Well, we knew that we were moving to the sticks, so to speak, but we had no inkling that it would inspire one of the brightest sparks that I have ever seen. We built a studio for Michele when we moved here almost nine years ago, as she was an ardent potter at the time. No novice either, as she had produced some of the most stunning ceramic pieces it was ever my good luck to see and experience.
The SA Ceramics Regional Exhibition in Durban thought so, too. Something else was missing, however, Michele was not a trained textile designer for nothing, it seemed. The next aware moment I had, was of her starting to fiddle with bag patterns, bag making bibles and a mindboggling array of textile samples, paint pots, brushes (many, many brushes…!!) and long, mind-numbing hours of reading technical manuals. Ok, so the first successful handbag did not exactly pounce on us like a hungry tiger, panting to be released. We were sitting in Dundee, in the back of beyond in Kwazulu-Natal, remember…?
Many frustrating phone calls, negotiating with supremely unsympathetic suppliers, who wanted us to buy everything in bulk and then ship it in to Dundee, started to nag at me, breeding all kinds of suspicions that they do not want small studios to succeed. We wanted a bag of D-rings, but they said we must buy 500 of them. We wanted 50 metres of natural cotton fibre, but they said we must take a 1000 meters. Minimum order, you see…? But this girl of mine persevered. She camped on the internet and the phone, and bought every book and magazine she could lay her hands on. The little Internet shop was her dream. She had stars in her eyes when that first bag appeared on the table, and what a thing of beauty it was. Twenty bags later, and a long slog on the computer (we were still pretty much feeling our way through WordPress ) we had all the bags on the website.
The clock was creeping towards midnight. She looked at me and said she wanted to check her email. just quickly, mind you. There was the first bag order. Sitting in the inbox, smiling at us. The next morning there were many more, and before sundown that next day, all the bags were gone. Wow…!!! The respect began to grow in me, but I said nothing, at first. Trouble began to manifest itself in the shape of capricious suppliers, who changed the rules with every single order. This led to more frustration, and new plans. Back to the Internet, and she started to strike gold, albeit only temporary in some respects. You would get the most beautiful cotton fibre ribbon from a supplier with the first order, and with the next one they would very prissily inform you that they are no longer keeping that ribbon. Silk screen-printing was a familiar old friend, and Michele soon began to print her own ribbons. I stood in the door of the studio and watched, with my jaw dropping lower and lower with every batch that came out from under that little woman’s hands. She though of sending a letter and some pictures to the Ideas magazine.
She did write a letter to TUIS, the Afrikaans version of the Home magazine, sending them a picture of her beautifully printed little ceramic tiles. The Idea submission fell though the cracks, but we did make contact with them later, and then the gods of Fortune smiled upon Bahia Art for the very first time. Both the Ideas and TUIS magazine came out with her tiles and bags, and that at the same time….!!!! The response was one of awe. We started running with bag orders, and people started writing about her. I watched from the sidelines, a non-combatant in this eternal war of publicity. Michele was working like a demon to satisfy all the environmental factors that now impinged upon her personal bubble. We had to look for new sowing machines. The eternal capitalist battle with the competition, whom I still think sucks big time, if you compare the utter quality of Michele’s work, down to the minutest detail, was only just beginning. No band of formerly disadvantaged personalities sitting on the shop floor, stitching bag skeletons together yet. No cooks or bottlewashers. just Michele, a few printing screens, hundreds of detailed little colourful minutiae, a bullterrier, tons of textiles, infinitesimal patience and good old-fashioned talent. You go, girl…!!!!! Thank you kindly for reading our post. Please feel free to comment, and find us on Facebook. Michele can be found on www.bahiart.co.za or on the attached Facebook link. Go subscribe to the newsletter now and don’t miss an update again Johannes…..