RAD Culture Zone

Our culture, our passion, our inspiration

Interview with an Artist- Carolyn Metcalfe

Carolyn Metcalfe montageCarolyn Metcalfe grew up in the Klein Karoo town of Montagu where she attended high school. She and her sisters all loved to play with dolls and they all had a great love of dogs. After leaving school, she studied ceramics, completing a 3 year Diploma at Johannesburg College of Art in 1969. Whilst struggling to survive in London, she paid a visit to a few antique shops where she was drawn to the Victorian Bartholomina dolls. She was fortunate enough to have someone show her how to make the dolls and through her focus and dedication, taught herself how to make modern versions of the dolls.

She remained in England for 4 years, then returned to South Africa in 1976 where she became the pioneer in the home crafting industry by supplying the dolls in kit form to this burgeoning cottage industry. The kits were limited editions of 300 at which point the moulds were destroyed. These kits were extremely popular with ladies groups at the time and Carolyn, to this day, still receives enquiries. A few examples of her dolls can be seen at the Montagu Museum. After having 3 children, the production of the dolls in kit form stopped.

In Carolyn’s own words: “I had had enough of dolls and perhaps I made them because I was longing for children.” There is a note of regret that she did not keep at least a few of the original moulds of this period in her life.

Carolyn took up her passion for ceramics again when she returned to Montagu in 1990. Her love of the earthy wet earthenware clay and fusion of Italian, Spanish, Moorish and Middle Eastern influences led her to create highly decorated and intricately patterned maiolica dishes using a fusion method of glazing techniques. The patterns are entirely her own creation and she does not copy them from elsewhere. In one year, she can produce 10 – 12 bowls.

Carolyn’s book on her beautiful maiolica dishes was published in 2012. A friend of a friend visited her Ibis Gallery along with a German friend who had already published 2 art books. He was so taken with Carolyn’s dishes that he decided to fund the publication.

Carolyn not only busies herself with the production of these dishes, but also took up painting in the 1990’s capturing local karoo landscapes, pet/animal portraits and of course her beautiful portraits which she began painting in 2005. These portraits she describes as having a medieval period influence and can take up to 60 hours to complete.

Before beginning a portrait, Carolyn has many sessions with her subject to capture feelings, looks and personality. Her preliminary sketches are an assortment of rough, often exaggerated sketches to capture specific facial lines and expressions. Although she may take many photographs of her subject, she does not copy from photographs as this freezes the subject. She does, however, often copy photographs for her pet and animal portraiture. Once she has compiled her source material for the portrait she begins by “pushing paint around” on the canvas before she begins drawing. She chooses colours instinctively and describes her style as realistic and highly detailed working mainly in oils and watercolours.

Carolyn has a mountain of magazines, flip files and sketch books that she maintains as resource material for her work.

Some tips from Carolyn for young aspirant artists:
Allow what you feel inside to come out.
One has got to keep going and focus.
Source material is important
Maintaining a visual diary is part of the process.
Even painting walls will give you more experience.

Carolyn has included another artist at IBIS Gallery who creates beautifully crafted woodwork.

You can visit IBIS Gallery in Montagu. It is situated at the lower end of Bath Street opposite the Lei water dam where ibises come to roost daily.


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