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Galleries and Museums in the Eastern Cape

Whether you are an artist or simply have an appreciation of art, you will love what East London has to offer.

There are an abundance of Galleries in the city, including the Ann Bryant Art Gallery, a gallery which “seeks through its collections of fine and decorative arts to increase aesthetic awareness of cultural diversity and to afford our whole community means of enjoyment and enrichment from the visual arts.”  The gallery frequently has major exhibitions and is very involved in promoting the work of Eastern Cape artists.

The Marlene Neumann Centre has a gallery where you can explore and admire her unique black and white fine art photography.  Neumann, a South African artist, has developed a special technique which she applies to her photographs with an end result offering a fresh look at otherwise ordinary objects.  At the gallery you can browse through a variety of art including stunning landscape and wildlife photography and the Centre also regularly holds 6-week workshops where you can learn directly from this wonderful artist.

Another notable gallery in East London is the Vincent Art Gallery, just a stone’s throw away from the Vincent Park Mall.  Their art is “classic, young, established and it contemporizes the past, present and the future.”  The gallery not only houses an exceptional collection of fine art but also sculptures, blown glass, ceramics, exclusive jewellery and décor items.

‘Plen Air’ is the French term for painting in the outdoors and this is how Malcolm Dewey captures his beautiful paintings.  At his Fine Art Gallery in East London you can browse through his work, all of which is not only sold in South Africa but also overseas.  Malcolm works mostly with oil paint and watercolour and says of his work:

“I paint subjects that are meaningful to me and each painting will have a different sense, emotion and context.  I want the painting to stand out so that the collector will get pleasure from it for many years.  I avoid commercialism in its indifferent sense.  Each painting must be unique!”

Driftwood Studios is a gallery with a difference – not only is it a gallery and an art studio but it also provides accommodation and is the home of sculptor George Kockott. Driftwood Studios is a member of a worldwide network of artist residences and offers studio space and accommodation to artists wanting to get away to concentrate on their art. The Studios are equipped for wood, stone, metal and ceramics and if needed, the expert guidance of George Kockott is available.

Floradale Fine Art, a relatively new gallery in the Floradale complex, is a cooperative venture of five artists of the Eastern Cape and numerous ‘visitor’ exhibitors.  Sponsored by the Muller family of the well-known Floradale Centre and Intengu Communications, the gallery features the disciplines of Painting, Drawing, Printing, Sculpture and Collage.

To really experience the culture of South Africa and its cities, a visit to the local museum is always a must.  The museums in and around East London are wonderful places to learn about and embrace the area’s history and culture and there are many to choose from.  The East London Museum, located in the centre of the city, is considered one of the best natural and cultural history museums in South Africa.  Here you can find displays of and collections of everything from extensive beadwork and local cultural history to fish, shells and Martime history.  Exhibit highlights include the world’s oldest human trace fossil footprints, left by a human 124,000 years ago;  the type specimen of the Coelacanth, a fish believed to have become extinct some 80 million years ago;  the world’s last remaining Dodo egg, given as a gift to the original curator of the museum, Dr Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer;  Kannemeyria simocephalus, the large fossil reptile skull and skeleton and the Hofmeyr skull which dates back 36,000 years. For further information on the East London Museum, click here.

Just outside of East London, King Williams Town is home to the Amathole Museum, a natural and cultural history museum that was founded in 1884 and has worldwide recognition.  One of the oldest museums in South Africa, the museum’s exhibits include the second largest collection of stuffed mammals in the country and The Xhosa Gallery, an excellent exhibit which tells the story of the Xhosa nation and contains documents, photographs and artefacts dating back to the 1800’s.  However, probably the most famous exhibit and the one which no doubt has the most appeal is the story of Huberta the Travelling Hippo.  Telling the life story of a female Hippo who left her wetland home in St Lucia in the 1920’s and journeyed alone across the Eastern Cape, this exhibit highlights her extraordinary travels and you can even see the body of Huberta (after it had been sent to a taxidermist in London!)

A visit to South Africa would not be complete without learning more about Nelson Mandela and you can do so at his Museum in Qunu.  The Nelson Mandela Museum was founded 10 years to the day after his release from prison and exhibits the great man’s life, heritage and legacy.  The Museum also runs travelling exhibitions around the country, collaborating nationally and internationally with other institutions.
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, his background, or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom (1995). 

Other museums well worth a trip to are the Stutterheim Stationary Engine Museum and the Calgary Transport Museum.  The Stutterheim Stationary Engine Museum is believed to have one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of restored stationary engines in the world and The Calgary Museum is home to a fine collection of old carts, wagons and handcarts.  Also featured here is a Gypsy caravan, a tack room and a wheelwright’s workshop and forge.

All of these galleries and museums are wonderful places for both the visitor and local resident to appreciate the beauty in this world through the medium of art and through learning about the culture and history of this magnificent country.

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