Despite having lived in Johannesburg my entire life I have never visited the Norscot Manor Recreation Centre. As such, when I finally visited it for the first time recently I came to the conclusion that Johannesburg still has the ability to surprise me.
Norscot Manor was originally built in 1936 by Ernst Eriksen and Ethel Mary Eriksen who named it after their respective countries of origin-Norway and Scotland. It served as a farm for many years and was later gifted to the surrounding community. Today it serves as a much-loved community centre where all manner of classes and courses aimed at both young and old take place. A significant portion of the centre has also been converted into a public library.
The building itself loosely follows Cape Dutch architectural lines and is a treat to explore. Wooden parquet floors feature throughout most of the property and although it has undergone a number of alterations over the years, many of the original art deco elements have survived including seashell-like window fastenings and decorative air grates depicting stag and sylph motifs.
Most of the rooms (of which there are many) feature timber clad walls and grand fireplaces. The bottom floor is particularly fascinating. Once dedicated to billiards and entertaining, this area features heavy, studded doors, thick wooden columns, ship motifs, two large fireplaces, beautiful stained glass windows and a bespoke bar fashioned to resemble a Norse Viking boat.
The large surrounding grounds are just as delightful. The upper level features large, established trees and affords visitors magnificent views over Johannesburg while the lower level offers a children’s playground and ‘Secret Tea Garden’ where delectable light meals and high teas are served. Sitting at one of the shaded tables, it was hard to believe that the centre is situated in the heart of a densely built up suburb in Johannesburg. It looked more like a scene from the English countryside.
Also included within Norscot’s walls is the Manor Gallery which was the primary reason for my visit. The Manor Gallery is the home of the Watercolour Society Africa (WSA) and Art Society Africa (ASA) which was hosting their ‘Eat, Paint, Love’ exhibition.
The societies are open to beginners and professionals alike and entitles members to exhibit and access tuition amongst other benefits. All artists join as Ordinary Members, and may enter exhibitions to earn acceptance points towards New Signature, Associate, and Higher Associate status. The WSA also goes out of its way to foster those from disadvantaged backgrounds which has yielded particularly positive results.
In addition to a number of good watercolour pictures, the ‘Eat, Paint, Love’ exhibition featured acrylic, oil, pastel and linocut works, all of which were up for sale. Three artists –Dave Johnson, Wendy Baumgarten and Lanthe Hudson also gave live demonstrations. I made a beeline for David Johnson, a master pastel artist who was working on a picture of a bush veld scene at the time of my visit.
It was magical to watch a great artwork unfold before my eyes. As Johnson sketched away he explained some tricks of the trade such as how to accentuate objects and how to achieve perspective. It took him less than two hours to produce the entire picture. As I watched I remembered my own drawing days and how I always regarded art as an outlet for the soul. Zanne Bezuidenhout, a WSA fine artist describes art as a “healthy outlet” and “benign experience”. Whatever your interpretation, a visit to the gallery and the centre is a must.
For a full list of ASA and WSA events and exhibitions, go to www.wsa.org.za