Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Thatchers at Work

As I have mentioned, we are in a long slow process of moving to the Western Cape, where we'll be so lucky as to be living and working on an exquisite farm in Franschhoek. Old farm dwellings have been beautifully remodelled, as well as some new ones built, as guest cottages.
The original French Hugenot farmhouse and outbuildings are now in the process of being restored according to heritage requirements into a hotel, dining areas and more accommodation. I spent a blissful autumn morning on a visit there last month, surrounded by mountains and vineyards, watching and sketching a team of thatchers giving the old water mill a new hat.

The skills of these men are quite awe-inspiring as they deftly turn bundles of long grass into a neat weatherproof carapace for this little whitewashed building. Unfortunately much of the mill has been neglected and vandalised over previous decades, so it's doubtful if it'll ever function as a mill again, but still a lovely feature.
I spoke to the foreman, who told me that this team comes mainly from the small town of Macassar, which has its own fascinating history. The craft of thatching has been passed down from father to son, as his father and grandfather did to him - he doesn't know how long his family has done this work, but I wouldn't be surprised if it goes back to the late 1600's, as do Macassar and the Hugenots in the Cape.

Here they were busy with 'toumaak' ...rolling and looping twine by hand, after which the bundles of grass were rhythmically tossed to the roof, where they were lined up and stitched into place with long needles. By this time I was - shamefully having watched the much harder work going on before me - exhausted from sitting in the shade and sketching and had to go in for some tea and a rest... but I checked at intervals as the roof was quickly and expertly layered, combed and knocked into shape and, with a long weekend of well deserved rest in between, finished off with a cap of cement to hold everything in place.

I sat outside again as they completed the finishing touches, and did a final sketch before they packed up and moved on to the next finely crafted job - let's hope the sons of these fathers carry on the good work for years to come.


Sadami said...

Lovely paintings and a good post, Cathy! I love looking at working people and sketch them on spot. "May I sketch you?" my ask for permission often puzzles these humble, shy and hard workers. Lovely to see their nice smiling faces for my sketches at the end. My great honour and reward. Best wishes, Sadami

Cathy Gatland said...

I agree Sadami, seeing into someone else's work and world is always fascinating and enriching, and an honour to record if allowed, best wishes to you too!

dinahmow said...

I love this! An d from Jo'burg to the Cape. That IS a big move.

Cathy Gatland said...

Thanks Dinah, yes, after 40 years, huge!

RH Carpenter said...

I've only seen thatched roofs in Wales when I was there, and even then (decades ago) I was told that it was a "dying art" and it makes me sad that it may be so. But perhaps there are still sons learning from their fathers and carrying on this wonderful tradition. There is nothing more beautiful and homey than a whitewashed cottage with a thatched roof. Thanks for sharing!

Cathy said...

Lovely post, as usual!
We lived in a thatch-roofed house in Pretoria for 3 years - before blissfully moving to a more water-proof and heatable tile roofed one! :-D That being said, I totally understand your fascination at the work!

Gordon Lymang said...

You have a fetching way with words and paintings.