Summer wildfires often cause destruction in the Somerset West area, but in a synchronistic meeting, a fire resulted in a local artist receiving a commission from one of South Africa’s most prestigious wine estates.
The owners of Kings Kloof wine estate, located on the highest slopes of the Helderberg near the nature reserve, were battling to put out a blaze in June last year when Vergelegen wine estate’s well-trained fire team came to the rescue.
“Vergelegen saved the day,” said local drama teacher and sculptor Victoria Newton-King, who later showed Vergelegen MD Wayne Coetzer some examples of her work.
Coetzer then commissioned Newton-King to produce a sculpture of a heron, for a prominent location at the entrance to the estate’s wine tasting centre.
Newton-King worked on this commission during an artist’s residency at Lion Sands in the Sabi Sands. This lodge, which includes a gallery and studio, regularly hosts South African artists who draw inspiration from the pristine environment and wildlife sightings.
Newton-King began sculpting with candle wax at a young age, then worked with the soft lead around the tops of wine bottles. She later sold her lead figurines to curio shops and bush lodges.
She began informal pottery and sculpture classes at Makerere University while living in Uganda for three years, meeting a young lecturer who taught her the “lost wax” technique, which she used to create the heron sculpture.
Newton-King initially made a steel frame to form the skeleton of the heron. This was packed with recycled plastic and other materials to build up the body. Finally, this was coated with wax.
The model was transported by Land Rover to a foundry in the Kruger National Park, where a mould was created. Finally, the one metre bronze sculpture was ready for the wine estate.
“I love wildlife and the bush, and try to raise awareness and money for conservation through my art,” said Newton-King, who also creates jewellery in the form of endangered pangolins. A percentage of sales are donated to the Boucher Legacy foundation.
“I’m so honoured to have my work at one of the oldest and most beautiful wine estates. I’ve loved visiting here for the past six years to view the gardens and attend events like the carol services. Now, to have my sculpture in a prime position, and to be among established artists, is a dream come true.”
Vergelegen MD Wayne Coetzer said the estate is renowned for its environmental initiatives and is building its collection of art works to reflect the abundant bird and wild life. For example, the estate is home to four pairs of breeding blue cranes, South African’s national bird, and a pair of these birds is depicted in a life-size work by renowned sculptor Keith Calder in the East Garden.
Vergelegen is open to the public daily and guests can book for guided garden, heritage, environmental and cellar tours.