Collars with colour and tradition by Nick Waters
I have featured interesting and historical old dog collars in previous columns but this is a first for contemporary ones.
They are though no ordinary dog collars, but combine African tradition and the artistic talent and skills of two women living thousands of miles apart on two continents.
If the saying ‘you can take the ‘man’ out of Africa but you cannot take Africa out of the ‘man’’ applies to anyone, it most certainly does to South Wales born Mary Boycott who, for the last eight years, has lived just outside the picturesque Mid Wales border town of Montgomery. For more than 30 years she lived in Africa having emigrated with her first husband, a fitter in the steel industry. The years were spent travelling and working in South Africa, Botswana and what was Rhodesia, experiencing the highs and lows these sometimes troubled nations had to offer and absorbing the culture and traditions and being captivated by what the Zulus call the ‘rainbow colours’ of the traditional beadwork. Mary still tries to get to Africa at least once a year.
To the Zulus in particular, coloured glass beads have always been more than just merchandise, something to barter with, or just simply decorative, their colourful beadwork is unique because of its singular eloquence in the way messages dealing with male-female relationships were traditionally woven into its design.
Social conventions often influence the combinations or arrangements which determine the meanings of colours and geometric design. Three corners of a triangle represent father, mother and child.
In Umhlanga Rocks on the South Africa coast, Mary met an African woman named Thuli doing what she had done for most of her life, making beadwork which she sold from her small beach hut. Mary mentioned to her twin sister, Margaret, that she would love to try to put her beadwork on dog collars, and so the seeds were sown for a working relationship between Mary in her small workroom in Wales and Thuli in her beach hut in Africa.
Mary has always had a love of animals; in Africa she had a stable yard and taught riding to children and when they returned to Britain a dog christened Petula, rescued from children ill-treating it at the side of a road, came with them. Mary said to the children, "Stop that! I want your dog,” and they threw it at her.
Some of the designs are Thuli’s traditional African designs, while others are created by Mary using a selection of coloured felt-tip pens but influenced by traditional African beadwork. Orders and designs are given to Mary’s twin sister still living in Africa, who in turn gives them to Thuli. It takes Thuli two weeks to complete an order of ten.
When they arrive in Wales, the beadwork bands are then carefully sown by Mary on to best quality leather collars. With prices ranging from £14 to £22, and each one being different, the result is an affordable and unique piece of artwork to adorn a lucky dog. Mary can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.