Creative authenticity

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Dana McFarlane. Photos: Casandra Jacobs

Immigrants from Europe, Dana’s family had a simple, frugal existence in a warm and loving home. As an only child, Dana was an independent soul. “Both my parents worked and we didn’t have a childminder or housekeeper, so I took care of myself during the day. I’d walk to school, mostly alone, sometimes with friends, with the house key around my neck. On my way home I’d buy a few groceries for the family,” she smiles. “Those were halcyon days. Safety was not an issue. Cellphones didn’t exist, but there was still a basic level of trust that all would be well.”

Art is something Dana has always loved. While not particularly adept at the practical side herself, she loved History and Theory of Art, soaking up every morsel of information of art through the ages. “I was fascinated at how mark-making and brushstrokes could translate into evocative and soul-stirring artworks that could stop you in your tracks,” she explains. “Pretoria was the home of an iconic art supplies shop called Schweickerdts. Downstairs was a gallery, and I would often stop there to browse the art on display. As a young girl and teenager, I filled the walls of my bedroom with postcards and prints of the great European masters that I’d purchased at this gallery with my pocket money savings. When I was asked what career path I wanted to follow, I would always respond with: ‘My dream role would be to work in an art gallery.’”

A serendipitous turn of events led me to a part-time role at the Michael Heyns Gallery in Pretoria

The path of destiny takes many winding turns, and after a 23-year career in finance and banking, Dana met her husband, Bruce, and soon after started a family. Young children made the prospect of working from home an attractive option, and it was an auspicious occasion when Bruce said: “Why don’t you follow that dream you’ve always had?” “The universe seemed to realign itself to make this happen,” Dana smiles, “and a serendipitous turn of events led me to a part-time role at the Michael Heyns Gallery in Pretoria. This gave me a basic grounding in curation and the business of art.”

This was the spark that inspired Dana to show and sell art from her home in Halifax Steet, Bryanston, Johannesburg. There was a short period of pop-up exhibitions in found spaces around Johannesburg, and before long she had established a permanent gallery in the vibrant suburb of Parkhurst. “This was called Halifax Art. I directed this gallery for seven years, including two years after we had made our move to the Lowveld.”

Dana McFarlane. Photos: Casandra Jacobs

Casterbridge is the ideal place to showcase the exquisite artworks that the area is so well known for.
As the children got older, Dana found that running Halifax Art from the Lowveld became difficult, and she looked extensively for gallery space in Mbombela. Nothing suitable came up. With her children at Uplands, Dana spent a lot of time at Casterbridge, paying regular visits to the White River Gallery. “After a few meetings with Marlize Meyer, the then curator, and Louis van der Merwe, I took over the gallery in November 2017. I made adjustments to the physical space and we opened our first exhibition, titled ‘A Collection of Short Stories’, in March 2018. Casterbridge is the ideal place to showcase the exquisite artworks that the area is so well known for. It’s a place with so many unique features – it has stunning, one-of-a-kind design and architecture, with so much to find, discover and eat,” she says. “And, as is the case with Casterbridge itself, most of the businesses here are owner-driven and ignited in some form of creativity or passion. I don’t believe there is anything like it in the country.”

Casterbridge is the ideal place to showcase the exquisite artworks that the area is so well known for.

Dana is exceptionally positive about the art scene in South Africa at the moment. Having spent time at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair earlier this year and participated in a few of the art fairs in Johannesburg over the past few years, she says it is clear that the art industry in South Africa is vibrant, robust, diverse and well supported, through local and international engagement. “Galleries, auction houses, art institutions and museums abound. Africa is the latest focus of the international art world, and South Africa has the infrastructure from an art point of view to show, promote, sell and move art.”

Things that are mindfully designed induce a sense of satisfaction and joy in my often chaotic world

Dana finds inspiration in quietness and solitude, and adds that she loves spending time alone in the bush. She says that while people inspire her curiosity, nature seems to allow her access to depths of inner creative forces and solution-finding. In keeping with her chosen vocation, beautiful design makes her exceptionally happy, where form and function meet aesthetic purpose. “Things that are mindfully designed induce a sense of satisfaction and joy in my often chaotic world,” she says.

Having truly made the Lowveld her home, she explains why she loves it so much. “The people here are generous, embracing and often gritty. Creativity – craftsmanship and artmaking – seems to run in the veins and often the DNA of so many here. The Lowveld truly has energy of its own, the natural habitat is rich with diverse plant and animal species, even the light and soil here seem supercharged. As someone once said, after a rainstorm, you can hear the plants growing.”

Photos supplied: Casandra Jacobs

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