“Everybody asks me where the name ‘Wonki Ware’ comes from?”
“As creative things happen, it just comes to you – so we made plates, and we thought, what does it look like? It looks wonky! It was that simple.”
~ Di Marshall
I live in a small town called George which is situated along the Garden Route in South Africa.
I started a small studio in the town centre about 20 years ago, purely to keep myself occupied while my children were at school. We lived on a farm at the time and had to travel into town everyday. I thought it would be a good idea to work in my pottery studio in town in the morning, then collect my children and go back to the farm in the afternoon. I happily started working and slowly attracted the attention of the local community.
Before long, my little studio became a meeting place for other potters and people that enjoyed being creative. At around the same time, a young Xhosa man named Artwell Lulamile Mthonjeni started arriving every morning looking for work. I was not generating much income at that stage to be able to pay him, but he was willing to do anything. I started teaching him about clay. I devised a method of making pottery that Artwell could replicate from the shapes that I had originally created. To our delight, he started producing very sensitively worked platters and bowls. I began developing patterns that were relatively easy and simple to reproduce but at the same time capturing a sensitivity in pattern and design.
Another person that became invaluable to our team was Les Campbell, who walked into the studio one day and painted a plate. Immediately I knew that I had to have her join our team. Les, Artwell and I became a formidable pottery team. Our energy and enthusiasm had people from all over the country popping in to buy our pottery. The word had spread from Cape Town to Johannesburg and before long we had orders that were keeping us very busy! At about this time, Janice joined our team and became our first agent and representative, and before long we had our pottery showcased in some of the most prestigious stores in South Africa.
We have now been in operation for about 20 years and presently employ around 80 people from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are now all skilled employees in their trade, and are valuable, contributing members in their communities. Our skilled potters are now training new-comers in the art of making Wonki Ware and I feel confident that this is being achieved successfully.
It is with pleasure and pride that I feel I can hand over this side of the business to my employees. Wonki Ware is a product that was developed purely by chance. It was borne from a collective energy of 3 people whose excitement and enthusiasm were boundless. It still amazes me today what we unintentionally created. The vibrant, warm spirit of Africa is clearly visible in our pottery and I thank our potters and South Africans for their enthusiasm and love for what we do.