Nurse shows her mettle in ancient craft

Shaanaaz de Jager

ONE does not have to be an artist to be creative with the ancient art form of pewter work, as I discovered while getting a quick lesson on how to design beautiful patterns on a piece of pewter material.

This week I had an opportunity to spend a few minutes with pewter artist and instructor Annie van der Merwe at her studio in Walmer, Port Elizabeth.

While I nervously traced a pattern I realised how much fun it could be taking one of her courses.

Annie had me create patterns on a heart which she had cut out for me.

I used a “low-relief method” of pewter work, which simply means that the pewter work did not need to be filled with beeswax or Polyfilla and glue.

Annie, a nurse by profession, was introduced to pewter by her sister, Tertia Lochner, more than five years ago.

“Pewter is made up of a fusion of different metals, in most cases tin and a small percentage of lead.

“It is quite easily damaged and care should be taken when working with it,” she explained.

Pewter was used in the ancient world by the Egyptians and later the Romans, and came into extensive use in Europe from the Middle Ages.

Today, Pewter sheets are used mainly for decorative purposes and are used by artists and crafters.

There are two ways to work with pewter: the relief modelling method, which I used for the heart, and the cast pewter method.

With relief modelling the design is traced onto the pewter sheet and is then modelled from the back using special tools.

This creates a raised or relief design on the front.

Annie uses the low-relief method and the high-relief method. The high-relief method requires the design to be pushed out from the back, and to be filled with beeswax or polyfilla and pewter glue to set.

Annie worked for gynaecologists before she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Going into the pewter field did not come easy for Annie who attended courses in Pretoria, and had “lots of help” in the beginning from her sister who teaches pewter work in Cape Town.

“My sister thought it would be a good idea for me to start something seeing that I was hitting 40.

“We found out about a franchise and a friend and I decided to fly up to Pretoria to purchase it.”

After two years Annie bought out her partner, while her friend Heidi Boekkooi also promoted the workshops. Despite her busy schedule, Annie also started working at the Missionvale Care Centre clinic four months ago.

“I love it. It is so nice to be back, especially in the community. I am planning on starting a crafts and arts project with the people who are in support groups.”

Annie also enjoys working with children and organises workshops especially for them, which are basic and playful.

“I also do all kinds of art and craft workshops, normally during school holidays,” she said. One of the biggest classes she taught was for a family day for a big company, where 1000 children attended. They did “all kinds of crafts, and came and went all day at the event”.

During a Women’s Day function she hosted a class for 50 adults for an hour.

“After they had made a small box the next group would come in,” Annie said.

“I teach the workshops alone, but if there are a lot of people I normally have my children helping me with cleaning and putting tools away, and so on.”

Annie also makes her own glue which, when dry, is transparent.

For those who want to work from home, Annie sells kits for R500, which contain a board, book, basic tools, gloves, petina, beeswax and pewter glue. For more information contact Annie on 083-409-5633.


TO create beautiful pewter work you will need the following tools:

A tracer is needed for tracing your picture on to the metal.

A double end balltool is used to create thin or thick lines.

A double end scoop-great is used for shaping and making lines neat.

A cutter is “fantastic” for cutting out the pewter, for example, cutting out the shape of a flower.

The paper pen is made from rolled paper. You will be using this tool to mould the picture from the back.

You also need a hard board, some foam, cutting board, cotton wool and black patina.

The patina is to age the pewter.

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