Use your imagination

Witnessing Phinda’s wildlife breathes new life into Ardmore artists’ one-of-a-kind sculptures…

Hearing about African artists Alex and Jabu, I was reminded of a quote by Mark Twain: “You can’t depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus.” Nothing could ring truer for this talented duo. Here is their endearing story.

First, let’s rewind to 1985. Zimbabwean-born ceramic artist, Fée Halsted, had an idea that would soon revolutionise the lives of many previously underprivileged African artists in KwaZulu-Natal. In the scenic foothills of South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountains, she founded the now highly esteemed Ardmore Studio (situated on Ardmore Farm) with a simple vision to empower, uplift and showcase the local artists from the surrounding Midlands.

Fée scouted for local talent in the nearby rural communities and these carefully selected artists were then afforded a safe and creative space, ongoing fine arts training, quality materials and, most importantly, a guaranteed market for their extraordinary artwork and the opportunity to build themselves a steady and sustainable income. And so, from its humble beginnings in the mid-80s, the Ardmore Studio and its team of remarkably talented artists have now earned a global reputation. The Ardmore ceramics are proudly displayed in galleries, museums and exhibitions from Cape Town and Johannesburg, all the way to London, Moscow, New York, Berlin, Paris, Sydney and beyond. Ardmore has also collaborated with the likes of Christie’s British auction house, Hermès high fashion in Paris and Cole & Son wallpapers. Now, back to Jabu and Alex.

At the early age of 15, young artist Jabu Nene began a fruitful mentorship with one of Ardmore’s renowned artists and she has never looked back. Now recognised as one of Ardmore’s leading painters, Jabu (who recently celebrated three decades with Ardmore) has created a respected name for herself with her unique, signature brushstrokes. Using vibrant colours and creative flair, Jabu meticulously paints geometric shapes, bold patterns and striking designs.

In 2004, Zimbabwean artist Alex Sibanda fled the political turmoil of his native land in the hopes of building a safer life for his family in neighbouring South Africa. For six years, he passed the time creating handcrafted dinnerware until his career as an artist took a turn for the better when an artist friend invited him to showcase his talents at the Ardmore Studio.

Seeing is believing

Or is it…?! Since meeting in 2010, Alex and Jabu have collaborated together to create countless inspiring and thought-provoking pieces, yet the most fascinating and truly unbelievable part of this creative partnership is that neither Alex nor Jabu have actually witnessed the wild creatures that their work is inspired by! From mighty hippos, rhinos and elephants, to slender giraffes and comical hornbills – all of these pieces were created entirely by the imagination. Neither artist had ever laid eyes on their sculptures’ real-life counterparts in the African wilderness.

Phinda brings their art to life

In an effort to continually provide more for our guests, we are always on the lookout for new and inventive ways to surprise guests and enhance their safari experience. Nearly all of our lodges boast well-stocked Safari Shops where guests can browse local handicrafts and charming souvenirs. At &Beyond Phinda Forest Lodge in South Africa, guests are raving about our new Ardmore Gallery, which showcases the extraordinary sculptures, fabrics and dinnerware of Fée’s talented team of Ardmore artists, Jabu and Alex included.

The Ardmore Gallery at &Beyond Phinda is a seamless collaboration among like-minded companies that both seek to care for the people and help uplift the local communities that surround our operations. With this in mind, Fée and the Phinda family recently joined forces to create an unforgettable safari experience for Jabu and Alex. They were invited to come and stay at &Beyond Phinda Forest Lodge so that they could finally witness Africa’s world-famous wildlife in person, thereby adding additional depth and first-hand knowledge to their craftsmanship.

Alex, obviously being the one that moulds and shapes each of their animal sculptures, was utterly blown away by the detail. When the ranger was explaining the differences between male and female elephants, Alex admitted that he never knew they had different shaped heads. He was equally fascinated by their tails and gleefully commented at how their knees move and their ears flap.

“It was so much better seeing the animals in real life than on TV,” Alex said. “Being able to see the animals’ proportions was a big learning tool. I was able to observe them and to understand their structure, right down to where the eye is placed on an animal’s face. It was very interesting and informative.”

All this time Alex had been sculpting rhinos and elephants, not knowing the finer details of their anatomy and fluidity of their movements, all of which will now add another layer of detail and accuracy to his already endearing sculptures.

Jabu on the other hand, with a keen eye for colour and intricate detail, lit up when they were investigating the trees and flowers. She commented on the richness and vibrancy of the natural colour palettes and pointed out the fascinating detail of the veins in the leaves, the shapes of the petals, and the many different textures of the trees, plants and even the animal’s individual markings.

“I loved being so close to animals that I have only ever seen in pictures and I appreciated seeing how Phinda’s staff care for the guests,” Jabu explained. “My highlight was watching a mother cheetah interacting with her cubs on a termite mound, but I also enjoyed the plants and insects. I now have a much better understanding of the environment.” Observing Mother Nature’s masterpiece will certainly breathe new life, energy and detail into Jabu and Alex’s own artwork.

Having had their world enriched by the safari experience at &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, Jabu and Alex wanted to pay it forward, not only to the Phinda family, but also to Phinda’s precious wildlife. The two artists held an interactive demonstration for staff and guests, to show them how they sculpt and paint their masterpieces.

Not only that, but they also presented Phinda with the most incredible gift: one of their highly sought-after rhino sculptures, which is valued at ZAR 64 000. Wanting to help leave Phinda’s wildlife in a better place, they donated the rhino in order for it to be auctioned at Phinda, with all proceeds going to help save the endangered rhino.

Jabu, Alex, Fée and the Ardmore family, thank you for sharing your artistic talents and vision with us. We are proud to showcase your work in our lodge galleries and we thank you for joining our efforts to help leave our world a better place through your magnificent art.


Come and browse our beautiful Ardmore Gallery at &Beyond Phinda Forest Lodge.


Leaving our world a better place for years

Discover the impact legacy that your travel with &BEYOND is driving. Just as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals have been a touchstone for our Vision 2020 group-operation sustainability audits, so they continue to guide and underpin our ambitiously scaled Vision 2030 goals.