gollifer who is using pomegranate juice to paint with and Drew Lindsay who has made a coke bottle solar water heater...... The judges deliberated long and hard and would like to thank all who entered!
Sixteen beautiful big litho stones arrived from Belgium after a lengthy customs delay, the bright sparks working there wanted technical specifications for the stones. Try explaining that there are none and see how far YOU get! Mark has been on the lookout for litho stones for the past twenty years and in South Africa has managed to assemble a rather motley collection with a stone or two being uncovered in no longer used studios and a few being rescued from a rainy field in the UK. Hence the decision to import. A few weeks after customs released the Belgian stones from their clutches Tamar and Maru dropped into a decor shop on the R40 (between White River and Nelspruit) to find a mirror for the kid's bathroom. And there lying in the corner were....... some litho stones! Not quite believing what we were seeing Mark was sent to verify our sightings. He enquired and bought all fifty-one. The stones are from a printshop in Calcutta and are old. Some of them have soft drink labels (Masala Soda Pop) and Kamala Orange Cream Biscuit labels on them, there are also stones for printing ancient versions of Ludo from. It is a bit like going through a printers treasure chest, and we are going to see if any of them will roll up and print just for the hell of it. The best quality printing stones all come from quarries in Germany and it is fabulous to think of how these stones travelled from Germany to India (probably over one hundred years ago) and have now found their way to the southeastern edge of Africa.
Sadly at the end of February, we had to retrench Syneth. Since moving down to the Lowveld (nine years exactly!!!! YIKES!) the workshop has settled into a groove and for the last year or so we just have not had sufficient work to keep Syneth busy. Syneth has decided to stay on in White River and has started an innovative taxi business, transporting restaurant and chain store staff home when the taxi’s and buses no longer run. This means that he also has time to work on his own art, something he has wanted to do for ages.
In April and March, we held two monoprint workshops at the end of which Tamar needed three weeks of wandering around under the pecan trees collecting nuts to cope with post-workshop cooking trauma. Gabriel Clark-Brown, Drew Lindsay, Anne Taylor, Rene Eloff, Fred Clarke, Monika von Moltke, Ingrid Coerlin and Lino Da Silva took part in the workshops. Whilst here Gabriel Clark-Brown (who was meant to be having a peaceful get away from it all) compiled a three-page document on things we need to do and improve upon. We are pleased to report to Mr Clark-Brown that we have: retiled the guesthouse bathroom floors, sorted out PROPER lighting in all the rooms of the guesthouse (brilliant low energy LED lights), put a granite table top into the kitchen, replaced the rather rusty cutlery and the ageing fridge. We have yet to build the gallery and conference centre.
We also realised that while we were fiddling, Rome was burning. We have been discussing ways of reusing our grey water (it is mad that we flush toilets with drinkable water). With the chilly weather, leaks started sprouting all over the place. We put a meter on the water tank after the borehole pump burnt out. We were using 3600 litres a day ( the only green thing about that is the plant growth near the leaks!). So, we decided to replace all the main water pipes on the property (some rather ancient). Three hundred meters of dug up garden and paths later we had new pipes and then had to redo the paving around our house (it’s a bit like the little old lady who swallowed a fly), which meant digging up the rose garden to reuse the bricks. Anyway, we now can add new paving and improved plumbing and water savings to Gabriel’s list. As we could not put a solar water heater onto the thatched stone cottage we have installed a heat pump – looks like an air conditioner and works just fine.
On the technology side we have taken a deep breath and now have a page on Facebook we are still stumbling around but hope to make our Facebook page into a bit of a running diary to keep you better updated with what is happening in and around the studio.
Anton Kannemeyer, Diane Victor, Sam Nhlengethwa and Hanneke Benade have all recently signed their latest prints, the quality of their work just seems to get better and better. Tommy Motswai, Judith Mason, James Delaney and Eugenie Marais have all been working on prints and editioning is going well. Eugenie is the first artist to have fallen as hopelessly in love with Maru’s pet rat as the rest of us have. Within a week of returning home, she purchased her own rat and has named him George. We are toying with the idea of setting up a rat book on the web.
Diane Victor was this year’s festival artist for Innibos. Innibos is Nelspruit's (rather conservative) answer to Aardklop, KKNK etc. Diane caused a major stir with her work and was accused by a local genius of a journalist of being an English-speaking housewife who had used her exhibition as an opportunity to laugh at the Afrikaner nation! It was an unpleasant reminder of how many dinosaurs (although they don’t believe in them) there still are in these parts. Part of Diane’s exhibition was an installation of smoke drawings of domestic animals on glass panels that she hung in an abattoir that closed down a few months ago. It was the most beautiful and moving installation and an incredibly rare chance for Lowvelders to see some innovative contemporary work. Simon and Maru were very moved by it and its impact was all the more for them as they then asked if they had eaten meat from the abattoir. Yes, my darlings you have....
After two years of frustration, we have finally said bon voyage to the engineer who was building and installing our turbine. After building four turbines for us, none of which were effective we finally got him to agree that he was not up to it. Having failed to develop local capacity we are now looking at importing a turbine from Italy. We recently held a Mind Body and Soil day at our place to share with interested sorts how we have managed to cut back on our electricity consumption. Prior to refitting and re-plotting how we use electricity our consumption was: April 2003 to March 2004 we averaged 4001 kWh per month. After changing our ways: April 2010 to March 2011 we averaged 1662 kWh per month. Which means we have cut our electricity use by 2339 kWh per month, a 60% reduction in what we were using. Working the numbers out has made us feel a bit better about the turbine mess but we still want to get our consumption numbers down below zero. If you would like the notes on how we have done this send us an email and we will send them to you. We have become the proud owners of a Wonderbag. It is the sweetest looking pumpkin shaped bag that insulates your cooking pot so that you can save loads of gas/electricity. We use ours every day to cook mielie pap, root veggies, samp and beans etc. We have ordered a bunch to give to everyone who works for us. We have also shown it to Morris who does odd jobs for us and are hoping that he can get a bit of an income from selling them to people in the local informal settlements. He sent this SMS: Madam, I try to tell people about that magic bag, they said I am a liar and I'm running mad. They want to see the e.g. Take a look at an example for yourself at http://www.naturalbalancesa.com/
During the April holidays, we did a ten-day slack packing hike down the coast from Kosi Bay to Sodwana Bay, it was ten days of bliss, walking with friends along deserted beaches and through equally deserted dune forests. And sadly pretty deserted waters ( a bit freaky to see how totally fished out the ocean is – we saw only two seagulls the whole trip). At one of the camps, there were some djembe drums and Simon connected with something loud to tune in with his testosterone. Leshoka has been giving him lessons and thankfully we live out of town as the noise would drive close neighbours nuts!
This winter we have been delighted to spot yellow and red-billed hornbills in our garden. One of our neighbours who has lived in this valley since he was born says that this is the first time hornbills have moved into the area. Global warning? The squeaky wheelbarrow noises that they make remind us of the bush. We have dug up our rose garden (having lost patience with their fussiness we have transplanted them to a cooler part of the garden) and Mark is happily extending the veggie garden and orchard. We have been making lots of lemonade and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. The guava harvest was also delicious and we have been eating purple carrots (their original colour prior to the Dutch Royal family getting hold of them and demanding that they are turned orange).
Two weeks ago we rescued a mamba from the claws of our grey cat (mamba catCHER?) and released it in a plantation. This is the second mamba that we know that he has tackled, how many lives does this cat think that he has? The trees are starting to bud and the ficus zanzibaricus has had a bumper crop of figs this year. The fruit bats feast from the tree at night and during the day, it is the birds turn. The kids have been watching the bats at night and have followed them to where they “eat” the figs. This is done upside down with the bats clutching the huge figs with their wings and then eating them by biting off bits, sucking out the juice and then spitting big blobs of seed out. If the seeds take, we will soon be living in a fig forest.
Tamar is working on an embroidery commission for a client in London and is struggling to keep herself off her recently acquired Kindle (works like magic...). Her next green step will be getting vegan cookbooks onto the Kindle to use in the kitchen. Our most recent culinary discovery is how easy it is to make raw vegan chocolate that tastes as good as Switzerland’s finest, and it is guilt free.
With all of our best, looking forward to artichokes, peas and spring!
Mark and Tamar