An exciting long-term project is underway in Aberdeen to revive the town and attract visitors to this treasure of architecture and arts and crafts.
The driving force behind it is Aberdonian Roelof van der Merwe, who after many years in the pressured business world in Gauteng has moved back to his family farm in Aberdeen with his wife Lucille. Many local residents already have cause to be thankful for van der Merwe’s foresight in bringing Usave to the town in the restored and renovated Verspreiders building, and early next year the couple will be opening their Varsgepak store, offering an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables.
The Revive project is a collaboration between van der Merwe and talented local artist Cornelia Cronje, with strong support and backing from many local businesses and residents. Cornelia first fell in love with Aberdeen ten years ago, and spent many extended holidays here before finally settling in the town just over two years ago. One of her early projects in the town was painting Aberdeen scenes onto metal drums, which were placed as rubbish bins in prominent positions around the town.
The first major project undertaken in this exciting revival has already attracted a great deal of interest in the town. Van der Merwe bought a derelict patch of ground in the centre of town, next to the municipality, directly behind the new Varsgepak store. As this was cleared up, the initial expectation of residents was that it would be just the parking area for the shop, but it has already become so much more, and is now a tourist attraction in its own right.
Cornelia’s daughter Anje, an architecture student at the University of the Free State, is also an exceptionally talented artist. Van der Merwe approached Cornelia and Anje with his idea for an attractive mural on the wall of the parking area, and various ideas for designs showing the heritage of Aberdeen and the farming community were discussed. Anje brought up the idea of an interactive panel, where people actually become part of the artwork. Inspired by a mural used in street art in Penang, Anje composed a design of a Karoo farm boy, complete with veldskoene, squatting down and peering through a magnifying glass. The proportions are such that people can stand next to the wall and appear to be “under” the magnifying glass, and as far as is known, this design is unique in South Africa.
For just over a week at the end of last month, a group of students from Bloemfontein, under Anje’s leadership, spent untold hours creating this masterpiece in the centre of Aberdeen, watched with growing interest by local residents. The image was first projected onto the wall and sketched in place, before the painting could start. In preparation for the work, Cornelia had spent a total of 72 hours the previous week mixing all the base colours with tints, and this advance work allowed the mural to be painted in sections by different students, with all the skin tones matching.
Various problems were experienced during the painting, mostly relating to the weather. The high daytime temperatures meant that the paint dried very quickly, and to overcome this, the students often worked in the very early mornings or into the night. On one or two days the swirling high winds also blew so much dust around that it was impossible to paint without incorporating some natural Karoo sand!
At the same time that the students were busy, a group of local schoolchildren were creating their own masterpieces under the guidance of Cornelia. Each of the three primary schools was asked to send three children, identified as artistically talented and showing enthusiasm and commitment -unfortunately due to exams no children from Aberdeen Secondary were able to be part of the team this time. Their project was to repaint some of Cornelia’s original “Aberdeen scenes” rubbish bins which had become faded and damaged over the two years.
On the first day, Cornelia taught the children the basic theory about primary colours and working with tints, and their first task was to clean up the damaged metal drums and add the base coats. Each child artist was given a large blue t-shirt with their name on to use as their overalls, and this helped to create a team spirit amongst the children from the different schools.
For the first drum, the children did not use brushes, but only their fingers, and the resulting colourful creation can now be seen outside Pep Stores, with each child’s handprint on the inside of the drum. On the second day, they were allowed to use brushes, and they created some magnificent designs on the drum that is outside the municipal offices. A third bin will be repainted in January.
This is definitely not going to be a once-off project, and Cornelia’s plan at this stage is to work one afternoon a week with children from each of the schools. Those she has already trained for the first drums will be her assistants, and the plan is to gradually incorporate more children so that they can feel a sense of ownership of the art work, and take pride in their efforts. Her team will also help educate others to respect the work, and already are fiercely protective of the drums.
Whilst all the painting was in progress, MAQ media came to do a video shoot of the art work, as well as most of the Aberdeen small businesses and surrounds, which will be used in a promotional video for the town. MAQ sponsored the camera work, and all the businesses contributed towards other costs.
On the students’ final day in town, a spit braai was held at the Aberdeen Club to thank them for their efforts, and the sponsors for their donations.
Although van der Merwe is responsible for kick-starting the whole Revive Aberdeen initiative, he has received tremendous support, and financial backing, from many local businesses and individuals, interested in promoting the town. He would like to thank the following for donations: Graaff-Reinet Hardware, Build-It, SSK Aberdeen and Colleen Ogilvie for paints and quality brushes; Blue Door B&B for providing free accommodation for the students; Aberdeen VLV, Foodzone, Aberdeen Self Catering and Lucille van der Merwe for daily meals for the students; Hantie Marx, Deli-delicious, Johan Lategan, Christo Lategan and Rabie Gericke for meat; and MAQ, Adri Krige and Andrew Barret for camera work.
Student artists Anje Cronje, Ané Meyer, Lunelle Greyling, Lodewyk Meyer, Rohan Cloete, Altus le Roux and Schalk van der Vyver all gave of their time and talent for free, and a long-term plan in the project is to offer other students the opportunity of a working holiday in the Karoo in the future.
The schoolchildren involved are very proud of their contribution. Niel Pienaar, a teacher at Kamdebo Primary, helped to select those involved, and he confirmed that all three schools are very excited to be part of the project in 2019.