Artist captures spirit of the dog

Wire and bead artist Great Materere’s lifelike bull terriers have been big sellers ever since he made his first one three months ago and now he has joined forces with an American Bully breeder to sell them in an entirely new setting.

Materere, 33, has been given a stall at the Finest Bully Show at Hams Sport Club on Saturday morning by organiser Marcel Thurston, 50, who breeds American Bullys at a Brakfontein farm.

The breeder had seen his work displayed on a traffic island at the bottom of Old Transkei Road.

“When I saw a life-sized bull terrier on the island I was really impressed,” says Thurston.

“The stature, muscle formation, back line and the drop on the loin was 100%, as was the stack of the dog and the front view of the chest.

“He nailed it, so I asked him to be at the show and sell his work.”

Thurston has also commissioned Materere to fashion a wire and bead sculpture of one of his American Bullys, a fawn coloured male called Breeze, which will enjoy pride of place at the show’s master of ceremony’s table.

“I’ve sent him photos of Breeze and everyone at the event will see it.”

Materere, who was prompted to make his first bull terrier after seeing one in a Berea front yard on his walks home to Southernwood, sold it within two days and was stunned by the reactions his wiry canines have attracted.

“My first attempt, which was half a metre long, got lots of compliments so I knew it was right and I decided to do more. My second one was life-sized and someone took a picture of it and it ended up on Facebook. It also sold quickly.”

As word of the accurately rendered sculptures spread, commissions began to roll in and Materere has completed about 40 brilliant bull terriers.

“They got an overwhelming response. People started ordering them every time they saw one on the island. They give me photos of their dogs and I charge between R800 and R2,000 depending on the size and how many patches of colour they have.”

The island is Materere’s showroom. Shared with fellow wire sculptor Themba Gatooma, their roadside art gallery has been spread with colourful giraffes, cats, chickens and ducks ever since Materere, who hails from Harare, Zimbabwe, moved his “workshop” from Gonubie when its Main Road was under construction.

Now, with the prospects of a stall at the Finest Bully Show, the artist sees a whole new market opening up.

“I am addicted to meeting new people – it inspires me to do well. I am also looking forward to making an American bully, which is different to the bull terrier which has a more triangular head.

“I love making different things. Making the same shapes becomes monotonous.”

Asked to explain how he manages to so expertly reproduce in 3D the muscular stance of this particular breed and then cover the wire skeletons with a muscular blanket of glossy beads, Materere – who has no formal training in art – said it was simply an innate talent.

“The skeletons are the most important thing because [once you understand how these work] then you can see where the muscles fit.

“But it is beyond my understanding to explain how I know what the skeleton should look like. I just know that accuracy is very important to me,” he says, posing with the real-life mighty Spartan, one of Thurston’s prize American bullys.

For the breeder – who owns Mickey Monster Bully Kennel, where he breeds pocket and standard American bullys – it is a case of the more the merrier when it comes to dogs, wire or otherwise.

“We are expecting about 200 dogs at the show on Saturday, including American Bullys, pit bulls, English bulldogs, bull terriers, bullmastiffs, boerbulls, Amstaffs and Boston terriers.”

The show is the first of what he hopes will become an annual event.

“The bully enthusiasts have been wanting to host a show in East London, and so I approached the American Bully Federation of South Africa (ABFSA) and asked them to provide the judges and all the trophies.”

ABFSA will send two judges to the show, which is open to anyone who owns a bull breed dog and will be judged in 10 categories.

“I am also expecting about 30 American Bullys, which will be judged in one of the two arenas and which will be judged in the ring for the formation of their body structure,” says Thurston.

He once bred English bulldogs but switched to American bullys for their “cleaner, better projected muzzle and more muscular bodies”.

Cuddling the strapping Spartan, Thurston said the bully family of dogs was often misunderstood.

“Their looks are intimidating, but those who buy them from puppy age are insanely in love with the breed because of their loving, loyal natures.”


The Finest Bully show will be held at the Hamilton Sports Club on Saturday, August 25 at 8.30am.

Tickets at the door cost R40 per adult, R20 per child and R100 per dog.

Officials will ensure dogs are secured with good collars and leads.