Marylou Newdigate (ceramic artist) designs and creates handmade tile ranges, wall panels and mosaic furniture etc. under the name Earthmaid. Since 2009, Marylou has been collaborating with Craig and Ruth Renwick of the Knysna Pottery House, where the fish, shell, flower, animal tiles and mosaic inserts are made and displayed, and where the mosaic workshops are held.
WM: I enjoy your nickname. Is there a hippy in you?
Earthmaid: There definitely is! This started at an early age – I clearly remember one of my favourite T-shirts had a peace sign and a dove on it. It used to upset my father when I wore it, which made it more fun to wear. Earthmaid is really the name of my handmade tile range, and I did not expect it to become a nickname as well.
WM: When did you get involved with the Pottery House and what is it that you’re offering?
Earthmaid: In these tough times, it made good sense to share skills, space and ideas with the Renwicks- They bought a pottery business and needed some additional ranges and some ‘pizzaz’ for their showroom. Now that they take care of the making of the tiles and mosaics, I can focus on being arty, teaching mosaic skills, commissions and so on. I also do marketing, by promoting the pottery house on Facebook, writing a blog, and managing our Etsy internet shop.
Which pieces are your favourites and where, or who, did they go to?
Earthmaid: My favourite pieces are usually the very latest thing I am working on, which are some chairs for my mosaic tables with the glowing glass mosaic centre. I have sold a few mosaic tables in Knysna, one to Bamboo Guesthouse, and to other Knysna locals (who obviously have an eclectic and delightful style of home decor) My best job yet was for a curved shower mosaic wall in Leisure Isle. My most embarrassing job was a kitsch, booby mermaid mosaic on the bottom of a swimming pool.
Do you offer lessons?
Earthmaid: When there is a demand, but unfortunately, many people do not have the foggiest clue what is involved. There is a misconception that mosaic is cheap, quick and easy. To make a medium-sized mirror framed mosaic takes a beginner so long to do that they can lose interest before the project is completed. The challenge is to ensure the participants can take home a beautiful completed mosaic after two workshops. I charge R300 for two classes, which includes basic materials.
Recently I was hired by Solly Levy, to do some ‘skills transfer’ workshops in the Karoo for the Baviaans Municipality. I could hardly believe I was being paid to have so much fun. I discovered new crafts and the reward of recycling rubbish into art, I loved teaching mosaic and craft skills, empowering the unemployed Karoo people all while soaking up the sheer beauty of the Baviaanskloof and Karoo after recent rainfalls.
Your blood line runs far back into Knysna history, all the way to W.H. Newdigate, who married George Rex’s grand-daughter, Caroline Duthie, Belvidere. Tell us some more.
Earthmaid: I never really paid much attention to the family connection to Knysna’s past until I moved here 10 years ago. It was all a confusing, meaningless jumble of names. Then James Newdigate wrote the books Portland People and House in the Forest about Forest Hall, and that got me interested again and helped me to work it all out.
My Great Aunt Katherine Newdigate wrote the book Honey, Silk and Cider from notes by her grandfather the Honourable H.F.F.A. Barrington of Portland which has preserved some history for the future generations. Lest we forget exactly how hard it was to survive, farming in paradise.
What mementos do you have from this past?
Earthmaid: Very very few. Most of the treasures were auctioned off when my parents were divorced. My mother saved a few things, I think my brothers have the best treasures, like the old kitchen clock from Portland Manor.
You have a passion for the suburb of Noetzie. When did that start?
Earthmaid: I met my husband Bruce when we were teenagers. I first stayed at their family cottage at Noetzie in 1973. That must have been when the love affair began.
There is something about the air at Noetzie – maybe it is the lack of electro smog, or maybe it is the forest magic, who knows? It is a place that all Noetzie -ites become fiercely protective of.
If I told someone that your husband’s hobby is balancing stones at Noetzie Beach, they’d think he was crazy:) But a photo tells a beautiful story, doesn’t it?
Earthmaid: They do make interesting photographs, instead of yet another picture of the beach and forested hills. Though, it must be said that Beach cottages need constant maintenance and balancing rocks all day instead can be a contentious marital issue.
You have a strong opinion about the environment and social issues in Knysna? What are you primary concerns?
Earthmaid: Knysna hippies are almost extinct now. I don’t know about you, but I miss their colourful presence in Knysna. Somehow, rich people in golf tees visiting for 3 weeks of the year are just not as much fun. Of more concern though is that the gap between rich and poor seems to be wider than ever. The town seems so intent on development- on making Knysna look good on the outside, while just under the surface, there are major problems brewing. We have too many empty palaces, unsustainable elite developments, poor infrastructure, unemployment, pollution of the lagoon, wetlands, and our water supplies.
Doing anything about it?
Earthmaid: On a day to day basis, we take the trouble to inform the municipality of overflowing sewers going into our stormwater and ultimately the lagoon. We are also keeping an eye on the wetland nearby. One good thing about the economic recession is that the pace of unsustainable and greedy development has slowed down. I was a founder member of the Guardians of the Garden Route which held many protests during the golf estate land rush a few years ago. When Pezula blocked off public access to Noetzie beach, we had over 300 people protest at Noetzie, on Heritage Day 2006. We heard passionate speeches from community leader Donald Kemoetie and Bruce Botha, my husband. Then we all marched up the steps and cut Pezula’s locks ourselves and used the ancient access route. The Guardians are in hibernation now but we are still opposing and keeping an eye on the Lagoon Bay proposal for yet another garden route golf estate. See our blog: www.guardiansgardenroute.blogspot.com.
Your love for Knysna is passionate. Where are your favourite spots and what are your favourite things to do?
Earthmaid: Apart from Noetzie, I love driving out to Karatara, Barrington, the Crags and those rural places just inland of Sedgefield, Knysna and Plett. I look over the farmlands and forested hills and feel a vague connection with my ancestors who must have spent many hours looking at those very same vistas too. It is a dream of ours to own land in this countryside, so we can build our own eco friendly house and do small scale Permaculture vegetable farming.
If you had a practical wish for Knysna in a decade’s time, what is it?
Earthmaid: In 10 years time I hope that every child in Knysna is getting nutritious food, good education and a happy home. Maybe, by 2021 Knysna will have worked out a way to please the swallows and tourists, without “killing the goose that laid the golden egg”. In other words, I hope that Knysna town planners will realise that tourists do not come to Knysna for wall-to-wall shopping malls and that paving paradise is dof. I also hope for better services for the average man- better public transport, pedestrian paths and cycle routes.