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FOTAG Focus Articles

For a number of years the Natal Witness ran articles by FOTAG members. These articles called the FOTAG Focus discussed artworks from the collection on display.

Home > Articles > Fotag Focus > From a horned toad to a princess

From a horned toad to a princess

by Simon Roberts

It was Gordon Small, the architect (and magician), who transmuted a horned toad into the princess which is the Tatham today. Paterson, the colonial engineer, had provided the slow-gestating multi-faceted toad, conceived as the courthouse in 1865, and completed in 1871. It performed admirably (as even toads can) but after 100 years and more it could no longer keep pace with the march of progress.

The present courthouse in Church Street, a multi-grade building, was in fact designed by Small (on a shoestring) to also house the offices of the attorney-general, the surveyor-general and the registrar of deesd. The move took place in 1983. The city council procured the old supreme court building and its then gracious gardens (now about to become an urban desert). The appointment of Small to transform the existing building was an inspired decision: one alternative had been a new multi-storied office block.

By the time he received this commission in 1987, Gordon Small was a past president of the Institute of South African Architects and was pre-eminent in his profession for his compendious knowledge of architecture and of the arts, history of costume, the theatre and stage design, music, food and drink - and generally all those things that make for the good life.

Small decided to retain the familiar and uniquely weathered exterior but to gut the interior. In doing so, he contrived ingeniously to cover over the well of the old "A" court to form a first-floor level. He floored it with yellowwood parquet flooring, fashioned from the original joists. He clad the awkward walls with harmoniously coloured panels, lit the whole building with unobtrusive modern lighting and provided for a coffee shop (that now offers the best coffee in town), a library and the necessary offices for the curator and his staff.

In 1990 the new Tatham opened, a modern gallery ready and able (and one hopes still willing) to house the old and to accomodate "the shock of the new" (to borrow on Robert Hughes' phrase).

More FOTAG Focus Articles


Johansson collectionThe Tatham Art Gallery holds an Art Collection that contains significant British and French artworks dating back to the 18th century. Its South-African art collection is focused on, but not exclusive to, the art of KwaZulu-Natal.


ImageThe Tatham Art Gallery hosts a range of Art Exhibitions. These include traveling and researched exhibitions as well as exhibitions initiated by the Gallery and compiled from the collection.


A selection of current and archival articles from the Tatham Art Gallery. These articles provide a historical and contemporary perspective on the Gallery and the visual arts in KwaZulu-Natal.

Art Gallery Shop

ImageThe Tatham Art Gallery shop stocks high quality works by local crafters. It is an ideal place to find unique presents and original collectables.