“Over the years I have come to accept that my spirituality and creativity can best be expressed in the physical realm,” confesses Sharon Peddie, Greyton’s talented chef/woodcarver/goldsmith. When she was a little girl, her accountant father whose hobby was carpentry, let her help him at his bench, so she grew up with a chisel in one hand and a hammer in the other. Later, she added a metal saw and an egg whisk. Creativity flows through her fingertips.

Goldsmith Sharon Peddie works on a ring at the workbench she made herself in her jewellery workshop in Greyton.

After she left school, Sharon trained as a goldsmith and began her career in Pietermaritzburg repairing and copying Victorian jewellery. Later, she and a business partner established the successful Scarab Jewellery Studio in Claremont. The business is still going strong but Sharon, with her itchy fingers and passion for new challenges, moved on. She discovered that sawdust still lingered in her brain and when she came across a book on violin-making, her curiosity was piqued.

Violin-makers are not to be found round every corner, but through a chance encounter on the very day she was to leave to start a new life in Greyton, she was introduced to not just any fiddle-maker, but a master craftsman who created instruments on commission for professional musicians all over the world. His name was Brian Lisus. She asked if he would take her on as a trainee and, because she already had considerable experience in wielding a chisel, he soon started her on carving scrolls. As Brian was later to say, “I was in such awe of the scroll that she produced that I promptly decided to ‘confiscate’ it and use it on my own violin.”

And then one slow day, as they were idly chatting, Brian told her of an idea he’d had. He wanted to honour South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize winners – Chief Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former President FW de Klerk and his successor, President Nelson Mandela – by creating a string quartet of the finest quality instruments all made from the same tree, consisting of two violins, a viola and a cello. Each of the instruments would be named after the qualities for which the laureates were most recognised: Peace (Tutu), Reconciliation (de Klerk), Freedom (Luthuli) and Hope (Mandela) and the group as a whole would be known as the Quartet of Peace.

In October 2012, the first Quartet of Peace house concert was held in Stellenbosch, where the Amici Quartet played to an intimate audience that included former state president FW de Klerk and his wife Elita.

A nudge from Sharon was all he needed and before long the two of them had begun to carve the instruments. The project developed a life of its own and since the Quartet was launched in 2010, it has travelled all over the world (in special cases designed to provide maximum protection for the instruments).

The instruments have been played in centres as diverse as King’s Place, London, L’Atelier de Picasso in Paris, St Thomas Church in Lepzig, Germany – the burial place of Bach – and in South Africa at the Cradle of Humankind and the Endler Hall, Stellenbosch, where they are permanently housed at the Music Conservatory, under the care of cellist, Peter Maartens. The centuries-old, string-making company, Pirastro offered to donate strings for the instruments in perpetuity.

In 2012 a Quartet of Peace Charitable Trust was established in South Africa and later in the UK, into which the proceeds of the concerts are paid. Its main aim is to provide financial assistance to talented young South Africans from underprivileged communities to advance their qualifications and a career in music through tertiary training, either locally or abroad. It also wishes to promote the qualities for which the Nobel laureates stood, through the medium of beautiful music played on fine instruments which are tuned to play in perfect harmony with one another. Another aim is to address the need for training instrument-repair craftsmen in South Africa.

While this runaway project was blazing a trail of its own, Sharon and her former life-partner, Angela Craig were running their own guest house and retreat centre in Greyton and Sharon was also able to indulge in another great passion – cooking. Her whole face lights up when she says, “I love cooking!” So, while Angie organised the retreat programmes encompassing modalities like reflexology, kinesiology and aromatherapy, Sharon had a field day in the kitchen, preparing plant-based menus for the needs and preferences of each participant, using locally-sourced fresh produce, some of it grown in their own beautiful garden.

Although she and Angie are no longer a couple, she continues to fulfil her love of cooking in the High Hopes kitchen. In addition, as lifecycles are wont to do, she has been brought back full circle to her first love, jewellery-making. Together with local carpenter, Aziz Jacobs, she has made all the benches and additional furniture she needs for her workshop. She works in gold and silver and loves precious and semi-precious stones for their colour and healing properties. Redesigning and repairing old pieces and giving them a whole new lease on life gives her particular satisfaction.

Across the road from her workshop is the Greyton Candle Shop which will stock some of her pieces (she is presently building showcases for them), and she intends selling a small selection of her work online, but her preference is to work on commission, where she and her client can each contribute to the final design. As a goodwill gesture to the candle shop for showcasing her jewellery, she is carving wooden stands for the hand-made candles sold there.

But as lifecycles also tend to do, hers has revealed threads she didn’t realise were there. Suddenly, a pattern seems to be emerging  and the range of hands-on crafts Sharon has mastered have pointed her strongly in the direction of training others, especially young people from disadvantaged communities who require the skills necessary to produce an income on the one hand, and a means of expressing the prodigious talent latent in many of them. With her restless energy and creative drive, it will not be surprising to see something new and exciting emerge from the hands of this master-craftswoman in the near future.

Sharon can be contacted on sharonpeddie.highhopes@gmail.com

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