30

ARTISTIC DESIGN IN WOOD

Artistic Design in Wood

What a wonderful experience it was for me to interview Ted Mirtle about his @artisticdesigninwood. There was so much to learn about and such a huge amount of interesting work that he has done, that it took a few visits to get all the information I needed to try to do this great artist and exceptional craftsman, justice.

Jill Alexa du Preez interviews Ted Mirtle, exceptional craftsman, carpenter and energetic Entrepreneur. #artisticdesigninwood

Entrepreneurial Background

Ted comes from a family of Entrepreneurs. His Grandfather arrived from Scotland, after serving in the army in India., The Mirtle’s settled in Bulawayo (in the then Southern Rhodesia), in 1895, to farm.

His wife, Granny Mirtle lived until the ripe old age of 101. She opened a Restaurant, named “Duke of Fife”.  Specialising in Pork Pies, Haggis and Shortbread. She saw the first trains and cars during her lifetime.

It is no small wonder then, to see how well Ted dealt with any difficulties he encountered, How he rose above them to have a thriving furniture factory enabling him to put his talent into creating such wonderful pieces of #artisticdesigninwood.

Needs Must When the Devil Drives

After Ted leaving school in 1955, Ted’s father gave him a job as a builder in his company. The sanctions imposed during this time made it impossible for the building trade to continue, so once again Ted had to made do with what he had.

He then went to Zambia to work on the Roan Antelope Mine for four years. Due to the Zambian Independence, there was no longer work for him on the mine.

He and Margaret married in 1964 and by 1967 when work was hard to come by, and realizing that he now had more responsibilities they decided to move to Bulawayo, Rhodesia. Cheryl, their daughter was born in Luanshya, Zambia in 1966 and their son Glenn was born in Bulawayo in 1969.

For 28 years he was involved in the Territorial Army in the capacity of what he calls, “The Reluctant Rifleman”, until in 1980 when this painful period of the bush war ended, and Zimbabwe was formed.

The Factory – Mirco (Pvt) Limited

Jill Alexa du Preez interviews Ted Mirtle, exceptional craftsman, carpenter and energetic Entrepreneur. #artisticdesigninwood

On a piece of land Ted bought in 1967, he decided to build a furniture factory and Mirco (Pvt.) Limited was born.

His brother Bob had started a radio business and required someone to do wooden furniture for retail. Bob continued to be a valued customer. Without any previous woodworking experience, Ted decided he would master this Craft. And master it he did.

Jill Alexa du Preez interviews Ted Mirtle, exceptional craftsman, carpenter and energetic Entrepreneur. #artisticdesigninwood

He bought a 2000sq..ft building and added an extension built of truck chassis and the Spray Bay made with a hessian screen and used old steam machinery, which he converted to electricity and not knowing anything about woodwork he started his business. He built Block 2 as the business grew.

Ted had a Robinson Rochdale – England four cutter with the original name plate B & MR (Beira & Machanaland Railways). This had bronze cone bushes not bearings. This shows just how old the machinery was.

In 1968, with Ted in charge of Production and Design, his brother Richard joined the business in the capacity of Accountant, Sales and Admin.

Richard also promoted the business by going to Trade Fairs in Germany, America and Japan.

By this time there were 10 people working for Ted and this number went up to 350 over the years, due to expansion into Timber Mills, Retail, and other business ventures.

Extending the Factory in the 1980’s

Jill Alexa du Preez interviews Ted Mirtle, exceptional craftsman, carpenter and energetic Entrepreneur. #artisticdesigninwood

Realizing that the factory was becoming too small they decided to buy a couple of plots of land, and, when the demolition of the Balmoral Flats by his brother, Bob, around the corner took place in 1969. They salvaged everything.

To save on costs they transported everything salvaged from that building site to build Blocks C and D.

The bricks, roof sheeting, window frames, glass recovered from the frames, rafters, everything recovered was used. All the while, the work in the factory was going on.

Half bricks were laid as flooring. Toilets were recovered and installed. Not a thing went to waste.

The roof cost more than the building. This was cut with hacksaws and welded. They hoisted the girder with gum poles. This was all checked by Structural Engineers.

The work began in September and they moved in the following January.

It took four months to complete this mammoth task.

During this time Ted was in the Territorial Army and this meant 6 weeks in and 6 weeks out for both him and his brother, Richard.

Amazing Accomplishments

One of the Yachts made by Ted. Jill Alexa du Preez interviews Ted Mirtle, exceptional craftsman, carpenter and energetic Entrepreneur. #artisticdesigninwood

It is so hard to imagine how, with all the building, having to be away, that work still went on and so did life.

Besides all the wonderfully crafted furniture designed and made by Ted, he also built six sailing yachts. They kept one and sold the others. They enjoyed sailing on Kariba and their local dams.

What a wonderful way for the family to spend time together. This “caravan on water” was equipped with a solar shower all manufactured and installed, by Ted.

Energetic Entrepreneur

They kept the business going by making glassfibre tables and chairs and canoes but of course their mainline was designing and making furniture for which they required enough timber. They used Kiaat (Mukwa), and some Rhodesian Teak.

Because of UDI, there was no foreign currency and they determined the need to find a way to get onto the export market. This became a priority. So in 1980, Richard attended a Trade Fair in Germany.

They needed more people to see their good furniture. The most popular being the Zeederberg Suite. Ted made machinery to make the wheels.

The Zeederberg Suite

Whilst displaying their furniture, he met three Japanese men who were very taken with the quality of the workmanship and they ordered each a container of the Ships, (Dromedaris/Mayflower) at $1000 per item. Each container carried 18 ships. Their order was approximately two and a half containers per month.

The main Countries buying from them were Germany, Canada, Japan South Africa. The Japanese were the most supportive customers. They ordered repeatedly.

The best-sellers were the bar which was a model of the Mayflower/Dromedaris and The Carriage Display Cabinet which was a model of Queen Wilhelmina’s Carriage.

The Model of Queen Wilhelmina’s Carriage

Model of Queen Wilhelmina's Coach - Jill Alexa du Preez interviews Ted Mirtle, exceptional craftsman, carpenter and energetic Entrepreneur. #artisticdesigninwood

Serendipity, or What?

A day after I interviewed Ted and heard of his work and looked through his Mirco Catalog and saw the wonderful work they did and all the furniture he designed, the most amazing thing happened.

Jill Alexa du Preez interviews Ted Mirtle, exceptional craftsman, carpenter and energetic Entrepreneur. #artisticdesigninwood

By pure chance, my daughter Lauren and I went to the Black Bull Steakhouse in West Beach for breakfast, as we went through the main entrance, low and behold there was a beautifully crafted “Trek Wagon” (this is called a Kakkelbeenwa here in South Africa).

After just seeing the work done by Ted, I was convinced that this was a piece made by him and I asked the manager if I could take a picture of it as I knew the person who made it. “Sure”, He replied, “We get requests for photos all the time”.

When Ted and Margaret visited two days ago, I showed him the photos and he immediately recognised it as one he had designed and made. He explained that there would have been a Grease pot, a kettle and also a water butt hanging underneath the wagon. I am not sure if they are still there but next time I go into the Black Bull I will check.

Capetonians, if you haven’t been to the Black Bull, it is really worth a visit, not only to see this “Trek Wagon”, but also for their amazing food.

I sincerely hope you have all enjoyed reading this post and feel sure you will also be in awe of the work and strength of Ted, his strength of character of this great talent to work wonders in the #artisticdesigninwood.

Jill du Preez

Creative Entrepreneur ● Seamstress | Quilter | Artist | Published Author | Creative Promoter of Emerging Artists

30 Comments

  1. Wood is such a beautiful canvas to carve on and make artistic designs. The photos you have in this article are breathtaking. The time and attention to detail must be painstaking for the artist. I especially like The Model of Queen Wilhelmina’s Carriage. This is a hobby I’m interested in getting into! Thanks for sharing these wonderful pictures and the stories surrounding them.

    • Hi Cory, Thank you so much for reading and commenting on this post. My husband was a woodworker and always said he had a “love affair” with wood. I can understand it. 

      Ted certainly made the wood he worked with into the most gorgeous articles of furniture and it was so popular. What amazed me is that he was totally self-taught. It was his sheer will and tenacity to achieve that sets him apart as a great craftsman.

  2. Dear Jill you did a very great work here. Ted Mirtle is indeed and inspiration to many people especially the young ones. He found his path in life and decided to stay by it even in the face off challenges.  that is the story of great men. i find in him strong tenacity of purpose. His artistic design in wood works are worldclass 

    • Hi Paschal, Thank you so much for the kind words. Am encouraged that so many have enjoyed reading about Ted’s wonderful ability. He was totally self-taught and it was the necessity that drove him. His work is really world class and bears testament to a man of great strength of character.

  3. I don’t know Ted, but I’m truly amazed at the quality of his work. The trek wagon is a true beauty. I wonder how many hours he spent on crafting this piece of art. 

    If I ever go to Cape Town, I’ll make sure to visit the Black Bull.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing his work here, and for taking the time to interview him. 

    • HI Ben, Thank you so much for reading and for the great comments. It was such a pleasure for me to learn all I did about the journey Ted has been on to learn his amazing craft. It meant hard work and tenacity and the will to learn. I guess we can all learn from Ted.

  4. Thanks for sharing this amazing article about the obviously very talented Ted Mirtle. His works are just stunning and fully justify having these articles to show off his talents. Having taken Woodwork at school my creations pale into insignifigance compared to his creations.. Loving the family background too especially Grannies pork pies and shortbread.

    • Hi Martin, It really goes to show what one can do when the need is there. This was such an eye-opener for me when interviewing Ted. I really didn’t know that this wonderful, unassuming man had this wealth of experience, self-taught, to share. His work ethic is awesome and so is his work.

      I found it a pleasure to write about Ted and his accomplishments.Am so glad you enjoyed reading this post.

  5. What a wonderful article on Ted Mirtle. Coming from a family of an entrepreneur was the pathway for him being a successful entrepreneur in artist and crafting. The great achievements and accomplishments of he’s had will live on forever, he has written his name on the sand of time. He’s lived a fulfilled life. 

    • Hi Olalekan, I think you are so right with your comments about Ted. He really has written his name in the sands of time. His work will be there for many years to come. 

  6. Wow, those photos are gorgeous. Ted’s story is absolutely amazing. Patience and perseverance always give rewards. I admire his beautiful woodwork , as I am a fan and collector  of unique, handcrafted wood  pieces of furniture. Would love to read a follow up to your article.  Thank you so much for sharing such a inspiring story and photos. 

    • Hi Selena, Thank you so much for your great comments on this post. It is so strange that you should ask for a follow up as  I am busy with one and then another one in the offing.

  7. Hi Jill,

    I love history and woodwork myself or anything about craftsmanship. I like the history and the details you wrote about Mr. Ted Mirtle. As I was reading his family and his story from back then, I was imagining also of how it was  then as you had given enough details. This is a well articulated article and a good one to read.

    I have read so many affiliate story and reviews so reading  your article made me smile and was able to get away for few minutes as yours is like a breath of fresh air. 

    Keep up the good work. I wish you all the best. Thank you.

    Nida

    • Wow! Nida, I am blown away by your amazing comments on this post. I loved interviewing Ted as he is such a great talent and such an unassuming man. To him, it was just what he needed to do to get by. He acquired so much knowledge and skill through sheer tenacity and strength of character.

      Thank you so much. Kind regards.

  8. Interesting. I go carried away with this review. In addition to this,the biggest lesson I learned is that you must understand wood before you try to build with it or refinish it. Else,crappy result is bound to come out of it which could lead to time and money wastage.I don’t know if this box- jewelry box made with wood is still existing. When I was small, my grandma told me this jewelry box is useful to review that small piece of wood you have been saving in order to serve as a place for keeping special things.

    Tge presentation of this topic is superb.

    • Hi NiceAngel, Thank you for reading my post and commenting. I still have a lovely wooden jewelry box my husband made for me. It is very special.

  9. Awesome! Thank you for taking the time to research and to share such a great talent. I found this Artistic Design in Wool very interesting and I love his strength of character of his great talent to work wonders and his exceptional craftsman in his field of work.I am impressed!

    • Hi Mary, Thank you for enjoying and finding this interesting. It was such a pleasure to interview Ted and Margaret about their life and especially Ted and his wonderful abilities. Am wondering what he will come up with next. I shall be writing a couple of follow up posts as he has such a wealth of expertise and knowledge about all things.

  10. Thanks for this very interesting post about entrepreneural skill and creativity of Ted mirtle. I must admit I really enjoyed this article and I have learnt a great lesson reading this post. I have realised that entrepreneur has evolved long time ago and there have been great people of creative minds in the time past. I am a have visited South Africa twice on my two times visit, I stayed at Johannesburg for an assignment. In my next visit, I will create time to visit Capetown and possibly visit Black Bull to see the Trek wagon created  by Ted Mirtle. 

    • Hi Abiodun, Thanks for the great comments about Ted and his creativity. It is amazing to think of all the wonderful things that have been created over time. There will still be many in our lifetime. It would be great for you to visit Cape Town and to see the Trek Wagon.

  11. Thank you, to sharing this story on Ted Mirtle. You did a nice job showing us his life experiences. WoW! Teds’ grandmom, living to be over 101. They really went through some of the hardest times, for back then. Looks like hard work does pay -Ted created Limited and then learned the skill. I wonder what the odds were for you running across Teds Kakkelbeenwa. I like your writing style. Thank you. ` LeNard

    • Hi LeNard,

      Thank you for reading this post about Ted Mirtle. He is an amazing man with such a wealth of expertise in so many things. He seems able to make anything work.  Gosh, it was such a surprise me coming across the Kakkelbeenwa. I still want to take Ted and Margaret to see it.

  12. This is an incredible post

    You have really invested in your time and energy to gather up this article. Ted is really a legend in artistic works, i was aghasted seeing most works he has done in the past, this man can use wood to design anything. His skills in artistic design using word can not be overemphasized. Thanks for this interesting post

    • Hi Michael, Thank you so much for the lovely comments you wrote on my post. It was such a pleasure interviewing Ted and I am also in awe of his amazing talent.

  13. Great post and good info.

    Really, this is a beautiful piece of art, made by woof. I’m jealous about the people who can do this. 

    Actually, I think my dad can also do it, he was a carpenter for more than 30 years, so I think he can do this, do you agree with my opinion? 

    Anyway, if you can do this, you should be proud on yourself, it is just amazing. 

    Thanks for sharing this with us! 

    • Hi Emmanuel, Thank you for reading my post and the great comments. It was such a pleasure learning about Ted and his amazing work and being able to share it with you all.

  14. This is an amazing post. Ted was such a determined person and his determination brought him great success in life. I really love the carvings of the model of Queen Wilhelmina’s carriage. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Pat, Thanks so much for reading my post. and commenting. Ted is indeed an incredible person. It was a pleasure to tell people about the wonderful work he does.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *