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Friday, April 3, 2020


(Right: Elliot Mkhize)

KZN master telephone wire weaver Elliot Mkhize, passed away on March 28, 2020. He died from a brain injury as a result of a bad fall. He got clots, was operated on but then sustained kidney problems. He was on dialysis but did not get better.

Marisa Fick-Jordaan, designer and owner of Zenzulu, which she initiated 12 years ago under the auspices of the BAT Shop, grieves his passing:

“I really was so shattered to get the news of his death. He was the last of the male master basket weavers alive whom I worked so closely with when I started supporting the Wire weavers and the artform becoming my passion leading to the start of the wire weaving project when I joined the Bat Centre in 1995 and which continues under my Zenzulu brand. So many memories are flooding back as I think of Elliot and the roads we travelled!”

(Left: David Arment with Elliot Mkhize taken at Santa Fe International Folk Art Market)

Fick-Jordaan interviewed Mkhize for his feature pages in the book WIRED Contemporary Zulu Telephone Wire Baskets which she wrote the book with the biggest collector of wire baskets, David Arment. WIRED covers the development and history of wire weaving and all the master weavers.

The interview page follows:

Born 1945, Richmond KwaZulu-Natal

“Elliot was introduced to the world of weaving at a young age, when he went to school at Inhlazuka near Richmond. At school, children in the early grades were taught grass weaving techniques in their art-and-craft classes. At the same time he was introduced to art and, one could say, to the economy of art at home, where both his grandfather and his father carved wooden spoons and utensils for trading. Using money he earned from his craftwork, his grandfather was even able to buy cattle for lobola. So in the 1960s, when Elliot had to choose a career path, it seemed natural that he chose to study at the reputable Ndaleni Art School in Richmond, which was then enjoying its heyday.

But, art being art and economic reality its often ugly self, Elliot went back to Sibonelo High School to finish his formal education. Thereafter, he found a job as a supervisor with Lever Brothers in Durban. In 1968, his daughter, the first of ten children, was born. From then on, his growing family necessitated steady employment and Elliot stayed on with Lever Brothers for several years. Then followed a brief stint as a machine operator at the Natal Mercury newspaper. A job at the Natal Playhouse Theater as a night watchman was his brush with destiny. He was introduced to the “night watchman’s art”, the world of telephone wire weaving.

(Right: Examples of Elliot Mkhize’s work)

After observing his fellow night watchmen use wire to decorate the handles of their sticks, Elliot began to experiment with telephone wire. He, however, worked with the more traditional bowl form and, in so doing, became one of the originators of the contemporary form of coiled-wire baskets. He wove his first basket in 1973, and took it to the African Art Centre in Durban. Jo Thorpe snapped it up and put it into the African Art Centre’s collection, where it was displayed in the shop until it was stolen in a robbery. Elliot quickly became a sought-after weaver and in 1984 he began working full-time as an artist.

He was currently South Africa’s most renowned and successful telephone wire weaver, and the only master weaver with formal art school training.”

(Left: The cover of WIRED)

Fick-Jordaan continues: 

“The Facebook post has had an incredible response from around the world. Many responding with images of his baskets in their collections. 

"He was our Master whose big smile I will always miss!”