Antiques Today – Summer 2016



The upcoming SAADA CPT Expo promises an antiques show with a difference

paulHere at SAADA our obsession is Design… And not just any design: good, innovative design, and from all ages. Our belief is that every item that was ever made (and those yet to come) was either an imitation of something that already existed, or it took that existing piece and developed it a step further, producing something new and fresh for the time – a work that caused the world to take attention.



Our preoccupation is with the latter: the moments of pure genius that occurred in the mind of the craftsman, artist or designer, and how that idea was then made manifest in the item produced. These epiphanies then informed subsequent design, each becoming pivotal punctuations on the timeline of design evolution.

It is for this reason that the timeline is the primary feature of our logo – as it threads its way through the highlighted letters that stand for Antiques, Art and Design – and it is this timeline of design evolution that we will be celebrating at our up-coming Cape Town SAADA Expo.

Our February Antiques, Art and Design Expo is almost certainly the initial bright light of the Cape Town social circuit calendar… And it’s a tough act to follow! Surely no other event brings together artifacts so varied in age, medium and nature, and yet each of such extreme quality and relevance to the story of design?

And not only will each item displayed be part of that story: each one has its own tale to tell. With this in mind I selected, somewhat arbitrarily, three items – one antique, one artwork, and one piece of design – that I know will be on offer, as something of a tempting foretaste of what to expect at the Expo. However, instead of simply describing each item academically, my aim is to impart something of its story, either intrinsic, or that briefly experienced by the person engaging with it (in this case me): the personal poetry that emerges between object and observer.

I met up with Riaan Bolt recently and he allowed me access into his treasure vault, where a dresser – extraordinary in its beautiful simplicity – caught my eye. The overall refreshing pared-down aesthetic of the antique appeals wonderfully to a modern sensibility, yet the addition of the curled detail to the base adds quirk and humour: the solemnity of the piece breaking into smile.

“Ah, you’re flirting with my stinkwood chest of drawers I see!” laughed Riaan. “Isn’t she lovely? It’s the sincerity of early Cape furniture that I most enjoy… That, and how easily it integrates into a modern home – I adore the tension created by placing a modern artwork above such a piece.


“After the arrival of the British Settlers in 1820, there was a need for locally produced furniture based on the English prototype of the time. Carpenters used local stinkwood to simulate mahogany, bone detail to strengthen and highlight the keyholes, and the scroll apron on the current example is a local quirk: the motive relates closely to the back of a Regency sofa and is also found on the back rail of a rusbanke by F.J. Siegruhn.

“Stinkwood is of course now protected, and later furniture used Imbuia instead, so it makes a piece like this increasingly rare and irreplaceable”.

But I was still stuck on stinkwood… That word. So incredibly evocative. Alarming almost, I remember hearing it mentioned first as a child and scooting past a Voortrekker camp-chair heirloom in my parents’ home – balloon-mouth clamped, popeyed, and unbreathing – fearful of the dubious “aroma” I might otherwise swallow. And yet a word I came to appreciate after family vacations to the Knysna coast with its spicy fynbos scent, and Afrikaans school lessons spent lost in the world of Dalene Matthee’s “Kringe in die Bos”, a tale of tangled forests and thundering elephant feet.

Smell – in this case legitimately jarring – was the first thing I was aware of when I encounted Willie Bester’s artwork, “I will have to check whether he is still in jail”, from Red Room Gallery… Not because it actually gives off a scent, but because the raw and confrontational piece looks like it should.

This tangible piece engaged me in a far less comfortable and more real manner, regarding my sense of having grown up in a South Africa where Nelson Mandela was a criminal, which would have differed greatly from that experienced by the artist, the child of parents of different races. The strong colours, imagery of resigned prisoners, military elements, barbed wire – even the rough boards it is presented on – all come together in a very confrontational manner.


The entire composition, including the shamefully apathetic titular inscription, is energetic and arresting (in more than one sense), and leaves one in no doubt that this is contextually a very relevant and important work of art. Certainly it has made a deep sear in my psyche, as I continue to mentally explore its imagery long after I stopped looking at it.

The piece of design I selected – two complimentary (but alas not free) Patrick Mavros candlesticks from my shop Bancroft Antiques in Sandton’s Da Vinci Hotel– gave me welcome respite from the Bester politics. Before I came into contact with these, I have to admit that my knowledge of the work of Mavros was mostly limited to the fact that I knew that Kate, Duchess of Windsor, is a fan, and has been seen swishing through London sporting, amongst others, his crocodile earrings pinned to her lobes, lending her a subtly exotic, dangerous and daring air.


But holding these weighty sterling silver candlesticks in my hands caused me to pause and take proper notice: each one seemed to be telling a story, and I was suddenly a rapt audience. Forget for a moment the considerably generous amount of precious metal used, and the intricate way each piece is lovingly crafted, with practicality replaced by an extreme attention paid to each detail – what captured my imagination most was the silver-green shimmer of leaves and the warm and spicy, dung-and-dusty smell of the African landscape that seemed to emanate from beneath each elephant and behind the giraffe. I didn’t so much LOVE each candlestick as I was IN love with them! Every romantic memory I hold dear of the continent that holds my heart came flooding back, and it is this tale that the subsequent custodian of these extraordinary items of design will be protecting.

These are just three short stories in the extraordinary visual library that is the SAADA Antiques, Art & Design Expo, to be held at The Lookout in the V&A Waterfront, Friday 12th to Sunday 14th February 2016 – make sure not to miss it!

Paul Mrkusic
We’re Making History…



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