By JENNA KRETZMANN
Having given up working in a clay factory to make functional, domestic works of art out of earth and fire, local ceramicist Meshack Masuku is passing on his skills to the next generation.
Acting more as an exhibition than a Village Green stall, Meshack Ceramics is hard to miss. Customers of all ages cluster around his display. My mother fondles a delicately decorated vase that I am not sure will survive the drive back to East London and an aloe-decorated serving bowl big enough to hold food for a large family. Others look at colourful bowls, plates, mugs, or sugar pots decorated with African patterns; the works a mix of coloured glazes and rugged open kaolin clay.
The Makana district holds one of the largest kaolin clay deposits in South Africa, yet there is a severe lack of processing plants. Meshack’s is one of the few businesses manufacturing it. This is an issue close to Masuku’s heart. “The clay was put in this Makhanda by God for the people of Makhanda. I just want to show people how to use it,” he says.
What further marks a Meshack piece is the array of pastoral and wild animals carved onto each piece. After establishing his Kenton-based studio in the late 2000s, Meshack aimed to reflect the Xhosa people’s psychical relationship to animals, particularly cattle. “Cows give me my identity,” says Masuku, but tourist demand has seen the big five and roosters, giraffes, and proteas creeping into his work.
Not only does Masuku’s studio create functional art, it also forms a much-needed place for ceramic training in the region. From his early beginnings as an artist, Masuku aimed to use his talents to teach the next generation of Eastern Cape ceramicists. Masuku emphasises that he may be the face of the brand, but he is certainly not the only hand creating the art. All profits from sales are shared amongst Masuku, who moulds the work, and the students who complete the rest of the artistic process. Some of these students can be seen at the stall chatting to clients, writing receipts, and ringing up the till.
Masuku’s stand should not be missed, and it is worthwhile spending a few minutes chatting to the man himself. The owl-like figure has a big heart, a warm smile, and an infectious passion for teaching.
Meshack Ceramics can be found at The Village Green, but if you miss him at the fest, you can visit the studio outside Kenton-on-Sea at River Roost B&B.