Antjie Newton laughs that one day she will pack it all in, sell everything she has – a considerable collection of wonders, mind you – and follow a boho lifestyle, travelling from place to place just as the fancy takes her.
Listening to her talk about her life and loves, you can believe that this is exactly what the renowned Lowveld potter will someday end up doing. Feisty and straight-forward, Antjie tells it like it is, with a dry sense of humour and a twinkle in her eye. Working as a maths teacher, she took up pottery as a hobby nearly 45 years ago, and has never looked back. Antjie enjoyed it so much she started working with Carol Hahn in her Johannesburg studio, eventually taking it over when Carol left for Canadian shores.
When she moved the studio to White River 33 years ago, everything fell into place. A friend asked her to make ceramic jugs for Rottcher Wineries, and from there she started getting work from the local lodges, and her wares took off.
“The young women who work for the lodges move around fairly often, and would always recommend my work to the next lodge they moved to. This kept me busy, and of course was excellent for business,” Antjie smiles.
Her signature style of pottery is unique and immediately recognisable. “Some of the best advice I ever got was to find a style and make it your own, which I did. Obviously it also develops over the years; you hone and perfect it until it becomes second nature, but you need to start out with that initial idea that sets your work apart, makes it stand out.”
The swift, light brushstrokes, French blue colour and stylised birds and animals are typical Antjie, and are also indicative of the Lowveld, which played a large part in the growth and development of her technique. She also developed her own stoneware clay body, as well as the glazes which she uses for herself and her students, which is a range of around 12 to 14 different colours.
At the time, Antjie and her husband, Adrian, were living in a magnificent home on the Plaston Road, Victoria Farm, which they renovated and rebuilt practically from scratch. “I’ve come to realise that that is why I work,” she muses. “To build! It seems to be what I do, renovate and build. Do you know that I physically helped to erect the fences and lay the paving? It’s all worth it though, the house was beautiful, and we had so many wonderful parties and gatherings there, including open days for the studio which were a resounding success. Good wine, good food and excellent company! What more could you want?” As time passed, Victoria Farm, as lovely as it was, turned out to be a little too big for the Newtons, and they sold it after 12 years.
So the construction began once more, with a new home, one that Antjie ultimately fell in love with. It was during this time that she moved her studio to Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre outside White River, where she remained for about 10 years. “I loved it and was inundated with work, the production side was booming. Unfortunately though, I was never at home, I worked long hours, so I decided I had to scale down. When a friend suggested I come and have a look at the stunning house that had come on the market at Mataffin, I said no, for the simple reason that I was tired of always renovating and building. But she convinced me, and the rest was history.”
The house is indeed a dream come true. It was built in the 1930s, and was originally a boarding house for the women who worked in the fruit orchards, while the house on the opposite side was the men’s boar-ding house. “Who knew what went on late at night behind closed doors. If only these walls could talk!” Antjie grins, a wicked gleam in her eyes.
The house originally had 14 rooms in all, which Antjie and Adrian have knocked down to create two bedrooms, a study and a flatlet, which is rented out. The polished wooden floors and size of the living area creates a high-ceilinged sense of spaciousness, yet still retains its old-world elegance and charm. Walking through it, you can almost see the friendly ghost tipping his hat in greeting as he passes you by.
The antiques and collectables that the couple have amassed over the years are breathtaking. Ornate, carved dark wooden chairs vie for attention with glittering chandeliers, swaying gently in the slight breeze. Pots of all shapes and sizes abound, bringing an earthy tone to the house, while items from the East add a sense of the exotic and mystery. The kitchen, with its screed floor dotted with small handmade, tiles is cosy and inviting, sporting a large cupboard overflowing with Antjie’s charming crockery.
“There’s no shortage of plates and bowls in this house,’” she laughs. This home is just as comfortable with dinner parties and evenings of merriment as the previous one was, despite being smaller, and we surmise that apart from being an obvious bonus, it is also a definite drawcard.
“Pottery has opened up so many doors for me,” Antjie muses. “Through clay, I have met so many wonderful people, whom I would certainly not have come into contact with otherwise. And they are invariably creative, arty people who love to swap ideas and laugh over a delicious meal and bottle of wine. The house, although smaller, can seat up to 16 people for
a dinner party. Adrian and I often cook together, and while we are quite inventive, we like to keep things simple. Home-grown, hearty delicious food, handmade pasta, rich sauces and vegetables that come straight from the garden are what we love to eat. Good, wholesome fare.”
While they do eat fish, the Newtons’ diet is predominantly vegetarian in nature, and they have quite a repertoire up their kitchen sleeve. A typical meal on a relaxed evening at home would be their speciality dish, which is an oriental-style omelette made with ginger and palm sugar. They also love to whip up a stir-fry with red Thai chilli, or mashed sweet potatoes, broccoli and halloumi, served with a melt-in-the-mouth ricotta cheese and honey bake.
Just imagine, gorgeous handmade platters groaning under piles of fresh, delicious produce. A flaky, flavoursome spinach and kale phyllo pie served in an Antjie Newton bowl, just waiting for someone to take that first luscious bite. Washed down with superb wine and a sprinkle of laughter.
Antjie’s gypsy soul might take her wandering someday, but until then, life at home is good.
Antjie’s spinach and kale phyllo pie
• 1 hearty bunch each of fresh spinach and fresh kale
• 4 free range eggs
• 250ml of cream with a tablespoon or two of milk mixed in
• A good grating of fresh nutmeg
• 1 cup of parmesan cheese, grated (be frivolous!)
• Salt and pepper to taste.
Wilt the spinach and kale, and squeeze out any excess juice. Add all the ingredients together and spoon onto sheets of phyllo pastry, folding them over into parcels. Bake at 180°C for 45 minutes or until crispy and golden. Serve with a tomato, avocado and mange tout salad, with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh origanum.
Photographer: Belinda Erasmus