Swellendam Winter School: A Feast for the Knowledge-Hungry

So, your hands have been itching to acquire a new skill: to bake the perfect loaf of sourdough bread, to finally restore that rickety heirloom gathering dust in the garage to its former glory, to concoct herbal remedies for your family’s health and wellbeing. From 5 May to 23 August 2020, the picturesque historic town of Swellendam will be transformed into a vibrant, living classroom where you will be able to immerse yourself in the ultimate indulgence of learning.

Established in 2019, the Swellendam Winter School is now open for its second round of enrolments, with a tantalising array of more than 50 courses, covering everything from yoga and meditation to
writing and gardening. The courses range from one-day workshops to intensive five- or six-day immersions and are all presented by facilitators who are both deeply knowledgeable and contagiously passionate about
their subject matter. Many of the courses will be taking place in the homes, studios or gardens of local facilitators, offering a truly personal touch.
Facilitators who do not have spaces of their own or come from out of town, will be offering their courses in some of Swellendam’s truly beautiful venues, such as the Bibliotheca Reading Room and Martin Versveld Garden.
“We want Swellendam Winter School to be two things: personal and professional,” says founder and director, John Paisley. “We want participants to feel like they’re getting a peek behind the scenes of our facilitators’ creative processes, and we want them to leave feeling like they’ve learned from the very best.”

This year, the winter school’s courses are divided into five distinct categories, with two weeks dedicated to each:
Creative Arts & Design
Dates: 5 – 10 May | 28 July – 2 August
Whether you’re an established artist or merely a curious mind in search of a new hobby, these two weeks of Creative Arts & Design courses are sure to pique your interest. From photography to pottery; lino printing to music appreciation; botanical art to oil painting; and even a writing course with popular Afrikaans novelist, Ingrid Winterbach; the creative juices will
have no choice but to flow! During his six-day botanical art course, Geoffrey Visser will aim to teach his students every single thing he’s learned on his own journey so far. “It’s a bit of an information overload, but it really helps set aspiring artists for success,” he says. Internationally acclaimed ceramicist, David Schlapobersky will be presenting an introduction pottery
in his own cosy studio. One of the things he hopes to convey to his students is the soulfulness of this artform. “Nothing is ever static here,” he says. “You always approach your work with a different energy.”

Mind & Body
Dates: 18 – 22 May | 14 – 19 July
Thinking, breathing and getting dressed in the morning may seem like the most mundane of daily activities. Things we could even do in our sleep. Have you ever considered, however, that these are the very simple things that may hold the key to greater peace, success and joy? This is what the Mind & Body courses at Swellendam Winter School are all about. During these two weeks, you can learn how colour (in your wardrobe, home and greater environment) impacts your life; how to think better, faster and deeper; how stretching and breathing can help renew your being; and how ordinary herbs can be made into natural medicine. While these courses are open to anyone who’d like to transform their lives through tweaking the
ordinary, the majority lend themselves particularly well to educators. “My course is open to anyone with an interest in plants,” says Yvette Mulder, who will be presenting the course on ‘Empowering Plants’. “But it would be absolutely wonderful if biology teachers could attend, so that they can relay what they’ve learned in their own classrooms.”

Food & Wine
Dates: 1 – 4 June | 3 – 6 August
Calling anyone with a penchant for serving up (and indulging in) the most delectable home-made treats! Swellendam Winter School has a range of courses just for you. Head to Wildebraam Berry Farm to learn about preserve- and pickle-making with Natalie Turck; sign up for master baker Meraai van Wyk’s soulful country bread making course ; or surrender to the light and airy magic of colourful meringues with Heidi Lund. Or perhaps you’re intrigued by kitchen arts, but you’ve never even fried an egg? Good news! You can learn all the basics of cooking tasty meals from experienced chef, Marie Jo Wiehe. Finally, wine-lovers, rejoice! There are two courses just for you: a day of vertical wine and food pairing; as well as an introduction to the wines of the Swellendam region with the charming Garth Luxton. While these courses might naturally appeal to an older target market, many of the facilitators hope for a diverse range of attendees.
“I would love to have young Stellenbosch students, for instance, attending my course,” says Van Wyk.

Nature & Heritage
Dates: 17 – 21 June | 13 – 16 August
Come dig down to the very roots of history and get swept away by nature’s bounty during Swellendam Winter School’s Nature & Heritage weeks.
Discover Swellendam’s fascinating intersection of Dutch, English, Khoi and Xhosa heritage by attending three consecutive one-day courses. Historian, Johan Kriek will be presenting an overview of the town’s colonial history, while Suurbraak-based artist and activist, Donovan Julius will offer a visually rich journey into Khoi heritage. Finally, qualified tour guide, Meisie Bokwana will present an introduction to Xhosa customs, food and heritage, as well as a township tour of Railton. Apart from these fascinating historical meanders, there will also be a range of learning opportunities in the great outdoors: from cultivating organic vegetables to understanding the basics of horse-riding; an exploration of fynbos; a birder’s guide to identification and conservation; as well as growing and using edible weeds. “We truly have the most magical natural environment here,” says Debra-Leigh Mohle, horse-riding course facilitator. “A mere 5-minute ride and you’re right in the mountains. I can’t wait to share that with attendees.”

Home Craft & Design
Dates: 29 June – 5 July | 17 – 23 August
The jam-packed Home Craft & Design theme offers attendees the opportunity to learn a range of practical skills through fun and interactive facilitation. A few of the home-enhancing highlights include artisanal soap-making with Bev Missing, founder of Rain Africa; paint techniques and decorative fun with DIY queen, Lisa Spaarwater; handprinting your own apron with Esme Kruger; and a guide to decorating your home like a professional with interior expert, Margie Walker. Included in this theme are also a few more ethereal workshops, such as designing jewellery from kelp; an introduction to resin and ink; an exploration of gold leaf and acrylic; knitting; mandala design and mosaics. Spaarwater says about her course: “It’s perfect for a homeowner who feels like breathing new life into some of their more boring pieces of furniture.” This same sentiment of sprucing up and rejuvenation can be applied to each of the other courses in
this theme as well. Retreats Interspersed among the winter school courses, are four fabulous three-day yoga retreats. Each retreat has a special focus and offers attendees a true opportunity to connect, learn and grow in a beautiful, tranquil environment.

The retreats are as follows:
– Yoga and gut health (8 – 10 May)
– Connecting to the elements (26 – 28 June)
– Pottery and yoga (7 – 9 August)
– Yoga and the nature of colour (21 – 23 August)
“Our Swellendam Winter School retreats are all about offering attendees a truly immersive experience,” says facilitator, Saskia van Leeuwen. “By stepping out of your ordinary daily routine into a beautiful environment, practicing yoga everyday and eating delicious, healthy food, we believe
you’re able to nurture and grow your creativity.” Retreats are open to both experienced yogis and absolute beginners.

Good to know
Course costs:
Courses cost between R850 and R5100 per person. The price depends on the number of days the course will be running for and whether materials and accommodation are included
Who should attend:
Whether you’re a hobbyist, a budding entrepreneur or a professional, you’re invited! All facilitators are prepared to offer extra inputs and advice for those wanting to take their craft to market.
How to book:
Visit the Swellendam Winter School website, select the course/s you’re interested in and click on the ‘Book Now’ button.
You can also send general enquiries to admin@winterschool.co.za or call 078 778 5365 (between 09:00 and 16:00).


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