Although the Internet tells us that wire art dates back to the Second Dynasty in Egypt and the Bronze and Iron ages in Europe, we in Cradock are adamant that miniature windmills were first created by craftsmen in our area.
Basil Mills, Education Officer at the National English Museum in Grahamstown who did some research, agrees with Cradockites. According to Basil, the making of toys and other articles from wire, started way back in 1912 when Parliament passed the Fencing Act as part of their plan to prevent jackal and lynxes from killing livestock.
Unfortunately the zebras, and in particular Cape Mountain Zebras, started breaking these fences and farmers requested permission to shoot these beautiful wild horses of the Karoo. This was the main reason why mountain zebras nearly became extinct and resulted in the establishment of the Mountain Zebra National Park in 1937.
Farm labourers and especially the “draadmakers” (labourers erecting the fences), soon became adapt at creating toys, cars and windmills for their children out of the wire off-cuts. Very soon farmers’ children also wanted “draadkarre’ (cars made from wire) and when polish tin wheels and silver paint was added, a whole industry was born.
Although miniature windmills have remained the favourite, you can find almost everything in miniature at a wire crafters stall next to the N10 outside of Cradock. Ashton Sauls, who has just crafted the very first miniature irrigation pivot, reckons they have more than a hundred different wire objects on sale.
Barrie Smith (52) and Koos Olivier (61) are the eldest of the wire crafters outside Cradock. They have seen the good times and the bad times come and go and have both been working there since before 1971.