Approaching Mother’s Day, we delight in outrageous and talented mother-daughter pairs a la Goldie Hawn-Kate Hudson and Blythe Danner-Gwyneth Paltrow. Atlanta’s version, Nadia Bilchik and Julia Kesler, are as colorful, outspoken and accomplished, and as different as they are alike.
Bilchik was a prime-time television host in South Africa. Moving here in 1997, she anchored the CNN Airport Network and hosted shows on CNN International. She was also a reporter on CNN’s Weekend Morning Passport. She is currently a CNN editorial producer, author, communication skills trainer, and sought-after keynote speaker.
Her Sandy Springs home is laden with bold South African art exploding with elephant and tribesmen paintings and crafts from roadside markets.
South African indigenous art has moved from folk art to “high art.” Beginning in tribal forms, it evolved through dancing figures and animal images in primary yellows and reds, dynamic and elongated figures which are often based in black, earth and plant-based pigment. Both homegrown and conceptual, the art after the end of apartheid (1990) was called forcefully expressionistic, mythical, humble, and kitsch, according to “An Overview of the History of South African art,” in Brand South Africa, November 2017.
Daughter Julia burst onto the Atlanta gourmet and healthy food scene, striking out on her own after working for Ted Turner’s Captain Planet Foundation. A product of Greenfield Hebrew Academy, Riverwood High School, New York University and her South African heritage, Julia’s goal is to nourish minds and bodies with her brunch pop-up Brekkie, personally tailored in-home chef business (Stop Think Chew), and wholesome daily routines.
Julia lives the epitome of Soho meets Atlanta’s resurgence in a toney loft downtown, blocks from Underground Atlanta. The original brick walls bounce with bicycle racks, chunky wood farm furniture, and a modernized open kitchen.
Read about the active lives of this modern, yet traditional duo.
Marcia: Share this loft’s history.
Julia: We call it the “hidden gem.” I love the openness the 20-foot ceilings and 2,076 square feet of space afford, which is a large space for downtown, in an old building. Originally it was all bright orange, but we quickly changed to white! I added the white tile, but the floors, brick walls and cabinets are all original.
Marcia: How would you describe your décor?
Julia: Bohemian and eclectic functional minimalism! Much of the furniture is repurposed from old farm houses and the Buckhead Barn, a former event space off Northside Drive. Our lights came from the old Café Posh, and the tapestry is from Chrome Yellow [Trading Co.] coffee. It just works together! One really cool piece is the original “Pray for ATL R.L. Ministries” sign. I also have contemporary abstract paintings my parents brought back from South Africa.
Marcia: You’re a professional chef. What are some kitchen features?
Julie: The kitchen living space is open plan. We have stainless steel and wood block tables, plus a farm table and benches for dining. Wood shelves and stainless steel hooks work for the cast iron pots and pans and lots of blenders, pressure cookers and utensils hidden in cupboards.
Marcia: Do you often entertain here?
Julia: Absolutely! We regularly have friends pop in for wine and cheese and hearty soups in winter or Mediterranean-style salads with grilled options in summer. We are close to the Westside BeltLine Trail, which offers some interesting choices. I only like to eat out what I don’t prepare at home, like Japanese or Italian. We might go to BoccaLupo, 8ARM, or Monday Night Garage. We love eating out in New York, San Francisco and Tel Aviv.
Marcia: Nadia, your art collection is very focused.
Nadia: We have always responded to the power of color to shape mood and attitude. It reflects my husband Steve’s and my life, heritage and journey. In addition to what we brought on our move to Atlanta, we continued over many years to bring back South African art. Some are from unknown roadside artists, pedestrian malls in Cape Town, and markets like the Johannesburg Rosebank Craft Market.
Marcia: What are your Judaic pieces?
Nadia: Originally intended as a depiction of Jerusalem and a hope for peace, it was adapted for an auction. “Jerusalem with Rhinoceros” was done by South African-turned-Israeli artist Tziona (1995). Jewish South African artists were raising funds for the transfer of a rhinoceros to a wildlife park in Israel.
Marcia: African art is replete with doll symbols?
Nadia: We have a beautifully crafted Ndebele beaded skirt bought in the late 80s (Johannesburg) from a pedestrian mall co-op store intent on improving the lives of African rural women and communities during the apartheid era.
Marcia: What ties you so strongly to the safari work?
Nadia: The piece by a South African artist that depicts elephant, buffalo and gemsbok reminds me of the unique experience of being in the bush and watching the sun rise at 4 a.m. Nothing compares to that. These are tangible memories and reminiscences of wildlife books and documentaries.
The “Four Dancers,” 1998 by Luca, we bought on the side of the road in Birdhaven, Johannesburg, from the artist where he continues today!
These five original abstract, but representational acrylics of Namibia Himba tribe’s people in traditional garb at different tribal ceremonies were acquired at a pedestrian mall in Cape Town (late 90s) from a pop-up promoter of works that she sourced from around the country.
Atop the stairs is a colorful painted woodcut of a king on his throne, an elaborate shield, and his guards while women prepare large urns. This was from Natalie Knight Gallery (1997). It was the centerpiece of an Exhibition of African Art held in the foyer area of the SunTrust headquarters in Atlanta.
In the dining room by the Chihuly abstract flowers, we have a powerful work in oil, by an emerging relocated Zimbabwean artist sponsored by the Maboneng art project (Johannesburg).
There are two outstanding vibrant posters by Hundertwasser, the original Austrian eco artist, that Steve acquired visiting the Barbican [Art] Gallery Exhibition (1983): “Each Raindrop Is a Kiss from Heaven;” and “Plant Trees Avert Nuclear Peril.”
Above the fireplace is a stunning acrylic by Western Cape artist Robin Mann who focuses on vivid and abstract floral arrangements.
Last word: Nadia cited this quote from feminist and Jewish author Letty Cottin Pogrebin: “We mothers are learning to mark our mothering success by our daughters’ lengthening flights.”