For the past three months acclaimed South African sculptor and jeweller Nic Bladen has been artist in residence at Tswalu.
He and his family have been living on the reserve since February, while he documents Kalahari plants for an exhibition of sculptures later this year on 8 October, at Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg.
A percentage of sales from the artworks will go the the Tswalu Foundation, an NPO which supports species, ecological and applied research in the Kalahari system.
[caption id=“attachment_2435” align=“aligncenter” width=“643”] Nic and Rupert harvest a ‘Devil’s Claw’ at Tswalu. This beautiful plant, Harpagophytum procumbens, will become a bronze and silver casting in Nic’s hands, destined for exhibition at Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg, later this year.[/caption]
Nic is known for his intricate depictions of flowers, seedpods, leaves and root systems. His background in dental technology, fused with a knowledge of bronze casting, has enabled him to create a new way of preserving or fossilising plants and flowers with unmatched delicacy and detail. The method he uses, known as ‘lost wax casting’, involves creating moulds from actual organic material, and then transforming them into once-off pieces of jewellery or sculptures of entire plants, from root-tip to flowers.
Nic’s impetus is the recording of biodiversity, as he believes that his plant castings have a documentative value, in addition to being beautiful pieces of art.
In his first solo exhibition, Peninsula (Everard Read, October 2013), Nic focussed on the richness of botanical diversity that immediately surrounds his Simonstown studio: concessions from landowners in the area enabled him to harvest such rarities as a Blue disa and the peninsula-endemic Serruria villas, as well as species of Amaryllis, Protea, and Erica amongst others.
At Tswalu, Nic is creating sculptures which depict the beautiful Kalahari desert plants and trees for the exhibition at Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg in October this year, in conjunction with the Tswalu Foundation. The exhibition will also show works by well known artist Leigh Voight, who is painting a selection of Shepherd’s Trees of Tswalu.
The residency is the brainchild of Duncan MacFadyen, the Research and Conservation Manager of the Oppenheimer properties which form the Diamond Route, including Tswalu. Duncan had seen Nic’s sculptures and thought it would be worthwhile to develop a partnership between him and the Tswalu Foundation, which assists researchers making a contribution to our understanding of the ecology of Tswalu and the Kalahari as a whole. Since Nic’s impetus is the recording of biodiversity, Duncan immediately saw the possibility for a collaboration of mutual benefit.
The proposal was accepted by the Tswalu Board in mid-November 2014, and Nic, towing a trailer load of studio equipment, drove up to Tswalu in February.
His wife Jane and toddler Rupert joined him in March.
Nic has set up a studio in an old shed fairly close to the stables and The Motse. The field guides now bring guests to the studio, where they can see Nic at work and even participate in his casting process. This activity forms part of Nic’s proposal to create a meaningful and multi-layered cultural, social and artistic exchange for all participants while at Tswalu. In addition, guests can purchase beautiful botanical jewellery directly from the studio, and a percentage goes to the Tswalu Foundation.
For more information about Nic, visit his website, www.nicbladen.com.