Pottery for a Purpose

A South African native finds ways to share her art with her Mississippi community.

Written by Eileen Bailey | Photographed by Joe Worthem

Living with insecurity is never easy. It can be stoked when one moves to a new country where the language is unfamiliar and everyone is a stranger. It can also come when someone stares into an empty bowl at mealtime.

Antoinette Badenhorst, a native of South Africa, knows firsthand about feeling insecure and struggling to relearn everything. That insecurity came on the heels of her move to the United States. There were moments of unease as she struggled to learn about the culture, language and simple day-to-day interactions in the community.

“It was a blur in the beginning,” Badenhorst said. “We were learning how American stores work and how everything works.”

Badenhorst, who grew up in Namibia, moved with her husband, Koos, to Mississippi in 1999, when he relocated for his job. The family, which included three daughters, settled in Saltillo. Badenhorst said she realized, shortly after the move, she needed a studio for her pottery so she could keep busy during the day while her children were at school and her husband was at work.

Her love for pottery began at a young age in South Africa, but in 1981, Badenhorst’s hobby morphed into a career. And when she moved to the United States, her passion for pottery sustained her.

As she started to feel more at home in her new surroundings, Badenhorst began to spread her wings as an artist and work with other potters in the area. She opened her own studio in 2002.

In the early years of the Salvation Army’s Empty Bowls luncheon, Badenhorst was asked by founding member Julia Blakey to help make bowls for the event. The luncheon, which brings together the culinary and artistic talents of residents in Lee County and northeast Mississippi, is an annual fundraiser for the Salvation Army and its efforts to help people facing food insecurities.

Those who attend the luncheon are served a meal that includes of a bowl of soup, a bit of bread and a bottle of water. A pottery bowl, made by both amateur and professional potters alike, is an extra gift people may take home.

There were many different occasions in the early years where people would get together to make the bowls. Badenhorst has, through the years, hosted various events at her studio where people could make a bowl for themselves and one for the Salvation Army. She also has had groups who have come in and wanted to make the bowls for the luncheon.

The number of bowls varies depending on the number of volunteers who can come and make the bowls and Badenhorst’s schedule.

“It is important to be a part of a community,” Badenhorst said.

Not only does Badenhorst produce stunning porcelain pottery, she also teaches how to make pottery and conducts an international porcelain online course. She has taught various classes in Europe, Canada and the United States, and her work has been shown around the world, including in Portugal and Japan. Badenhorst is a member artist in the Mississippi Whole Schools Initiative.

Her intricate porcelain pieces, each made through a special process that combines traditional wheel-throwing, hand carving and molding, fill her Saltillo showroom. Her pieces may look delicate, but they are sturdy, durable and perfect for a host of uses.

Badenhorst’s latest work has sleek modern lines and blends white with pops of color. Much of her porcelain has smooth curves and delicately cut-out designs along the edges. In just the right light, her pieces appear to have a translucent quality, and upon close examination, they seem to have a movement to them.

Because of that movement, some people have compared Badenhorst’s pieces to American artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. Still, her work is uniquely her own.

“There is energy all around us every second of our day, every moment of our lives,” Badenhorst said. “An energy that keeps things in motion, that makes things grow, that touches our senses and influences our lives in ways that we are often unaware of.”

Oxford, Mississippi | United States

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