Celebrating Women

By Louise Irvine

The 2024 theme for Women’s Month this March is “Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.” We have chosen to honor our great friend, Fée Halsted, the founder and creative director of Ardmore, who has uplifted a rural community in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa with her art and vision. Fee’s extraordinary achievements have been celebrated at WMODA since 2017 when she was guest of honor at the opening of the original Ardmore Gallery in Dania Beach. We can’t wait until she sees our new Ardmore Ceramics and Design Gallery in Hollywood!

In 1985, Fée Halsted began creating ceramic art with a young Zulu woman, Bonnie Ntshalintshali. Fée was an art school graduate who had recently moved to the Ardmore farm in the Drakensberg Mountains with her new husband. Bonnie was a polio victim, unsuited to strenuous farm labor, so Fée taught her how to be creative with clay. They exhibited and sold their collaborative work and were soon joined by other women in the community who wanted to learn how to earn a living by making pottery.

Fée and Bonnie jointly won the Standard Bank Award in 1990, the same year that apartheid ended in South Africa. This was the first time a black ceramic artist had won this prestigious accolade. Encouraged by their success, Fée converted an old stable block into a studio for the artists and named it Ardmore after the farm. Farming was hard in the foothills of the Drakensbergs, and in 1996, Fée moved with her husband and young children to a dairy farm at Springvale, where she ran a gallery and second studio. For ten years, Fée traveled between the two locations and mounted 30 major ceramic exhibitions in 5 countries.

The Ardmore community experienced great hardship with the onslaught of HIV/AIDS and many of the first artists died, including Bonnie in 1999. Fée battled to fight the pandemic with medication and education. Fortunately, there were some miraculous recoveries, including Punch Shabalala, now a much-loved senior artist, who is portrayed on a stretcher on Ardmore’s 30th-anniversary ewer at WMODA. Thanks to Fée, the commemorative ewer was acquired by Arthur Wiener from Ardmore’s Bonnie Ntshalintshali Museum, the first in South Africa to honor a black artist.

The Ardmore artists work in collaboration with Fée’s guidance. Two or three artists are involved in each piece, which is individually modeled in clay, fired and then hand-painted. Safari animals burst with life from luxuriant foliage to form quirky vases, candlesticks, tureens, and teapots. There are also exciting forms of sculptural art based on Zulu folklore and tribal traditions. The sale of their wonderful works of art uplifts the Ardmore community and their families as the artists are paid per piece and have a guaranteed market for their endeavors. Ardmore’s philosophy celebrates the spirit of Ubuntu, meaning “we are because of others.”

Fée has been recognized locally and internationally for her work with the Ardmore community. In 2010, she was nominated by the Philadelphia-based Women’s Campaign International (WCI) to be an honoree at their annual ‘All the Difference in the World’ fundraising event in New York. The award acknowledged Fée’s inspirational work empowering women artists “to reach their full potential through skills development, financial assistance for healthcare, funeral costs and insurance, and Aids awareness.”

In 2021, Fée received South Africa’s Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for her contribution to visual art and her generous transfer of skills to others. The National Orders are the highest awards that South Africa bestows on its citizens. President Cyril Ramaphosa presented the 2021 National Orders Awards which recognize the contributions made by individuals towards building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa and improving the lives of South Africans.

In recent years, Fée’s children, Catherine, Megan and Jonathan, have joined her to direct different aspects of Ardmore’s growing business alongside a new generation of artists and designers. As well as one-of-a-kind pieces of ceramic art, the studio now produces a wide range of luxury home furnishings which are receiving international acclaim. The Ardmore Design collection includes sofas, poufs, pillows and table linens which can be purchased in the new Studio Collection Shop at WMODA. We are excited that Jonathan and Megan will be visiting our new Hollywood museum during their American tour in April and we are looking forward to welcoming them. Watch for more details soon.

Read more about Fée Halsted

Ardmore Commemorative Ewer – WMODA | Wiener Museum

Celebrating Ardmore

Ardmore Comes to WMODA

Tea with a Twist