Our first pots came out of the kiln and I was elated! It was such a relief to have something to show for a year of failures. I mixed my own clays and worked in this open studio where the wind and cold started to challenge us. In the early morning, I blew cold vapor clouds and had to wedge the icy cold clay to remove air bubbles from it in winter. My hands were raw and cracked from the cold. I then realized I needed a closed studio and asked permission from my brother the farmer to build a functioning studio that will start with a clay processing room a studio space and then a drying room and finally a proper kiln room. I was super excited to put all my effort and money into this larger than life project but we were still far removed from our market.
We collected sand from the Limpopo river and small pebbles for the concrete floor. The structure followed the contour of the land and had a stunning view over the Limpopo valley. I bought a block making stamp and started making my own brick blocks. It was an exciting prospect because we knew nothing about building. I just had to learn as I went along. I had a friend who was an engineer and I traveled the 80 km to Ellisras our closest larger village where there was a golf course. I then pestered my friend for info about cheap building techniques while playing golf (yes I even endeavored to become a scratch golf player), I was very drawn to several interesting ideas. The first was adobe walls plastered with lime. The next was building a studio out of clay and firing the whole structure. One of my favorite artists of all time was Hundertwasser. He proposed that there were no straight lines in nature. So it was not that important to me to get it all perfect. It was going to be an experimental building with an interesting shape.
When the floor was done we had an interesting visit from one of the family friends who challenged me on my decision to develop my studio there on the farm. His main contention was that I had no owner’s rights to the farm and if the family decided to sell the farm I would be left in the lurch and I will lose my whole investment. This was a big wakeup call for Annalie and me and we decided to set off for Pretoria and look for a property that we can afford and start over to build our future.
We were so naive, unbelievably naive. We just drove around and landed upon Silver Hills Mining in Hennopsriver where there was an elderly gentleman called John Hepker who also acted as an estate agent in the area. He proposed one of his own properties to us and the attractive price and fantastic views swayed us and we became landowners for the princely sum of R75 000 ( $4000) We now owned 22 hectares of rocky soil with breathtaking views. I still remembered our first walk on the property. There was no road and no running water and no electricity and no fence but we bought the property nevertheless. I asked myself how different our life would have been if we bought in another area that was more affluent, like the east of Pretoria.
My first challenge was to build a road so that we can get to our building site. The entrance servitude had a huge rocky outcrop and I had to flatten this. We had no jackhammer so we used fire to break up the rocks and then sledgehammers. It took me two weeks to get into my new property. This was only the start of our new pioneer life. I went to the army surplus store to buy old army tents for staff accommodation and I then bought a defunct Jurgens caravan to sleep in. There was no proper bathroom and we really roughed it in the first few months. We added an office unit with three tiny rooms to act as our temporary home and I build an attached bathroom to the Jurgens caravan with a proper toilet and bath. I still have memories of my now pregnant wife bathing in a large zinc bath heated by fire, set on bricks.
Our building materials took a large chunk of our cash and we started building the studio. The plans were grandiose. A large studio where I can make serious pots. Then we will build the house with a verandah that overlooks the mountains and then the showroom where people come to buy our beautiful pots. More about how far we got with all these grandiose plans in the next blog.
Photos to follow
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