September 2011 Spotlight !
Creative Director: Work Of Our Hands
Tell us about yourself.
I have always been interested in artsy things, but have always had trouble knowing what I wanted to be when I “grew up”. I’ve been a tole painting teacher, a floral designer, an interior designer ( that’s my degree) , a craft designer, a teacher of various crafts , a figurative sculptor, a creator of Art dolls, a pattern designer of cloth dolls, and most recently a product designer and handcraft teacher here in .. I have an amazingly patient husband of 39 years, two grown daughters and 3 grandchildren ( so far :) Here in Africa I also have a cat and two dogs. I love gardening, and anything hand made
How did you end up in Africa?
My husband fell in love with (after 2 visits where he had been invited to come and teach seminars) at just about the time he became dissatisfied with his job in the USA . He had always supported my career changes, so what could I say?
(Lucia, Emalie and Magdelena)
Why prompted you to work with the local women?
When one sees so much poverty and suffering, it’s hard to ignore if you think you could help even a little. We in the USA have no idea how blessed we are, and how very high our standard of living actually is compared to most of the world.
What is life like there? If you think of small southern town in America in the 1950‘s you have a bit of an idea. The white people are mostly racist, stores close for lunch hour,and at 5 pm in the evenings. There is a small grocery store in town ( actually 3 small ones, so if you can’t find what you want you go to all three) Most bills have to be paid in cash so you go into town and visit the phone company to pay your bill, and the municipality to pay for your water and electric. There is a small hardware store and small clothing store. A video rental place ( but only action movies)
If you need more choices in consumer goods you have to drive 50 miles to the capital city of , where there are two malls. (They still close a 5 pm though)
There is not much of a middle class here, so the consumer goods also reflect that fact. Either very expensive items, or very cheap Chinese goods. Boy do I miss Target ! Even a Wall Mart would look great.Being that it’s a small farm town where I live, and mostly Afrikaans speakers, it’s hard to make friends. Most of my friends are also expats from one country or another. It can also be boring here, but thank goodness, I love to read and craft, so I can usually avoid boredom.
And For them? The ladies I work with live in tin shacks,and live not far above a subsistence level. No one has running water, but most have rigged up electricity of some sort. The city will put in a prepaid meter if you have the money and wait 6 months or so. Only a few people can afford the meters, and so those that have them they sell electricity to all their neighbors. Extension cords are running everywhere ! Luckily it’s a dry climate, but when it does rain the extension cords are a very big problem.
Right now our community center is on the edge of a new growth area in the squatter’s camp. In the new section, nobody has a prepaid meter yet because the city needs to put in more power poles first. We counted 15 extension cords running past our building, and that’s just the ones above the ground. What this does is drain off the available power so that our building does not get the full 220 amps. that everything runs on here. In the evening even the lights won’t stay on. Needless to say we can’t operate our kiln at the community center where the pottery studio is, which makes it really a pain to transport the beads and other items to be fired to the kiln.
(Jenny's new house. This makes me consider my own level of gratefulness,
Because Jenny was so happy and grateful when a sponsor provided for her to build her own "home)
What do the ladies make? We have two main product lines. the 1st and oldest is jewelry bead work using seed beads. We do the normal stitching like Peyote, Ndebele, Net stitch etc. plus we also crochet jewelry with beads and wire.
The newer project is the clay bead project
Where do you get your supplies? Where ever we can. There is a “China town “ in our capital city where we can buy seed beads. Other items we have to order from , and a few items I bring from the USA when I go back once a year.
Where do you sell your work? Our main outlet is THE NAMIBIAN CRAFT CENTER in the capital city. We also have a shipping container converted into a shop right in at the wood carver’s market. We operate that venue as a Co-op. The ladies decide what they want to make and put in the shop, and then take turns minding the store.
How long have you been working in clay? I was first introduced to earth clay about 20 years ago when I learned figurative sculpture. I thought this would prepare me to make clay beads, but , what a learning curve ! I had never had to fire the work, or know about glazing in those days, so all that part of ceramics I had to learn by the seat of my pants, and the hard way, by mistakes. We have been making clay beads here in Namibia for about 2 years now. There are still mistakes, but the learning curve is mostly over now. :)
What inspires you and your staff? Nature, especially color and pattens in nature, fabric patterns,
interest ( I’m addicted)Youth Center Enongelo ( the learning place) the community center we built with generous donations from friends in the USA. This is where the ceramics studio is located. Guys are learning wood carving. They are really into Chess and have started a club for it. We have a nice empty room that one day we hope will be a library and computer center. We have a couple of laptops now, but would like a couple more before starting a class. We would also like to hook up to the internet there, but it costs about USA $100 per month, so at this point it's no go.
If you would like to learn more about Valarie and what she is doing,
please visit the blog at