Minister Nathi Mthethwa pays tribute to the late legend, Susan Sellschop

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17 Feb 2017

Not content only to focus on her own artistic output which was considerable, she worked with traditional crafters for many years and devoted many years to bringing artists to the market and taking the market to artists with the view that artists should be able to sustain themselves through their art,” said Minister Mthethwa.

Susan Sellschop passed away on 15 February 2017 in hospital in Fourways, Johannesburg, after two weeks in ICU.

She studied at the Johannesburg School of Art after matriculating in 1958. During this period she was introduced to ceramics and that remained her lifelong interest and subject of her higher degree studies.

She taught and exhibited ceramics from her home studio for many years and then went back to Art School obtaining a Master diploma from the Technikon Witwatersrand. She worked as a lecturer in the Department of Ceramics, teaching ceramic skills and design and the science and history of ceramics.

She grew interested in the traditional pottery of South Africa, focusing on the pottery of Venda and regions of KwaZulu-Natal.  She wrote books about these artists and potters and was interested in the links between artists and the market. Her concern was how traditional skills used by crafters can be translated into contemporary design with considerable commercial and aesthetic value.

In the 1990s together with others she set up the Craft Council of South Africa, (CCSA) which had as its objective the assisting of fellow crafters to exhibit and market their work so that they could earn a living from their work and also pass their skills to others in their community. She was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the CCSA, a position she held for five years.

The Craft Council of South Africa curated many national and regional exhibitions over the years. With the support of the Department of Arts and Culture, the Craft Council curated the successful “Beautiful Things” exhibition at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002 and thereafter relocated ‘Beautiful things” to the Bus Factory in Newtown, Johannesburg.

Over the years Susan Sellschop continued to write books and catalogues. Notable among these is the book, Craft South Africa – Traditional Transitional and Contemporary which she co-authored with two others. This book has been reprinted several times.

From 2006 until 2009 Susan Sellschop collaborated with the Artist Proof Studios, the University of Johannesburg and Phumani Paper in an arts based intervention to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the effect on communities. This work is the subject of a book ‘Women on Purpose’, by Kim Berman and Jane Hassinger, and edited by her.

Towards the end of her life she began devoting more time to her own work and said that: “After a lifetime of working mainly in ceramics, both as a lecturer and as a practicing ceramic artist, I am now working in oil paint on large canvases, painting abstract landscapes and plant forms, although my interest and involvement with craft and crafters continues to enrich my life on many levels.”

In September 2016 as part of the Living Legends Legacy Programme an initiative of the Department of Arts and Culture, she passed on information and skills to ceramic students and interested crafters when she conducted a craft master class at the Tshwane University of Technology.

On this occasion, she took participants through a journey of South African design and the craft of clay working, and demonstrated how there has been an infusing of traditional designs with modern art forms. She carefully looked at each participant’s portfolio of designs and provided critique and feedback. In closing the workshop, she reminded students that they should make designs that express their culture so that in this way each artist would have a unique proposition and selling point in the market in order to be sustainable.

Susan Sellschop’s ceramic work is in several collections, including the Corobrik Collection and the William Humprey Collections.

“We salute her for her lifetime contribution. Her life’s work stands as a great example of how an artist can pursue her own interests but at the same time in order to fully explore her chosen art form, she reaches out to other artists and to a rich body of history, imparting her knowledge and skills, and in the process helping to lead and develop an entire creative industry, which has flourished as a result of early interventions.

“Her name is written in the history of arts in this country and she will continue to inspire us for generations to come. Her artworks remain as a living legacy and testimony to her greatness,” said Minister Mthethwa.

“Our sincere condolences go to her son, Richard, and the rest of her family and to the crafts sector in South Africa and around the globe.”

For comments, call: Lisa Combrinck at 082 821 4886