My Big Five Safaris

By Louise Irvine 

There is nothing more exhilarating than watching animals in the wild, particularly the Big Five in the African bush. I have been privileged to go on safari several times during my visits to South Africa and these memorable experiences have inspired the Ardmore exhibitions at WMODA, including A Safari for the Soul and the Big Five Safari.

On my first trip to South Africa in 2000, I was carrying my son’s bags on a youth rugby tour but fortunately, I was able to start presenting lectures about Royal Doulton as well as experience my first safari game drive. Hluhluwe Imfolozi in KwaZulu-Natal is a dream destination near Durban for spotting birds and animals including the Big Five - elephant, leopard, lion, buffalo, and black rhino. The game park also runs Operation Rhino to save rhino and elephant species from extinction.

South African collectors were hungry for British ceramics having been starved of new collectibles during the apartheid years. Royal Doulton and Moorcroft were among their favorite potteries and I worked with Ed Pascoe for many years to reintroduce these collectibles, notably at the National Antiques and Decorative Arts Association Fairs held annually in Johannesburg. In 2005, we took a group of American collectors to see some of the great decorative arts collections in South Africa and explore the natural beauty of the country. We spent several days in Kruger Park, staying at Kings Camp in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve where we enjoyed sunrise and sunset game drives. We also went on a marvelous elephant back safari with the Jabulani herd of rescued elephants and orphans.

Kings Camp was such an incredible safari experience that we returned the following year with Moorcroft designer, Kerry Goodwin. I vividly remember her trepidation during her first close encounter with an elephant which resulted in her monumental Timbavati vase. Her sketches of African flora and fauna inspired a wave of exciting animal designs at Moorcroft. We also ran a design competition for South African artists and the winning designs by adults and children were made in editions of three at the Moorcroft pottery in Stoke-on-Trent.

For several years, the Moorcroft team attended NAADA to present tube-lining and painting demonstrations and took time out to see the animals. If time was limited, we would visit the Lion and Rhino Park near Johannesburg where we would play with baby lions and leopards in Cub World. This game park in Muldersdrift is home to 80 lions including the rare white lion. You can also feed their tame resident giraffe and I remember being startled by its surprisingly long tongue. 

It was at the NAADA show in 2008, that I first encountered Ardmore Ceramic Art and Ed Pascoe organized his first shipment to the USA. The following year, we met Fée Halsted at the Ardmore studio in the Drakensberg mountains and a wonderful relationship began. Arthur Wiener, the founder of WMODA, fell in love with Ardmore after we published the first Pascoe catalog in 2009 and he has been a staunch supporter ever since. He now has the biggest collection of Ardmore in the world, much of which he has donated to the museum.

When Ed learned that the Ardmore artists had not seen many of the wild animals they portrayed, other than in photographs, he sponsored an Ardmore artists’ safari. In 2011, armed with sketchbooks and cameras, we piled into bakkies and jeeps for our wildlife experience at the Weenan Game Reserve on the Bushman’s River to see rhino, giraffe, zebra, and many varieties of antelope.

In 2017, Fée Halsted came to Florida for a lecture and demonstration tour and opened our new gallery of Ardmore Ceramic Art at WMODA. Fèe introduced us to Hermès, who were making silk scarves in Ardmore designs, as well as Cole & Sons, who manufacturers their wallpapers. We were also fortunate to acquire Ardmore’s first limited edition Zambezi sofa, which delights our visitors daily. Ardmore’s beautiful range of pillows and table linens can now be ordered via the WMODA shop.

Thanks to the Pascoe Gallery, we also have a gorgeous collection of Ardmore teapots, trinket boxes, and small animal sculptures for sale in the museum. Each piece is a unique, one-of-a-kind, work of art and all sales benefit the educational programs at the museum.

Our stunning Ardmore collection at WMODA has inspired artists in other media, including glass artist Chelsea Rousso, who has made bikini tops and corsets in animal prints for our new Big Five Safari exhibit. The new exhibition also features monumental animal vases designed by Sally Tuffin for the Dennis Chinaworks and realistic lions, leopards, and elephants made in porcelain by the Boehm and Connoisseur porcelain studios.

Prowl into WMODA again soon to experience the Big Five Safari exhibit and have fun tracking African animals around the museum with our new scavenger hunt.

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