Season’s Greetings from Swellendam and our Best Wishes for 2024
Hello and warm summer greetings from Bukkenburg at the Summer Solstice.
Preparing this summer update amidst a world engulfed in turmoil, from wars in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and other areas, to widespread conflict across continents, is a surreal experience.
Closer to home a substantial portion of the local population grapples with desperate conditions and dim prospects where so much around us seems to be collapsing.
The stark contrast between the world of our digital update and the harsh realities unfolding nationally and globally underscores the complexity of our current times.
As we strive to enhance our virtual landscape, the awareness of the conflict between our life and work and the tumultuous state of the world remains palpable, urging an attentive reflection of the broader context.
Summer is in full swing and we hope that you will enjoy this update with our various bits of news, and some of our personal story.
We’ll include some of the highlights of the past few months and the transition from winter to summer.
We appreciate your interest and thank you for your ongoing support.
(The pictures should expand with a click)
David and Felicity
The art of high temperature studio pottery since 1973
Yes, that’s right; we have been making pots together for 50 years!
“Still life with James – and Pots”
In 1972, our journey began as house parents at Cresset House, a Camphill School and Training Centre for children and young adults in need of special care. This experience laid the foundation for a meaningful way of life that has sustained us for decades.
A pivotal moment came through our friendship with the renowned potter and artist, Tim Morris, during our early years together. Tim’s influence in watercolour painting and high-temperature studio pottery, rooted in Leach’s Anglo-Oriental aesthetic, resonated with our quest for a self-sufficient lifestyle fostering creative fulfilment.
Motivated by the desire to care for Felicity’s son, James, who sustained a childhood injury, we established a pottery studio at Cresset House. Tim provided invaluable guidance and mentorship, connecting us to the broader studio pottery community, particularly within the Association of Potters of Southern Africa, now Ceramics Southern Africa.
It was during 1973 that we started the pottery studio at Cresset House and ran that alongside our role as house parents to 12 young people, managing the bakery, dairy and vegetable garden; and we remained there until 1976 when we moved into our own studio space in rented premises in Johannesburg.
These pivotal years directed us toward the realm of home-based studio pottery and ceramics. Over time, we’ve managed to nurture both our art and craft, and our family, as James, our responsibility, shaped our unique domestic and professional landscape.
This unusual scenario places us in dual roles—providing absolute care for another person while infusing our work with purpose and significance.
It intertwines the personal and professional, allowing us to give life and meaning to the work we produce within the intimate confines of our home.
Fifty years making pots together with twenty seven of them in Swellendam – we are looking ahead to the New Year 2024 – more below.
Our website details much of this journey, offering insights into the historical context and networks that shaped our pursuit.
For those intrigued, further information can be found through these links:
Over the years we have exhibited our work widely in group and solo exhibitions and executed numerous commissions.
Since moving to Swellendam in 1996 we have run a modest gallery attached to the studio, and have been fortunate enough to have received extensive media coverage from our time in both Johannesburg and Swellendam.
Explore copies of several of the magazine articles featuring us and our work at this link:
Life and work at Bukkenburg –
the second half of 2023
We have lived and worked in this very beautiful part of the country for many years, and we are deeply aware of how fortunate we are to have found this place when we did, both of us marvelling almost daily at the beauty that surrounds us.
We are continuously rewarded by the visits and support of so many people, locals and travellers who continue to stop in to enjoy the world that we have created here, and the work that we produce; family, friends, colleagues, pottery/ceramics enthusiasts, or casual drop-ins
Our guest cottage continues to enjoy good support as well.
Thankfully our backup power system is working well for now as is the new alternative power supply to the studio for the fan that powers the big kilns, so work in the studio continues uninterrupted again.
The past few months have been both busy and intriguing, and we’re happy to share some moments in this update.
Some pictures of recently fired work:
Pyrometric cones have been used as an accurate measure of ‘Heat work Done’ since Wedgewood and the Industrial Revolution.
Our top cone for a glaze firing is Cone 12 which measures the work done at about 1 320 degrees C.
There is a good explanation of them at this link: Pyrometric Cones
Reduction Firing with Oil – a brief overview
All our work is reduction fired with oil, usually paraffin (kerosene) in either one of two fairly big studio kilns, and we thought it a good idea to try and explain some of the technicalities and alchemy involved in our process:
Reduction is firing where the kiln atmosphere has insufficient oxygen for complete combustion (more fuel than air to burn it).
At high temperatures, this produces carbon monoxide gas, which will steal loosely-bonded oxygen from other materials, in ceramics mainly iron and copper.
“Reduction firing with oil is a specialized technique employed in ceramic and pottery production to achieve unique and stunning results.
This method involves introducing a controlled amount of oil or organic material into the kiln’s atmosphere during the firing process. The primary goal of reduction firing with oil is to create an oxygen-deprived environment inside the kiln, which has a transformative effect on the clay and glazes.
During reduction firing, the oil combusts, consuming the available oxygen and generating carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide gases. These gases then interact with the clay and glazes, leading to several distinct outcomes. One of the most notable effects is the reduction of metallic oxides in the clay and glazes, resulting in vibrant and unpredictable colour variations. The carbon-rich atmosphere can also produce unique surface textures and finishes, such as matte, satin, or even iridescent effects.
Artists and potters often use reduction firing with oil to create striking and individualized pieces of ceramics, each with its own character and personality.
However, this method requires a deep understanding of kiln control, precise monitoring of the reduction process, and a careful balance of oil and oxygen levels to achieve consistent and desired results. Mastery of reduction firing with oil allows for limitless creative possibilities in the world of ceramics, making it a cherished technique among skilled artisans”
This statement has resonated with us for the longest time:
“We are the sum of our experience and all who have preceded us, and our commitment embraces an approach implying that life and work are indivisible”
Living and working in a highly regarded municipality, considered among the nation’s best managed, we were unexpectedly confronted with the disruptive consequences of civil and political unrest in August, leading to the destruction of vital municipal infrastructure.
A high court interdict in Cape Town seems to have quelled the turmoil, with news of instigators facing local court appearances.
Given the impending high-stakes national and provincial elections in 2024, it appears that such incidents may be fuelled by broader issues affecting the country.
Despite our fortunate local circumstances, the recent upheaval serves as a stark reminder of the complex challenges underlying the political landscape.
Here are some newspaper pictures taken during the riots:
A special lunch here in July on a perfect sunny mid-winters day – three birthdays being celebrated: David, Felicity, and our neighbour Stephen.
In August a refreshing visit from David’s brother Colin who lives in the UK. He hadn’t been out to this country for many years.
We last saw them in London ten years ago!
He was here with his daughter Kate and granddaughter Erin.
Interesting visitors recently
A routine day in the studio transformed into an extraordinary experience with the unexpected visit of the then Lithuanian Ambassador to South Africa, accompanied by his wife and a group of friends, one of whom was a potter eager to explore our workspace.
Despite the brevity, the encounter proved warm, sincere, and remarkably productive, forging connections that we anticipate will endure in the future.
The significance of this visit deepened as we reflected on David’s heritage, with all four of his grandparents hailing from Lithuania, having arrived in South Africa before the horrors of the Holocaust unfolded in June 1941. During that dark period, over 95% of Lithuania’s Jewish population, around 210,000 individuals, fell victim to Nazi and Lithuanian paramilitary collaboration, with approximately 195,000 murdered between June and December 1941.
Our family’s connection to Keidan (Kėdainiai) in Lithuania, particularly the Schlapobersky side, has unveiled the tragic fate suffered during those times. We aspire to uncover more about our roots in Lithuania, exploring the stories of our other grandparents’ families from Panevezys, Rokiskis, and Krekenava—namely, the Adelsons, Romms, and Rabinowitzes.
The quest for understanding and preserving our family history remains an ongoing journey.
We are in contact now with the director and researcher at the Museum in Keidan (Kėdainiai) and we’re looking forward to a productive ongoing interaction.
The warmth and sensitivity of this visit gave us both hope for a better future.
Stop in at the studio …
David & Marcelle went to Waterford School in Swaziland
Also from St Marks School days
Swellendam – on the way to everywhere …
With all that the town has to offer visitors, it is sad that in recent years, Swellendam has operated without an organized tourism body with a plan or strategy in operation.
We acknowledge and value the tireless work of individuals striving to maintain the visibility and prominence of the town and its surrounding region.
Despite the absence of a coordinated effort, these dedicated individuals contribute significantly to sustaining the profile of Swellendam, ensuring it remains a notable destination.
Their hard work plays a vital role in helping to promote the town and enhancing its appeal for visitors.
Accommodation at the Studio in Swellendam
Our self-catering guest cottage in the garden, shown above, is available for an overnight stay or longer.
Details and pictures on the ‘Accommodation Page’ Click Here
In these increasingly dangerous and turbulent times, understanding the state of our world—both locally and globally—poses immense challenges as we are forced to grapple with multifaceted issues trying to recognise a clear picture.
Financial concerns loom large, intensifying the uncertainty we face.
South Africa, in particular, contends with a pervasive breakdown in public administration and infrastructure, comprehensive socio-economic decline, staggering unemployment rates, collapsing health and education systems, and uncontrollable crime and violence.
Corruption has become a pervasive force impacting all aspects of life.
Uncertainty and confusion surround the build-up to national and provincial elections scheduled for 2024, with indications of an increase in political instability and violence, and growing inefficiencies in governance, especially in the light of ongoing civil unrest.
On a global scale, apprehensions heighten as the foundations of an older order strain under pressure, with the possibility of significant implications.
Post-pandemic economic recovery, climate change mitigation, and technological advancements are beginning to redefine our landscape. Prioritizing sustainable development and digital transformation becomes imperative in our complex global environment.
Simultaneously, geopolitical tensions persist and deepen, necessitating greater diplomatic skill, and perhaps even a different and better kind of leadership.
Escalating war and regional conflicts inflict unbearable suffering on affected populations, underscoring the urgency for effective international cooperation and resolution.
Bigotry, prejudice, and intolerance perpetuate divisive attitudes that hinder societal progress, fostering identity-based conflicts in an environment devoid of empathy and understanding.
“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities”
And in the studio right now
We have just completed an intensive glaze testing cycle, and our recent glaze firings have produced several exciting test pieces.
We’ve chosen several of the new glazes to explore further, and have bought in raw materials for mixing bulk batches of those chosen.
So, in the studio there’s much excitement and gratitude.
Anticipation fills the studio as we look forward to making the pots to begin using these new glazes and glaze combinations.
As the year winds down, we’re all in good health thankfully, though the pace has noticeably slowed.
It’s another high moment in our creative pursuit.
Here are just two examples of what’s on the horizon, promising something vibrant and innovative in the months ahead.
Good reason for a dose of optimism!
Thank you for your interest and support, and for taking the time to read through this update.
We welcome your feedback.
With our very best wishes for the festive season and 2024
David and Felicity
Bukkenburg – December 2023
Mobile & WhatsApp: +27 (0) 82 342 5453
We hope that you will visit and support our various Social Media pages:
Facebook Studio Page
Facebook – Bukkenburg Pottery
Facebook Accommodation Page
Facebook – David
“May you be surrounded by friends and family, and if this is not your lot, may the blessings find you in your solitude“
– Our autumn newsletter is below these double lines –