Carrol Boyes: Artist and designer

Carrol Boyes wanted her brand to live on ‘long after I’m gone’. Here’s how the former teacher built a global business.

We learned recently of the sad passing of Carol Boyes, a renowned South African artist and designer that skillfully combined the science of engineering with art to produce creative and highly-sought-after tableware. Products are made of aluminium, stainless steel and pewter and are either cast in the foundry or processed via stamping or pressing.

Carrol Boyes: Artist and designer

“I want this brand to continue long after I’m gone,” said the artist and businesswoman Carrol Boyes three years ago, in an interview published on her company’s website.

“To that end it’s very important to me to know that my family are involved in it and that they are part of the creative process.”

Both Boyes’s step-daughters Kim Jackson-Meltzer and Martine Jackson-Clotz are creative directors in the business, which the 65-year-old Boyes, who died in August 2019 after a brief illness, has built from the ground. She lost her life partner ceramicist Barbara Jackson to breast cancer at the age of 60 in 2010.

Her brother, winemaker John Boyes, is also involved in the Carrol Boyes range of wines and champagne. They grew up in Pretoria and on a farm her father owned in Tzaneen.

At age nine, Boyes became obsessed with drawing portraits, and at the back of a comic book saw an ad for a contraption that would allow her to draw a perfect, life-like portrait. She ordered it immediately, but it didn’t work.

“I then realised that no instrument will do it for me. I will have to do it myself.”

She went on to study sculpture at the University of Pretoria, and worked as an English and art teacher for many years. While teaching in Hout Bay, she finally decided to give up her day job.

Man water jug

“When I turned 35 I decided the time had finally arrived to turn my passion into a business,” she told Prestige magazine. “I saved for around six months in order to be able to support myself and then I resigned from my job. It was 1989 and I already had the basement studio in my home, and so what was a part-time hobby really became my life. I worked into the night, generally finishing at around two in the morning. I didn’t want to look back and know I hadn’t tried my best to make it work.”

Her first creations were jewellery made from clay and cuttlefish, and she then moved on to copper, which she dipped in her swimming pool to create a patina on it, according to a feature by writer Chris von Ulmenstein.

Once, she couldn’t find any metal for jewellery, and out of desperation melted her own pieces (some gifts from ex-partners) as well as jewellery from her mother and grandmother to create new products to sell.

Boyes says she took a very conservative approach to building the business, and bought only materials and equipment when she could afford it.

She eventually started creating cutlery, which long fascinated her. Growing up “with only the serious Victorian stuff in the house, I couldn’t understand why we didn’t have something that was fun to use,” she said.

She sold her creations on weekends at Green Market Square in Cape Town. When her products were featured in the media, demand grew to the extent that in 1992, she opened a factory on her father’s farm in Limpopo. The company also eventually opened a facility in Paarden Eiland in Cape Town.

Soul mates salad service

According to Prestige magazine, a demand for cutlery that could go into a dishwasher encouraged Boyes to explore cutlery made from stainless steel, and she eventually bought a stainless steel cutlery company, which manufactured items for the airline industry.

“Growing up with the brand, I remember we started selling products on Green Market Square and a few years later we were opening up our own retail stores (and) selling to 51 countries around the world,” said her step-daughter Kim Jackson-Meltzer.

“Exporting (was) one of the biggest challenges,” Boyes told Lionesses of Africa. “It requires endless patience and persistence, the resilience to compete in a world in which you are completely unknown, and more financial resources than you ever anticipate.”

There are currently 45 Carrol Boyes shops across the country, and staff own a 20% stake in these outlets. Recently she admitted that “the business side burns her out” and a chief operating officer was appointed to run the business. However, she still designed the company’s products before her death. She sculpted designs in Plasticine, where after the company’s art department would “fine-tune” her designs, using silicone and fiberglass before casting the final design in resin.

All the pewter, stainless steel and some of the aluminium products are manufactured in-house.

“Nobody in the world forges stainless steel like we do,” Boyes said.

In a video on the company’s website, she added that it was never her intention that the business would grow to this extent.

“It surpassed my wildest dreams and I would like to know that from a South African point of view that it remains a South African icon and that the South African public can be proud that we have created this brand that can go across the world.”

Her own favourite pieces are the Man water jug and the Soul mates salad service, she added.