A new online platform, The Lucky Bean Tree, aims to take artwork produced in the Eastern Cape to national and international audiences. Founded by arts entrepreneur, Tracy Cahill, it showcases the work of local artists and crafters to audiences that they would not normally be able to reach.
When Cahill moved from Cape Town to the town of Bathurst in 2019, she was struck by the unique creativity of artists working in the area. One of the first to catch her eye was Nomvuyo Gladys Manyathi, designer and creator of a range of vibrant, colourful toys, décor items, bags and kitchen wear. Another was Sandra Thomas, whose finely detailed pencil and oil paintings chronicle her love of South Africa’s natural environment.
Despite their evident talent, these artists had limited access to broader markets, and it was then that Cahill decided to turn a long-held dream to market South African art and handcrafted items into a reality, and The Lucky Bean Tree came into being.
‘The site and online store provide a platform that practitioners working in the region would otherwise not have access to,’ she says. ‘The aim is to open up new markets, both locally and internationally, for artwork that has vision and flair.’
Since The Lucky Bean Tree went live, Manyathi’s chicken doorstops, Nguni cattle heads and mischievous toy monkeys, all of which demonstrate her originality and deep connection to the natural world, have found themselves winging their way as far afield as Newfoundland in Canada. Their popularity comes as no surprise. When Manyathi exhibited at the Decorex Interior Design and Décor Show in Cape Town 2018 and 2019, every item on display was snapped up by eager buyers.
Thomas explores the unspoilt forests, rivers and ravines around Bathurst, many of which are sacred to the Xhosa people, and captures their extraordinary beauty. She works in pencil on specially prepared canvasses, with colour in oil. The size of her canvas has no limit and her work is presented without protective glass, allowing the viewer to interact directly with it.
Thomas says of her paintings and etchings, ‘I want people who cannot reach the uninhabited places that I do, to be able to experience them through my work.’
Munya Chidakwa, who was born in Zimbabwe and now lives in Makhanda, is steeped in the art of sculpture and works as an assistant to the renowned bronze sculptor, Bruce Little. In his own whimsical creations, he uses beads and wire to bring iconic African animals like giraffes, and local birdlife such as the African Hoopoe, Crested Barbet and Sunbird to life. Nature is recreated in the sweep of a tail or the massed individual flowers inside the bracts of a protea. Chidakwa also sculpts striking cattle heads and meerkats out of wood.
Discarded plastic bottles, aluminium cans, cardboard and newspaper become enlightening wildlife in the skilled hands of Clare Rothwell, who relishes exploring and sharing the potential of functional upcycled art. Rothwell practices the ancient art of weaving, as well as the skill of papier-mâché making. In 2019 she won joint 1st at the Innibos National Craft Awards, and in 2020 was an Enviropaedia Eco-Logic Award finalist. ‘My name means “light”‘ says Rothwell. ‘I use my design and technical skills to make my customers’ homes and my environment a little bit brighter.’
The works are all of a high standard and efficient courier services are in place to deliver nationally and to handle international shipments. ‘We undertake commissions for corporates, NPOs, NGOs and international organisations. We offer something different and very special for event gifting, and have a #ToysforJoy initiative in place for Corporate Social Responsibility programmes,’ says Cahill.
In closing she adds, ‘I am always on the lookout for creatives who would like to become part of our collective. Artists, crafters, beaders, sculptors, woodworkers, needleworkers, sewers, weavers and metalsmiths who are interested, can contact me to join the site. We are looking for people in the Ndlambe, Ngqushwa and Makana districts at the moment, but as there is no limit to the number of artists that can be represented on the site, we hope to grow our reach in the future to bolster the local economy and assist with job creation in what is the poorest province in SA.’