The Potter’s Workshop is located in Muizenberg, a 30 minute drive from Cape Town. I carefully follow the instructions to the industrial area where the factory is located, and find my way to the parking lot. Nothing matches my expectations: this must be the most beautiful industrial park in the world: sand dunes in one direction, green mountains in the other. The air is full of birds, and the Potter’s pig Bella is sound asleep in her garden.
I enter the ceramic workshop, it is light and airy. The artisans are just putting down their brushes and sponges for their lunch break, noisily joking and laughing. Downstairs, liquid clay is poured into molds and put aside to dry. Two ladies specialized in creating leaf-shaped ceramics are carefully putting sheets of clay in place. Upstairs, hundreds of bowls and cups with tiny dots in pastel colors are left to dry, waiting for the firing process, which will bring out the bright and rich colors.
Chris Silverston founded The Potter’s Workshop in 1986. She started out making ceramics herself, then opened up her studio for people to come and paint their own plates. This evolved into a design studio with women artists doing the painting, the most well known at the time being Tiffany Wallace. Against tradition, Chris trained up Xhosa men with no creative background, providing a safe secure environment, where they could develop their painting skills.
Chris helped these artisans create their distinctive style of tactile, bead-like painting on ceramics, for which The Potter’s Workshop has become renowned. It is a remarkable technique, bringing out the lush colors and botanical patterns beautifully. The Potter’s Workshop has sold the brightly colored bowls and plates very well in the US market, but I am more attracted to the geometrical patterns in blue and green tones on a white ceramic base.
When I leave the showroom and return to the workshop, the painters have picked up their brushes again. They carefully hold the products to apply the delicate dots of glaze. It is silent; everyone is concentrated on their work. On one end of the room, I see the white biscuit products, on the other end, the painted products in powdery pastel colors. After the work is done, not only the painters burst out laughing, the products also burst with color after they come out of the oven!
For more information, please visit www.pottersworkshop.co.za.
Irene Vemeulen is founder of craftscurator.com and is specialized in handmade design. She is based in Amsterdam, but travels the globe to spot the latest trends in handmade and sustainable design. With crafts exporters as well as importers, brands and retailers, she works on developing new products for the interior. The Craftscurator Trend Guide on handmade design is published every year. Irene regularly gives presentations on design and sustainability, and guides co-creation workshops.