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Artist. Revolutionary. Beautifier.

Paper mache artist Tessa Rosendorff runs a private gallery and studio from her home in Norwood. She has been making paper mache pots for the past decade – full-time for the last four years. But what she hasn’t mastered yet, is the answer to a question she regularly poses: “Why don’t people invest in living artists instead of dead ones?”

A Fine Art major, Rosendorff sees herself as a woman trying to beautify the home. With her bowls, she looks to shape each into an original work of art. “There was an Arts and Crafts movement started in Britain spearheaded by John Ruskin,” she says. “It was all about embellishing the home with handmade things and giving craftsmen who use their hands a lift. That is what we need today.”

The movement she refers to was an international movement in the decorative and fine arts that began in Britain and flourished in Europe and North America between 1880 and 1910, emerging in Japan in the 1920s. It was inspired by the ideas of architect Augustus Pugin (1812-1852), writer John Ruskin (1919-1900), and designer William Morris (1834-1896).

According to Rosendorff the movement stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms and often used medieval, romantic, or folk styles of decoration. It advanced economic and social reform and was essentially anti-industrial, with a strong influence on the arts in Europe until it was displaced by Modernism in the 1930s. Its influence continued, however, among craft makers, designers and town planners long afterwards.

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For the past eight months Rosendorff has been teaching students her craft daily as part of an empowerment project she feels passionate about.

“I’m trying to encourage people to be their own artists,” explains Rosendorff. “It sometimes takes weeks to make pots. Though this skill may seem unimportant, for the unemployed or those in sheltered employment doing repetitive work, it provides a stress-free, creative outlet. Challenged people have an expression and language of art that everyone benefits from.”

In her studio at home, Rosendorff works closely with Nigiwe Mkwanizi and Tamara Moya. With these artists’ skills in basket weaving and pot making, she believes that she has found the right mix of artists.

“I trained Nigiwe, instead of working alone, I can finish the work we do together beautifully. Nigiwe is more free-flowing creating a different dynamic. Working  together is like playing in a band. Each of us has her own part to play. Nigiwe’s approach is succulent. She’s good at making; Tamara and I clean up. Tamara for her part brings a different eye and a strong African design.”

“I am always on the lookout for interesting shapes, which we use as moulds and then put them together. That is the artistic process. People who have been painting a long time imbue their work with creative energy, more so even than their technical expertise.” She checks the title on the back of one of Philipa Graaf-Kotzen’s paintings: Nature always wears the colour of the spirit, the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Outside of her home Rosendorff exhibits every Sunday morning at the Bluebird Shopping Centre’s Organic Market. She has also exhibited at Decorex on interior designer Stephen Falke’s stand.

“I’m appealing to decorators to use art in their homes, again inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, to get people to appreciate unique work.”

Rosendorff can be contacted on (+27)82 856 2103 to arrange  a viewing of her art


Alison Goldberg is the former property editor of Business Day (1985) and the Financial Mail (1991-99). In 1995 she won the Sanlam Financial Journalist of the Year Award. She has edited such titles as National Constructor and The Miner in Australia and has freelanced for The Star, The South African Jewish Report and The Jerusalem Post.

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