Creative Crooks

We introduce the Crooks family, who are cornerstones of the community, and actively building, curating, and designing their lives through their art. We are reminded of the value of our environment, our community, and our intersection with it.

 

The Midlands is home to many exceptional families, and the Crooks are among them. Residing on the hill above Midmar Dam, and like many who dwell in the area, they’ve been part of the community for over 30 years. If you don’t already know them, they are Nick and Mandy and their three children – the eldest is Pip, then Ben and the youngest is Grace.

They seem to share their zones of creative genius seemingly effortlessly, from textiles to tiles, striving to make it a more culturally rich and interesting place. But let’s go back to the beginning. It all started in the 1980s when Nick and Mandy met at a music club in Durban, but the creative seeds were planted and cultivated in them long before then by their families.

Mandy, who grew up in the Midlands, considers herself “interlaced with the microbiome of this area”. Art-making has always been like second nature for her as a family of artists surrounded her. She studied Graphic Design at Durban Technikon and Printmaking at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She has worked in ad agencies, created a business crafting hand appliqu├ęd and embroidered bed linen, collaborated with Mr Price Home, and started Hillhouse self-catering accommodation. Still, beyond this, she finds inspiration from her garden, which you notice in her botanical prints and illustrations. Mandy also teaches Iyengar yoga and finds that “the holistic philosophies of this practice weave into all parts of life”.

Nick, who grew up in Durban and moved to The Midlands to farm, has always been a hands-on artist. He explains that “it is a way of thinking or call it sense-making. Making sense of the condition of being human”. He learnt from his father’s example, who was a property developer and architect. Nick and his brother would join their father on building sites when they were young. His mother is a writer and well-read. She used to place sheets of paper around Nick’s bed to draw on when he was a boy. As for his grandparents, his grandmother was an illustrator and Archaeologist, and his grandfather was a journalist in London.

He completed his Diploma in Architecture at the Natal Technicon, and some years later, after travelling, joining the army, farming, and running an architectural business in the South Pacific island of Tonga, he completed his Fine Arts Degree through the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has been involved in various building projects in the Natal Midlands, from Yard 41 in Howick to Worq at the Halls centre in Pietermaritzburg.

Presently, he is all hands on deck making the Old Mushroom Farm on the Karkloof Road, also where he used to do mushroom farming, an artisanal and creatively connected space for all. He started converting it six years ago. To Nick, it’s about facilitating how people move in spaces, and he achieves this through the intersection of his skills in art, architecture, and farming.

In 1990, Mandy moved back to Howick and lived with Nick in the Dargle, which has also been home to their children, who have forged their own creative journeys over the years in places like Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Pip moved to the Cape after high school and lived there 10 years before moving back home in 2020. She studied Fashion at the Design Academy of Fashion in Woodstock and a Bachelor of Arts Degree with a major in Visual Studies at Stellenbosch Univerity. She’s worked in the fashion, film, and advertising industries, namely, as a designer for Woolworths, a fashion editorial stylist for Women’s Health Magazine, and a freelance Fashion/Wardrobe Stylist.

Pip’s artistry is mainly in textiles; she loves making plush toys and clothing inspired by workwear. She explains, “I like how clothing design and toy making bridge the gap between the pure aesthetics of fine art and practicality”. While she isn’t making plush toys, she is curating her shop space in Rock, Paper, Scissors at the Old Mushroom Farm, from finding local brands to merchandising and social media.

Although Ben enjoys the tactile side of art-making, his artistry lies in digital spaces like coding and animation. He studied Game Design at Wits University and worked in the gaming industry in Johannesburg, and like Pip, he moved back to the Midlands in 2022 with his partner Morgan. Presently, Ben is involved in developing an indie game and enjoys his work/life balance from his office at the Old Mushroom Farm.

Grace lives in Cape Town but gives full credit to her upbringing in the Midlands as the source of her inspiration. She describes that there is an “ethereal power to the Midlands” and that the environment is “medicinal”. After completing her degree at the University of Cape Town in Art History and Media, she worked in advertising and social media coordination until publishing stole her heart.

She works for the recently rebranded design and decor magazine “House and Leisure” as a writer, photographer, and designer. In their latest issue, she wrote and photographed a story about her home in the Midlands, featuring Hillhouse Accommodation, which was previously a farm shed and staff cottage that Nick converted into a rentable holiday home.

The Crooks family continuously embraces their creative capabilities, proudly standing on the shoulders of those who came before them and sharing their passion with those around them. As Grace explains it, “it is a combined effort which breeds inspiration and creativity”. The environment and community are common threads throughout Crooks’ lives, in turn reminding us of our place in our community, whether we are artisans or accountants. So, we leave you with one of Nick’s questions, something to think about when you drive through town next, “How does art and architecture affect your life?”.