A Tribute To The Life Of Errol Pieters
By: Mr. Siegfriedt Schmidt
”Paul Klee took a line for a walk. It snaked, looped, wandered off, and turned back on itself as it made its fitful journey through the worlds of his invention. A line can run dead straight, be wildly crooked, nervously wobbly, make sensuous curves or aggressive angles. It can meander, wander, track or trace. Be a scribble, doodle, scratch, hatched, dashed, dribbled or trickled. It can be precise or fuzzy, hard or soft, firm or gentle, thin or thick. It can be smudged, smeared, erased – or just fade away. You can push a line, drag it, manipulate and manoeuvre it, make it delineate, accentuate, attenuate, emphasise. A line may be imperious or modest, authoritative or servile, brutal or seductive, passive or active, weak or strong, thick or thin. A line is born, and dies, in a point.”
The ability of a select few artists and architects to see something ordinary from an angle that eludes most of us is what makes them unique. The art of looking sideways.
Errol was one of those. Not only when looking at objects as simple (and complex) as a flower, but in architecture, art, teaching, life and, most importantly, people. All people, from all walks of life.
His own life encapsulated in the line that Klee took for a walk.
This is not an obituary. An obituary suggests that someone is gone, not with us anymore. For the many whose paths he crossed, there will never be an absence of presence.
Errol became a part of our thinking and living on a multitude of different levels with a (sometimes disarming and brutal) honesty, conviction of belief, and a passion for life and those around him. However, you sometimes had to look beyond the scowl to appreciate the intent.
Artist, teacher and friend
A true artist and teacher and a caring human being, manifested in a teaching career spanning almost 30 years, leaving an indelible impression on all his students. Similar to his exceptional talent for cooking and painting, shared with unselfish enthusiasm, teaching was an act of passion, love and creativity.
Friend, mentor, philanthropist and inspiration to a generation of the architectural fraternity through whom his legacy will live in the work they do to make the world a better and more beautiful place for others. And in their own lives.
Few people outside our small group of friends who taught and lived through the era are aware of his journey as head of department in attempting to create an opportunity for students who exhibited an ability to make a successful career as an architect and a positive contribution to society, but were barred from doing so by some or other arbitrary obstacle stemming from administrative autocracy, prospectus requirements or preconceived perceptions.
After exhausting all avenues of possible collaboration with other schools, Errol pursued the only remaining route by initiating a process of transforming the Department of Architecture at Technikon Pretoria (now TUT) to create an opportunity for commendable students to pursue a full career path in architecture.
In the face of significant opposition from both academia and the regulatory body, he succeeded within an institutional academic structure that did not allow for it. Or could not, at first, accommodate it. In seeking to get things done, it could only be realised by crossing boundaries and putting himself at risk for the eventual benefit of the students.
Students are relentless in their critical scrutiny of those who teach them. When they make a concerted effort, travelling from different parts of the country or the world, to visit a former lecturer at his home 10, 15 or 20 years after graduating, it is a testament in itself. As are their tributes on social media describing experiences, awareness and emotions as a student and as architect:
There are two things I remember from my early days as a student.
The History of Architecture classes. How he taught me that books are meant to be used. Written in. Highlighted. Underlined. How later the year he lifted up my scribbled-in, highlighted, underlined textbook and showed the class ‘what a real textbook should look like’. I loved those history classes. He would get this smirk on his face and impersonate a pharaoh or some architect. Highly entertaining. Always slipping in a few fatherly life lessons.
There was one watercolour class he presented. I sat next to him beside the drawing board. I was in awe of how effortless he made it look. I was appalled by how he sucked the brushes clean with his mouth and how he didn’t miss the opportunity to tease me about it. To this day I also suck the watercolour brushes clean with my mouth.
Thys always says that you never experienced a crit until you walked out of an Errol crit, ears bleeding.
The way he said Poephol. No one could say Poephol with such gravitas. The way he loved his family. How he spoke of his wife. How he spoke of Arno. With adoration, amusement and pure love. I remember a drawing of Arno and Saskia he shared with us sometime during our studies. How he captured Arno’s curly hair perfectly. How he thought the world of them. I remember how he made time for us. How I came over to his house in my Master’s year in the evenings and how he patiently helped me with my speech. How he pushed us to rethink so many aspects of design and life in general. The last time I saw him was just before we moved to PE. He impersonated Francien, much to her dismay … he showed us his incredible studio, his paintings, his plants. We talked about how leaving architecture for a while is a good thing. We talked about how commercial architecture scarred us for life. I am sure feeble writings like these will pop up in the near and far future. From all the people who he inspired, moulded, scolded, bitch-slapped, loved. I am not one of his sketch protégés, in fact, I really don’t know what he saw in this average small-town girl with very little natural talent or design finesse.
– Riette (with her permission)