The story of Ardmore began in 1985 when Fèe Halsted lived on the farm Ardmore, in the Champagne Valley under the shadow of the Drakensberg Mountains. Her passions for ceramic art had been honed during her five years at the University of Natal when she had studied fine art and then completed a two year advanced diploma in ceramics.
It was on the Ardmore farm - by ingenuity, by thrift and by chance - that Fèe developed the style that has made Ardmore ceramics famous. “I used to make tiles,” she remembers, “when one cracked, I’d stick a rabbit or bird on the top to hide it.” Then Fèe decided she needed an assistant. This was when luck played it’s part. Janet Ntshalintshali who worked in the house brought her 18 year old daughter, Bonnie, to meet Fèe.
Bonnie who had polio as a child and could hardly walk, showed a natural aptitude for ceramic art. Her ability with colour, design and texture and her diligence was everything Fèe could have desired in a student. Within five years, in 1990 Fèe and Bonnie had jointly won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award and their work was being shown in galleries internationally.
No traditional techniques were used. Their work broke from the ceramic conventions of the time, fired terracotta clay was painted with plaka paints, boot polish and oven blackeners. Glues and putty were also used. Later American Amaco paints and transparent glazes brought an exuberant use of colour and the intricacy of painting style to the ceramics they were making.
The fantasy of the Ardmore world and the sheer fun of the finished pieces not only attracted the art world. It also drew many of Bonnie’s family and friends who wanted to learn from Fèe and earn a living throwing or modeling the ceramics in brilliant combinations of colours.
A second studio was established in the Natal Midlands near Lidgeton in 2005. The two studios Ardmore Berg and Ardmore Caversham provide the infrastructure for a large and diverse group of self-employed artists. They are given training, direction, materials, equipment, a place in which to work and a guaranteed market for every piece of artwork completed.
The artists from the Ardmore studio have over the years won numerous awards and exhibited widely both in South Africa and around the world.
The Bonnie Ntshalintshali Ceramic Museum was first opened in 2003 and re-opened at Ardmore Caversham in 2008.