Raining sturdy shweshwe staffies and poised pussycats on New York

Naomy Maxhakane and Rolf Werner with some of the 50 shweshwe dogs and cats that were made in a Dorchester Heights garage in East London and will be the table centrepieces of an upmarket gala dinner in New York.
Naomy Maxhakane and Rolf Werner with some of the 50 shweshwe dogs and cats that were made in a Dorchester Heights garage in East London and will be the table centrepieces of an upmarket gala dinner in New York.

It’s going to be raining cats and dogs in New York when 50 shweshwe animals made in an East London garage grace the tables of a lavish gala dinner in December.

After the black-tie dinner, the arty centrepieces will be auctioned with proceeds going to New York’s Animal Medical Centre non-profit animal hospital.

The blue and white poodles, staffies, terriers and cats are about to be shipped off to New York by retired IT teacher and tireless charity worker Rolf Werner, who created work for three people over the six months it took to create the funky menagerie.

Werner, whose daughter Kim Zabriskie is the director of events at the prestigious David Monn event management company, said one of her tasks is to execute the high-profile Animal Medical Centre annual Top Dog gala dinner.

In 2016, she imported beaded dogs and cats from Cape Town for the centrepieces and they were an absolute hit and raised tens of thousands of dollars when they were auctioned off on the evening.

“In 2016, she imported beaded dogs and cats from Cape Town for the centrepieces and they were an absolute hit and raised tens of thousands of dollars when they were auctioned off on the evening.”

When his daughter approached him for ideas for this year’s event, Werner, who has dabbled in crafts ever since he started painting coat hangers as a boy, hit on the idea of shweshwe-enrobed animals.

“After all, what could be more East London than shweshwe? It’s made right here,” said Werner, who engaged the services of wire frame artist Great Materere, who sells his pieces on the Nahoon side of the Batting bridge.

Between them they perfected the shapes of the animals – from sturdy staffies to poised pussycats – and then Werner had to come up with a method to cover them before triangles of shweshwe could be applied with cold glue.

“Shweshwe doesn’t stick to wire, so I covered a dog with elastic bandage but that was hugely expensive and so I tried masking tape.”

Eventually Werner used strips of the Daily Dispatch to create papier mâché pulp with which to flesh out the frames, creating a robust form which will proudly anchor the table settings of the sumptuous event.

Photos of the prototypes were so well received they led to an order of 64 round shweshwe tablecloths for the event, which were made by Reeston seamstress Molly Ruse.Gathered in Werner’s suburban garage, the animals exude personality, despite being eyeless. “The frame determines this and that’s all thanks to Great, who made them,” said Werner, who was about to pack the pieces ahead of shipping them to the US when the Daily Dispatch visited.

Proudly overseeing the finished four-legged products was Naomy Maxhakane, 29, a Unisa student who found part-time work six months ago in the little animal factory.

“The work has been very nice and I am looking forward to seeing the photographs of the gala dinner,” she said.

The statuesque animals have had such a great response that Werner is considering making more and selling them at markets.

“This way Great and Naomy will be kept on in part-time jobs and I will continue to love what I’m doing.”

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