Newcastle’s Carnegie Art Gallery was erected on the site of the public gallows in 1915. It was converted into a museum in 1980 and became a world-renowned art gallery in 1991. It is a National Monument and its architecture is in the Victorian Classic Style. All the original features have been retained and it is situated in the oldest quarter in town.
This municipal gallery boasts a small but rich permanent collection of South African contemporary art. A collecting policy built around the theme of landscape and a particular focus on the art and craft of the Newcastle region give the collection coherence. Its collection includes contemporary paintings, sculptures, ceramics, fibre art, beadwork, weaving and wooden carvings by critically acclaimed and recognised South African artists. A unique and valuable collection of African Art and Zulu material cultural objects has also been accumulated.
The gallery is committed to the development of the viable craft industry in Newcastle. Many workshops for craft development skills are held for unemployed people.
One of these projects, called Isiphethu (a Zulu word meaning ‘fountain’) has received national acclaim. The works produced by this group of women are beautiful hand embroidered and appliquéd images reflecting an aspect of their personal lives.
Isiphethu began in l999 when a group of women from Madadeni and Osizweni came together to sew a wall hanging for a Woman’s Day project organised by the gallery. The project inspired the women to continue creating these unique pieces.
Each woman creates her own design, chooses her own subject, decides on the colours and creates pictures in a distinctive and individual style. All the embroideries tell stores, some are events in the lives of the women, others are legends and historical incidents and some reflect modern day living.
The gallery continues to help with providing a venue for them to meet, providing materials and helping to find markets. Each woman creates her own designs to fashion fabric ‘storybooks’ that tell their own unique tales; wall-hangings and tapestries that are sought after by locals and visitors alike. Many of the items produced in various workshops and projects are sold in the gallery shop.
The art gallery holds regular temporary exhibitions and art events and promotes local arts and crafts through its shop. A list of talented artists and crafters can be obtained from the gallery.
The shop has a wide variety of other items for sale including Zulu beadwork, gemstones, object d’art, traditional Zulu beer pots and items made from waste materials such as telephone wire and papier mache.