Who We Are
This is a family business through and through – this is who we are:
In 1999, I came to live in Piggs Peak as I had married Tommy Stephens, Coral’s grandson. I had been living in Johannesburg since 1994 working in the banking industry, having returned from a five year stint in London to the New South Africa. It was an exciting time as South Africa reintegrated itself with the world and a great time to live in the city.
Piggs Peak cannot be more of a contrast and I soon became involved with the family business (there’s not a lot to do around here) and eventually bought it out in 2002. I relocated the business to the Peak Craft Centre which provides better access for visitors and more space for all of us.
Little has changed in terms of the way we create our fabrics, our output is small and concentrated with custom orders for carpets, drapery and other fabrics. We have a small shop near our weaving studio which carries a wide range of our product and provides a good stop over for anyone travelling through our area.
I am involved in the design and production on a daily basis and work with a team of loyal and dedicated staff who have an exceptional level of skill and commitment.
We are founding members of the Swaziland Fair Trade organisation too.
Jane is Coral’s daughter who ran the business together with Coral and after her retirement. She is responsible for introducing some of the most innovative weaves and materials into the business which have become a staple of our collection: the Wintergrass Range. Jane acts as an agent and participates in collaborative design and support for us today.
Mags has a studio in Midrand, Johannesburg and has been weaving tapestries out of handspun, hand dyed mohair for a stable of select South African artists for many years. She specialises in coverting artworks by artists such as William Kentridge, Norman Catherine and Judith Mason into large scaled tapestries which are exhibited and sold locally and internationally to wide acclaim. Her studio continues, as busy as ever. In November 2014 her series of tapestries she has done in collaboration with William Kentridge was shown for the first time in South Africa, at the Wits Art Museum.
The reason we are all here today! Coral was born in 1910 and raised in Pretoria. She married Robert (Bob) Stephens she came with him to Swaziland where he founded the commercial pine forestry industry in the 1940s in this northern region of Swaziland. He founded Peak Timbers (Pty) Ltd which still exists today. Coral had an interest in weaving and along with a young Xhosa woman, Sylvia Mantanga they began to weave fabric for curtaining for Coral’s newly built farm house, Boshimela (House of Chimneys) – starting with the long passage. Coral began with hand spun chalk (undyed) mohair woven on a fine warp to make an honest, authentic, beautiful fabric. Soon she was taking orders for this simple yet sophisticated fabric from friends who would visit and soon she began to experiment with different colours, textures and weaves. Her business grew out of a deep appreciation for the beauty of what was being created. Her designs were original and bold, she was often avant garde in her use of contrasting colours, bobbles, loops and thick slubby textures but always memorable.
Coral developed a following and her designs were taken up by Jack Lenor Larsen, the famous American textile designer who collaborated with her in an African collection that raised her profile. Her fabrics graced theaters, boardrooms, mansions and hotels in South Africa, Europe and America.
Because of the quality and craftsmanship of Coral Stephens’ weaving the longevity of the fabric is exceptional. Many people have taken over their grandparents’ and parents’ curtains and carpets: these vintage fabrics have become like family heirlooms – they retain good memories and are full of character and life (despite their age).
Coral continued working until a stroke incapacitated her, and she was forced to slow down. She and Bob continued to live at Boshimela all their lives and the home became a showcase for her beautiful work (the curtains in the passage remained) and was always filled with visitors, good food and a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Bob died in 2001, aged 96 and Coral in 2003.
In 2004 the house was used as the main location for the movie Wah Wah. A semi-autobiographical account of the childhood of actor, Richard E Grant and the disintegration of colonialism in African in the late 1960s.
In 2007 Boshimela was burned down in a devastating forest fire that swept the area, along with a good chunk of the surrounding forest.
In 2009 Tommy and & Murrae bought and rebuilt the house and live there today (happily ever after).
Sylvia was born in Butterworth in the Transkei area of the Eastern Cape of South Africa in 1925. She was a Xhosa who was educated by Swedish nuns at St Cuthberts Mission School in Tsolo where weaving was taught. Syliva learned to read weaving patterns and mastered all of the elements of handmade fabrics: from spinning, dyeing and weaving – she brought her Swedish weaving manual to Piggs Peak and referred to it often. She became an integral part of Coral’s business for most of her life. She returned to the Eastern Cape for periods of time, and married a Swazi man and had a family home nearby.
Sylvia worked for me until the age of 84, refusing to give up work and retire. She was a complete enigma having energy and interest in everything she did. A role model for all of our staff here: she was the first to come to work every day and never missed a day either. She died in 2010 after completing what would be her last day at work.