The Spier Arts Academy is a vibrant mosaic and ceramics apprenticeship programme in central Cape Town. It’s one of Spier’s Growing for Good initiatives that invests in learning that empowers communities to make positive social and environmental change.
“Smalti is really hard to chop so you have to be on top of your chopping game!” says Juan Klaaste, one of 40 learners and apprentices at the Spier Arts Academy. He loves the diverse and vivid colours of this type of glass, which is used to create mosaic pieces.
There are up to 750 applications to the Academy annually, with a maximum of 25 invited to enrol after a rigorous selection process. Juan applied after visiting Union House, the home of the Academy, in high school.
“Mosaic appealed to me because, although I wanted to have an artistic career, I didn’t want to go the painting route. For me I feel it is better to have several diverse art mediums to use, than only one traditional method,” he explains.
With the majority of its learners coming from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, the Academy fuses Spier’s passion for art with its commitment to social upliftment. Over the course of three years, each apprentice receives quality, full-time training that empowers them with the necessary artistic and business skills to run their own businesses successfully after graduation. All learners attend classes in art theory, drawing and business with an NQF1 certificate. Upon successful completion of the learnership, the next 18 months of apprenticeship hones their practical application skills.
For Juan, planning is one of the most challenging aspects of the course.
“For each mosaic we do, we prepare an aesthetic treatment that includes a history and background of the artist and artwork [that we’re interpreting from] as well as what style of mosaic and colours we intend to use,” he says. “We also have to supply a quote for materials and labour – just like we would have to one day in our own, real-life studios.”
“The preparation for and delivery of the presentation to the panel is always difficult,” he adds. “Every sample needs to be approved by a panel of experts and every apprentice needs to prepare a presentation to show their interpretation of the artwork into mosaic as well as answer questions about the choices of style, colour and treatment. You also need to justify your quote. It makes me very nervous! It’s a relief when you are done – especially when your proposal gets approved. I got a good mark for my last presentation, but I know how to make it even better now.”
Juan’s hopes to put his newly gained skills to good use when he graduates. His dream is to design architectural mosaic.
“I want to find ways to create beautiful mosaic at a good price and competitive production rate. And I’m keen to collaborate with interior designers,” he says.
Given the stellar track record of many of the Academy’s graduates, Juan’s ambitions are more than feasible. A number of them run their own studios in Cape Town, Durban and even as far afield as Barcelona, Spain. Six 2017 graduates, working together as Ikamva Mosaic, opened their own studio in Woodstock in 2018 and regularly participate in local exhibitions and art markets. They have diversified their portfolio to include jewellery made with micro mosaic.
Three graduates have been employed by Spier Arts Trust (which runs the Academy as well as other art projects) in different capacities:
- The Spier Arts Academy’s Studio Manager, Heinrich Joemath, who graduated in 2015 oversees the production of the Academy’s large-scale mosaic commissions. He also personally managed the production and installation of a commission that celebrated the 150th birthday of Danish supermarket chain COOP.
- Zeenat Khan is a Mosaic Teacher’s Assistant, assisting with the practical training of all the new learners. She has facilitated numerous workshops.
- Marshall Rossouw graduated in 2015 and worked as a journeyman with the Spier Arts Trust for a number of years. In 2018 she was appointed as the Spier Artisan Studio Manager at Spier Wine Farm.
About Spier Growing for Good
Spier has long been recognised for our ethically conscious approach to the various facets of our business. Today, this approach is embodied in Spier Growing for Good: a range of learning initiatives which empower communities to create positive social and environmental change. Why learning? Because we recognise its ability to unleash the potential of people, catalysing a ripple effect of change that goes far beyond our farm. Many of Growing for Good initiatives tackle one of South Africa’s most pressing challenges: youth unemployment. They do this through mentorship in hospitality, wine and agriculture and the provision of psychosocial support to young school learners within our local communities.
All of Spier wines and offerings display the Growing for Goodicon – a heart in a vine leaf that represents both community and the environment. This icon reminds consumers that, by choosing Spier, they are contributing to positive social and environmental change. Their support ensures we can continue to invest in initiatives that make a meaningful difference.