Rodney Edward Grosskopff

I was born in Johannesburg in 1940, where we lived.

My early years were formed largely, with out my father. He went ‘Up-North‘ to fight in the second world war, for the first four years and shortly after he came back, he caught Polio and was paralyzed for many years. So I did not have the benefit of the male games and bonding that my grandsons enjoy so much today.  I found solace in the arts and my own company.

I was sent to Queens College a boarding school in Queenstown, for my schooling where all my cousins were sent, a border town in the Eastern Province, which specialised in cold showers, robust rugby, fine cricket, reasonable education and eons of tradition. There I caught up with sports but never excelled. I did shine in Gymnastics, Art, Music-singing, and Drama.

I studied at the University of the Witwatersrand as an Architect and specialised in Klaberjas, bridge, parties and jazz, for the first year any way.

Then, the wake up  call – I failed first year and they gave my bursary to ‘a more deserving student’. I went to work for an architect –Manfred Hermer – from then on and worked my way through University finding resources in three jobs, Manfred Hermer during the week, toys sales person at the O.K. Bazaars on Saturday and drawing plans of complex motor accidents for lawyers on Sunday.

I married whilst still at University at the age of 23–silly boy!

After the initial set back, I qualified with a prize or two and became a partner.

University had sparked a greater interest in art, I was enthralled by History of Art and History of Architecture, I could always draw but now it became a passion, I still do, on my travels I try to do a drawing a day but then, I wanted more. I enlisted at The Johannesburg Art School to do sculpture.

I enjoyed the instruction and the association with the other students, one in particular Michael Armstrong, the brother of Geoffry Armstrong a young artist being championed by Harold Jeppe. One evening Michael invited me to join their group, who worked at Bill Ainslie’s home on Saturday afternoons. That opened a whole new chapter in my life.

We met in the old wagon shed at the back of an old Manor House, that Bill shared with the Kamstra’s at number 6 Jubilee Road, Parktown.

There was no clear arrangement and no instruction, we each found a corner and worked.  On a good day we had perhaps ten sometimes, just the core, Dumile Feni, Michael, Lucky Sibuya, my-self and Letty Gardiner. Ben Arnold and Ben Makala  often worked with us as well as a troop of clay hens. The most important thing for me was the interaction of the visitors that descended on the group for a chat and a little networking, mostly to see Bill and to see what Dumile was up to. Sydney Kumalo, Lucas Sithole, Julian Motau, Esrom Legae, Ephraim Ngatane were often there so were people like Athol Fugard the playwright.

At about this time the young William Kentridge started to attend Bills classes.

I hardly added much to the art front but they found me useful because I provided materials, unburnt quarry tiles –a great gritty clay which we loved so much, wire, wood etc from my friends in the building industry.

I became very close to Bill and Dumile and saw a lot of them, almost family. Dumile often came to our office to draw, I have two drawings on Butcher paper that he drew there for a poster, that are so fragile that I hesitate to show them.

Our office was in the Volkskas- gebou in Market street on the seventh floor over looking the Library Gardens, a dour affair, the drawing office was a narrow room on one side of the corridor and we all sat one behind the other in a row, Manfred and the secretary -Mrs Olga Sheffer ( Later, the much feared Mrs Resnick ) had an office on the other side of the corridor.

At the end of the row of drawing desks sat Alexander Munro Hodge, green eye shade and all, he was in charge of the drawing office  and if we made a noise or did not have our noses to the grind stone he would suck on his teeth and tap his tee square with his scale rule and give us a beady eye. Some of us had parallel rules but no drawing machines, they came later, computers were only a thought in Dick Tracey comics.

Although Hodge was a stickler, every night he took home our drawings and checked them. Yet some how he took a shine to my wife Monica and I. We were almost like the children he never had. Hodge had a group of like-minded people who met once a week to discuss all sorts of cultural things. We as twenty something year olds tried to dodge it but it was hard, he was persuasive and ready to change time and date to suit us and thereby nullify our excuses AND he was my immediate boss.

So we discussed art from Duccio to the Impressionists, one artist at a time. Pouring over books and illustrations. We read every one of  Shakespeare’s plays. We listened to music through out the ages. Hodge had drawn up a bar chart which covered half the room, starting from the middle ages slotting in all the kings, poets, painters, artists and architects of Europe.  All this gave me an enormous cultural leg up.

In the Practice, I grew, Manfred Hermer – one of the finest men I ever met, was like a second father to me and gave me every opportunity to shine, he pushed me further, encouraged me to take more and more responsibility, after a time, I became the boss, I pulled in good people around me and they made the practice one of the biggest and best practices in South Africa. ( We won an award as the best medium size practice in the country ). Amongst, those were Oscar Berman, Gerrado Andrade a mercurial Chilean, Manny Feldman, Arlene Hunkin, Louise O’Raw , Briget my daughter, Andrew Wood as well as many others and Pierre Lombart .

Pierre was almost like a son to me, he had no family here, so we were his family. I’d drag him along to my mother for Sunday lunch, he ate with us regularly, when he was sick or landed in hospital we were there.

Pierre, besides being a great architect who took the practice to an even higher level, had an itch in his stomach with respect to art, he had some pieces, he had started to collect, I remember some surrealistic works that did not seem to be him.

He kindly credits me with his inspiration but I think it was Warren Siebrits, who fired up his love and passion for art, he became very close to Kendell Geers.  He meshed his life with those of many young and up-n-coming artists, spending many hours with them. If I did influence him in the beginning, it was he, that then started to influence me.

Manfred Hermer –   my partner  was also The Assistant District Grand Master of English Freemasons in the Transvaal.  I became a Freemason in 1973  . What else! And have never regretted a second of it. I was pushed into jobs that many would have done better than I did but I doubt with as much fun and eventually I too became Assistant District Grand Master  South Africa North.

PSGD (Eng)

I retired from the practice in 2005 or more accurately, slipped gently out of it over a number of years, the Practice flourished under Pierre and Xavier. To the extent that in 2014 I was awarded a ‘Life Time Achievement award for Excellence in Architecture, SAPSA’

I suppose, I have always been a bit  arty- farty, I paint , I draw and do sculpture—I have had two ‘one man‘ exhibitions ( Goodman Gallery and Arts on Main ) and participated in  a few joint  shows.

I suppose I have always written or tried to write. My first effort was to write and illustrate five children’s stories for SABC –TV.

Free Masonry became a massive interest, particularly research

Perhaps two dozen papers .

Five Masonic plays ( performed in about a dozen )

Five Lodge Histories

Carved in Stone –2010 a full length book

Raised on Gold—2011 a full length book

Bushveld Brethren  2011 published in Australia

Wrote a number of travel articles for “The Star”

My wife died about 15 years ago. A month later Eileen’s husband, who was a brother and a friend also died. She at the time was the Caterer at Freemasons Hall – Brethren and friends threw us together, and we married a little over fourteen years ago — Truly-“ A marriage made on the chequered floor ” – We have between us four children and six grand-children.

Eileen and I travel a lot, often on lecture tours. Eileen God bless her accompanied me an a three month tour of Australasia, a lecture every three days living out of a suitcase, in other peoples homes.

We are retired in Plettenberg Bay where I still try to do all the things I ever did but at a less hectic rate.

Artworks in the SAFFCA Collection