WATCH |How Halsted picked up the pieces of her life and shaped a story of perseverance
Fée Halsted moves from artist to artist like a hummingbird among flowers – a word of encouragement here, a suggestion for colour there.
She admires trunks that erupt from the sides of a clay vessel before moving on to a tureen girdled with shimmering feathers. It seems impossible that these artworks could have been formed by a person.
And yet, that’s precisely how they were made. In Halsted’s studio, beauty is forged from great ability and determination.
Halsted established Ardmore Ceramics in 1985 with her domestic worker’s daughter, Bonnie Ntshalintshali. Noting her flair for design and storytelling, Halsted mentored Ntshalintshali to make clay sculptures.
Ntshalintshali’s work became world-renowned, exhibiting in collections worldwide. One by one, more people joined their team, with Halsted training them to become sculptors and painters. But 14 years after its founding,
Ntshalintshali succumbed to HIV. Then, Halsted and her husband divorced, leaving her with three children and dozens of artists to support. The newly-single mother had to use all of her ingenuity to provide for her kids and keep the business going.
“My main focus was to feed my children, and make sure that my artists could continue to do the same,” Halsted says.
With persistence and dedication, she harnessed a style that has taken the globe by storm.
Imbued with African folklore and indigenous fauna and flora, colour and story burst from the clay creations. Each piece is a one-of-a-kind product skillfully moulded by the 80 artisans who currently make up the studio.
“Ardmore started in a shed, and today it is in galleries and museums all around the world – even Buckingham Palace,” Halsted says.
All three of her children have since joined her in the pursuit of amplifying Africa’s tales.
Looking back, Halsted is stunned by the trajectory of her journey. “Art has given me the tools to support my family, and to help other artists support theirs,” she says.
“Our lives have become absolutely beautiful by shaping clay and telling the most wonderful stories.”
Perseverance has propelled Halsted through the turbulence of life, and it’s the force that will keep her going.