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Karoo Artists of the Swartberg’s quaint village of Prince Albert

Turn left off Prince Albert’s main Church Street up an unpretentious gravel road named Magrieta Prinsloo Road, Skaapies Einde and you might think you are driving into Karoo scrubland populated only by peacefully grazing sheep; after all Skaapies Einde means Sheep’s End. 

 

Instead, the absent Ms Magrieta Prinsloo leads you to the humble edifice of Avoova’s elegant gift shop and factory, which first established this international brand with original crafted decorative items artistically rendered from ostrich shell pieces.

 

Today, Avoova employs 50 local artisan crafters and exports fine wares to multiple overseas destinations, elevating the repute of the the world’s largest flightless bird and its equally large but humble ostrich egg - one which can easily be likened to the Faberge egg of the Karoo.

 

Not only producing beautiful gift ware to adorn your home or to shower on friends and family, Avoova also looks after its community. Together with famed photographer and author Obie Oberholzer, Avoova raises funds for local education through beautiful images of the Karoo’s people and landscape with the sale of the book Karoo Story, another beautiful keepsake to take away with you. You can also visit Avoova at its four other boutique shops in and around the Cape.

 

Artists, Art Galleries and Giftware

 

With Avoova, undoubtedly the retail star in Prince Albert’s shopper’s corner, singular artistry still survives with local metal worker Kashief Booley carrying the title of Prince Albert’s blacksmith.

 

Not so long ago, every small town had a blacksmith who was indispensable to life from supplying tools, repairing wheels and shoeing horses. Today Booley is an artistic blacksmith who supplies locals with crafted items such as gates, burglar bars and other needful things. Perhaps in response to the sound of metal crashing on metal all day, he remains a man of few words.

 

Happy to fill you in with all the delectable art history and future investment possibilities of the art world however is Kurt from Watershed. Situated inside a beautifully restored Victorian house typical of the architecturally rich town of Prince Albert, Watershed is a haven in which to browse and buy interior design, art, furniture and fashion artfully displayed throughout its four interlinked showrooms.

 

Along with an impressive collection of retro furniture, Watershed houses selected prints of world-renowned photographer Jürgen Schadeberg and the Karoo Collection, a showcase of local artists’ work.

 

From Berlin with Love

 

Schadeberg is the Berlin-born photographer who snapped many famous  Drum magazine covers in the 1950s, as well as almost all of the remaining photographs of Nelson Mandela before he was imprisoned.

 

Framed copies and other memorabilia of the Drum covers are available for sale at the Watershed, which lays claim to house the only exclusive gallery of the works of internationally acclaimed photographer Jürgen Schadeberg in the world.

 

A Portrait of Mandela

 

Referred to as the ‘father of South African photography’, the Berlin-born photographer has lived and worked in South Africa for much of his life. He is particularly known for his striking portraits, including those of Nelson Mandela over several decades, the 1950s black musical and political scene while chief photographer, picture editor and art director of the magazine in the 1950s, as well as Apartheid and modern South Africa. He now lives in Germany, but Kurt is on hand for art lovers and memorabilia collectors to purchase signed and framed copies of his photographs.

 

Prince Albert to New York

 

International journalist Joseph Berger was one such collector who not only bought his own signed copy of a Schadeberg but was also moved to write a beautiful travel article about the heritage and crafting community in Prince Albert titled 'An Artist Colony Thrives in the South Africa Desert' for the New York Times Travel section.

 

Local photographer Louis Botha is another artist who finds sanctuary in Prince Albert and in the hearts of Michael and Renate, owners of the four-star De Bergkant Lodge which is highlighted in Joseph Berger's New York Times travel piece for its beautiful heritage buildings and 4-star hospitality.

 

Louis Botha’s framed art works adorn De Bergkant Lodge’s dining room walls where the public is welcome to pop in and browse and buy together his two books Slow Down, Look Again and Karoo on sale as beautiful keepsakes of one’s travels through the Karoo’s vast and silent landscape populated with hardy but ultimately authentic characters. You can also pick up a pack of his beautiful photographic cards and send a message home to arrive before you do. You can read more about Louis Botha on De Bergkant Lodge’s blog here.

 

Says Michael, owner of De Bergkant Lodge: “We like to believe that we bring a lot of international attention to this hidden Karoo village from the many Swiss, German, Dutch and other European travelers who like to enjoy nature blended with luxury hospitality.

“We have made a big investment in purchasing the lodge and want to share both its beauty and its tourism potential with the local towns people. We recommend all the natural and sporting adventure services and book dining arrangements for our guests at the local eateries. Wherever we can, we uplift the community and highlight the many talents and skills to be found and enjoyed here.”

 

De Bergkant Lodge also employs and trains local staff at De Bergkant Lodge and bring international service standards to what more sophisticated townie’s might only consider a ‘dorp’.

Renate, who heads up housekeeping says, “Michael is extremely exacting. Every little detail is considered and room preparation and set up is precise. Coming from a Swiss finance and banking industry, there is no room for error.”

 

“Of course,” says Michael, “we expect initiative and integrity from the people we employ. Not everyone is up to meeting our standard, but we are very lucky in having found Ashley who started with us as dining service staff and who is now promoted to front office. It is always a two-way street and expectation without effort won’t get someone stable employment. It goes without saying that theft or tardiness is not tolerated here.”

 

De Bergkant Lodge’s international standards pay off not just for the upliftment of its service staff but for the town itself too. On any lazy afternoon, spent basking around one of the Lodge’s three swimming pools you can hear more than three international languages being spoken; but De Bergkant Lodge is as popular with local travelers too, hosting politicians to celebrities from across the country.

 

Investing in South Africa doesn’t come without its challenges as Swiss-born Michael and Renate have discovered. The village recently experience two electricity blackout of 19 hours each which impact booking systems and guest comfort.

 

“We are learning to adapt and unfortunately have had to go the route of generators to keep connected with our guest bookings. Luckily the South African sun makes solar an option for our geysers in our ten rooms and with most restaurants using gas to prepare foods, it means dinners are set to enjoy the romance of candlelight if Eskom brings us more blackouts. We like to call this adaption as the ‘art of living’ in the Karoo!”, chuckles Michael.

 

Art loves will be interested in the upcoming Open Studios art weekend taking place from 5 – 8 July where resident artists open their studios – often located in their homes – to the public, creating the village’s very own ‘art route’.

 

Visitors have the chance to not only view the artists’ art, but to meet them in person and discuss their work with them. These works include mediums ranging from land art, water colors, ceramics, letter art, stone carvings, oils and acrylics.

 

Book your next breakaway at De Bergkant Lodge at www.debergkant.com.

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