Head to the Midlands, KZN to meet Astrid Dahl and discover how she creates her nature-inspired ceramic sculptures.

In the picturesque town of Nottingham Road in the KZN Midlands, The Insider SA meets ceramic artist, Astrid Dahl. Here, Astrid finds her inspiration from the tranquil countryside, free flowing rivers, and lush green pastures. From the smallholding where she lives with her family, Astrid creates awe-inspiring sculptures and ceramic pieces that reflect her vision of her surroundings.

Astrid’s work is globally sought-after and featured worldwide, including being sold in New York and Australia. Last year she was featured at the Barnes Exhibition in Paris and her work can be found in various locations, such as Africa Nova, Southern Guild Gallery and Candice Berman Fine Art Gallery.

Astrid learnt the tools of the trade at Durban Technikon. There, she was introduced to the work of 19th century sculptor and botanic, Karl Blossfeldt, best known for his magnified black and white photographs of living things.

“I’m working on quite a subconscious level,” shares Astrid. “I think I’ve got a lot of imagery stored in my head and I’m trying to use the language of clay to express it. Instead of trying to copy something, I’m trying to create a feeling of the form that’s found in nature. I think there’s a lot of imagination involved.”

The medium of clay lends itself to being flexible and organic, explains Astrid. Because of this, it’s not only nature that inspires her work, but the clay itself that contributes to the unique imaginings of Astrid’s work. Her career is one of constant discovery which sees her exploring and experimenting with different techniques and ideas.

In her studio – her own personal sanctuary – Astrid shares, “This is where the magic happens.” Astrid uses the method of coiling to create her ceramics. She explains, “The process is very organic. Very few tools are needed in this process – we’ve got our hands to do the work for us.”

Alongside Astrid is her assistant, Fakazile Ndlovu, whose been working with her for 12 years. Together, the two ensure every work of art is of the highest quality before handing it over to a client. It’s Fakazile who can attest to the ancient art and intricate details of clay. She says, “As a Zulu woman, I grew up using clay creating animals and pots. Astrid is using the same method of coiling that we used.”

To testify to Astrid’s legacy is her daughter Siri, who sweetly shares her pride in her mother, saying, “What’s special about my mom is that she works really hard. Whatever thing she makes, she never uses anyone else’s ideas, she only uses her own ideas. Her ports are so pretty because she works so hard day in and day out.”

Amidst the challenges of life during a pandemic, Astrid continues to create. She shares, “I think part of me is that I’m a dedicated person. My idea is to just keep working and have faith in times like these that somehow we’re all going to be okay.”

While her work is featured all over the world, Astrid stays put in Nottingham Road to enjoy the beauty of nature surrounding her. Inspired by the forms of nature’s grand designs, Astrid Dahl’s ceramics are both her legacy and her artistic interpretation of the world around us.