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Artists Profile

Karin Ashdown

Born 1962, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Karin Ashdown is an artist in general with the ability to create any piece of art; she specializes in polymer clay miniatures and theatre set design. Miniatures were a hobby she discovered round about 1996 and has absolutely excelled in making miniature food. The perfect combination of various forms of art and the skills in which they are derived can be found in any one of her scaled works.

Born in 1962 in Port Elizabeth to Joan Reid, her mother, a highly skilled commercial artist, and Gert Beer, her father, a carpenter who took the craft of woodwork to a level beyond brilliance. Both taught her their crafts and raised her to be as they were, people of old, where your greatest gifts were your hands and talents.

When her parents separated, Karin lived with her mother and step-father, Brian Reid,  always keeping a solid bond with her father. Both remarried and the additions to the family increasingly added knowledge, wisdom and colour to her already very creative mind. They taught her to think out of the box and use her imagination to its full ability.

She attended various schools all around the country as they were never in one place for very long- the one constant in her life always being art. After matriculating she completed a post matric course in pottery- that being her basis for sculpture.

On beginning work she started out in a Design office in George as a draftswoman, concompassing electrical, mechanical, survey and architectural drafting as well as  landscaping. She then moved on to work in an Arts and crafts store in Johannesburg, designing rubber stamps and developing stamping techniques, as well as teaching rubber stamping courses. This was between 1990 and 1995. Upon leaving Stamp-a-Mania she completed her courses and acquired teaching qualifications in Donna, Kimple and Scioto painting techniques.

In 1996 on another move with her family back to PE, she formed her own ceramics and crafts company, Christmas Cottage and Kay Kraft. Here she taught general crafting workshops and molded and produced ornamental ceramics of extremely high quality. That same year an article was published in the Christmas issue of EP Herald, using her crafts and family as an example of Christmas Cheer, both her daughters gracing the front cover. Whilst there she decided to venture into a new hobby –supposedly something for herself – that being dolls house miniatures introduced to her by Dot Mattox, and submersed herself into it with passion, brimming with curiosity and eagerness to learn something new. She quotes, “For the first time everything I’d learnt came together as a whole. I could use cake icing techniques, painting, landscaping, architecture, electrical design – everything I’d ever done.”

People saw her work and fell in-love with it, the look of her items being the most captivating, because although her works were on a minute scale, they were perfect replicas of the real thing. She hit the jack-pot and was a success from day one. She started selling her miniatures, one of her main customers being the Miniature Toy Museum in Stellenbosch and quite a few international buyers.

 In 1998 they moved down to the Western Cape. Upon arrival Karin immediately searched for other miniature artists. Here she chanced upon The Cape Town Miniature Guild based in Pinelands.  They two were extremely impressed by her work. It was through the Guild and with their encouragement that Karin ventured to the Alexander Palace Miniature fair in London in 1999. The fair was a hit and so was she. More connections were built up and more buyers were brought forth. Her work was no longer only available in South Africa. The article produced on the Fair that year was published in Dolls house and Miniature Scene, a few paragraphs focusing on SA’s very own Mrs Ashdown. Not even 3 months later the same magazine featured Karin as artist on “Liza’s Finds”.

After several years of intense work producing miniatures for fairs and resale, a tragic car accident resulted in the death of Karin’s brother and less than two years later, her father died of cancer.  The emotional stress took its toll and she was forced to take an extended break to refocus and recover.  The only creative undertaking in the 3 years that followed her brother’s accident was the set design for 2 dance productions.  She also took time out to join an art school and discovered the joy of painting – both acrylic and oil paints.  It was the catalyst she needed to start working again. 

Currently focusing on teaching crafts and producing miniatures again – though on a much smaller and more exclusive scale – Karin is actively working on several stage sets.  In 2007 she designed and built the sets for two theatre productions, A Midsummer Nights Dream and the mini panto, Cinderella.  MSND has earned her a nomination for Best Set Design in the Cape Amateur Theatre Awards (CATA), due to be held in March 2008.  She is also busy designing a dance productions set for Outline Dance Studios.  She hopes to  expand her knowledge of beading and jewelry design during the course of 2008 as well as developing skills  with a new sculpting medium she has recently been introduced to.


Author:  Robyn L. Ashdown

January 2008


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