On the second-last Saturday of March and November is ceramics fever in Cape Town. Everyone even remotely interested in pottery descends on the Rondebosch Potters Market, where everyone who produces pottery in any shape or form, is there to exhibit. And we’re not talking cousin John’s barely there, not so very well exhibited just-learnt-to-use-a-wheel type ceramics either. Unassuming the market might be, but some of the top ceramic artists in the Cape exhibit here under the leafy boughs of the park’s oak trees.
I have to admit to being a ceramics novice. My knowledge of the art form is nondescript. I wouldn’t know my Ming dynasty from my Qing dynasty, my porcelain from my bone china. But my response to the gas, wood or horsehair-fired clay exhibits is anything but. I drool over most of it. But I have a sure-fire antidote to buying everything in sight. Take along a child aged five. In this way you will not only need to be quick about your selection, but you will have but half an hour – tops – to make any acquisitions. In this way there is no time for confusion, or anything other than a gut-reaction to what is before you.
The Potters’ Market is an annual highlight, with well over 80 potters displaying their wares. This is where you rub shoulders with the likes of John Bauer and Henny Meyer. But it’s also where you get to lay your hands on the young up-and-coming not-yet-discovered potters, whose work is wholly original. It’s enough to bring on a panic attack or send you into an eyes-glazed-over moment, there is so much to see and choose from. It’s all terribly professionally run, and everyone involved is incredibly civilized about everything. And, despite March being what has to be the hottest time of the year, the venue is so graceful beneath the avenues of oak trees, that shade dominates for most of the day.
My shopping frenzy of fifteen minutes over, I find a very shady grass patch just behind a potter whose work is dominated by angels and hearts (and whose work I already know from the Gift Affair Christmas market), my little man having bluntly refused to remain at the kiddy corner beset with clay from a stall that sells pottery supplies, despite his joy at working with clay at home. Taking into account that the very top of the market was probably not the most opportune place for this area, given that children want to be able to see you most of the time, I capitulated. It was, after all, too hot to continue around the stalls trying to take it all in, whilst a child whined and whirled about you.
My friend Patty, however, had no such qualms. Intent on stocking up on as much Bolland pottery as she could afford, she gleefully made her selection, whilst hanging on to a couple of seconds (there are a couple of stands in the centre of the market selling plates, bowls, mugs and others that have slight blemishes, for next to nothing) for me as I run after the little man, who by this stage is more intent on scaling an oak tree.
Considering that one has only the hours between 8am and 3.30pm to ‘beat the crowds’ as it were, and we were there by 9am, my friend gets a good ‘look-in’ before the bulk of Cape Town’s whose who arrive on the scene. And just as well, as whilst chatting, we discover that Bolland potters are off on sabatical to the Karoo, and who knows if they’ll be at the next Potters’ Market in November.
Before setting out for the market, I read somewhere that we can consider Cape Town one of the ceramic capitals of the world, due to the rich source of clay, colour, kiln and cheap (well, comparitively and not for long) electricity. The market has been around since 1969 and is where you exhibit, whatever the reason – whether it’s to directly meet the people who buy your work, or to engage and create a market for your work.
And the wonderful thing about the market, unlike going to see an exhibit at a local gallery where if you cannot warble forth about oxides, composites, glazes and finishes with alacrity then you’d best keep a very low profile, here you need know nothing. Simply an appreciation of what lies before you is enough, and exhibitors welcome questions.
Artists and potters mingle and walk around admiring each other’s work too. It’s a wonderful place to network, if you’re in the pottery world. And food stalls, whilst keeping a low profile, are placed in strategic enough spots that just when you’re feeling the need to replenish yourself, you stumble upon a pancake supplier.
Not only that, but it’s where you come to pick up a bargain. Prices are nowhere near what you will pay for similar works in galleries, and Patty drags me across a little later to Henny Meyer’s stall, where he is selling the most gorgeous wall pottery that in local and international galleries go for a song, for next to nothing because of slight (and invisible to my eye) defects. She just about does a jig at paying R500 for the little gem. Now we need to decide if it’s going in her new bathroom, or outside on her garden wall.
The next market is the second last Saturday of November (the 19th, if I’m not mistaken). I for one am headed back this way, as it is a wonderful spot to stock up on Christmas gifts, and it comes before the bulk of the Christmas markets.