For one year she followed a degree course in Fine Arts at the University of Stellenbosch, and then switched to the Michaelis School of Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town. For a further three years she studied Fine Arts, concentrating on sculpture and graphic art under the legendary Katrine Harries, known for her illustrations for children. After university Marjorie entered the advertising industry as a graphic design artist, while practising portrait sculpting (including commissioned works), painting and other graphic techniques in her free time. At this stage she concentrated mainly on lithography and etching.
After her marriage to Johann van Heerden, then lecturer at the Department of Drama at Stellenbosch University, she started concentrating full-time on her creative art and set up an artist's studio behind their Victorian cottage in Stellenbosch in the Cape. For six months she filled in as head of the graphic section of the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Stellenbosch.
After travelling and studying in Europe for a year (1975‑76), the Van Heerdens had their first child and subsequently Marjorie started concentrating full-time on the illustration of children's books and on bringing up her children.
From 1984 to 1985 they lived in Chicago for one year and here Marjorie made valuable contact with American children's book authors, illustrators and academics. She also attended various conferences and study groups on Children's Literature and Children's Book Illustration in the United States.
Shortly after her return to Stellenbosch she was invited to take part in a group exhibition of works by prominent Children's Book Illustrators at the South African Art Society in Cape Town.
Marjorie was the initiator and one of the main organisers of the international Towards Understanding children's book symposium that was held with 550 delegates at the University of the Western Cape in July 1987. She started working towards the ideal of putting together this symposium (a first in South Africa), directly after her return from the USA.
The Towards Understanding Symposium has led to an awakening to the importance of quality books for children in Southern Africa and as a result a number of smaller symposia have been organised in different parts of the country.
She was also the initiator and one of the organisers of a Children's Book Festival held in Stellenbosch in July 1988. This too has sparked off similar book festivals around the country.
In January 1989 her husband, Johann accepted a position as a film and television producer and the Van Heerdens moved to Johannesburg. In 1991 he joined M-Net, a Pay-TV service as an executive.
In Johannesburg, Penguin (SA) approached Marjorie with the offer to head their children's books section. She agreed to do this for one year.
Marjorie was a committee member of the Johannesburg Children's Book Group until 1994, and was involved in organising a children's book festival in Johannesburg in October 1989 - this subsequently became an annual event.
She also served on the steering committee forming a new Johannesburg Children's Book Forum to focus on the needs of the New South Africa after democratisation in 1994.
At the end of 1989 she left Penguin in order to return to her creative work. Again she erected an artist's studio in her back yard and has been writing and illustrating for children since.
For more than twenty years Marjorie has been building up a large specialist library and researching the field of children’s literature, particularly for beginner readers. She has been very active in promoting children's books by writing articles for specialist publications and giving talks, lectures and workshops to audiences ranging from small groups of parents to large gatherings of teachers, librarians, university lecturers and other specialists in the field. Her main focus was to help address and support developments in the new democratic South Africa with specific reference to promoting child and adult literacy amongst the historically disadvantaged communities.
Besides her own writing, Marjorie van Heerden has illustrated the books of several other children's book authors, has illustrated many school readers and has written and illustrated for various children's magazines. She has published a number of articles on children's books - all in South Africa. Her books have been published in many African countries and some have been translated into English, French, German and about twenty African languages.
Marjorie was co-author and the illustrator of Baba's Plan (1990), the first book to be published as result of a conference organised by Sue Hepker, then of The Read Organisation, during which editors, writers, illustrators and community workers got together to "workshop" children's publications for the "New South Africa". Sue Hepker, then director of The Little Library, has organised more such conferences since - in 1992 Marjorie did the art direction for five of the ten children's books that resulted from these workshops and she was the art director of a further series of ten titles which were published in 1995. These books won the 1996 Asahi Reading Award presented by IBBY, the world-wide children’s book association.
From 1990 to 1996 she compiled (and often illustrated) four pages for children in the monthly Edgars Club Magazine, which had a circulation of over one million - the largest in South Africa.
In an attempt to support the reconstruction and development programme (RDP) in the New South Africa, Marjorie has conceptualised and developed an original folding format for low-cost readers (eight illustrated pages). These fully illustrated books are designed for distribution amongst pre-schoolers and beginner readers in the very poorest communities. Twenty-one titles in this series have already been published by the Ntataise Trust. Marjorie wrote and illustrated all these readers.
In 1997 Nasou Publishers developed and published the whole series in a full-colour version, called the “Bright Books Series”, all written and illustrated by Marjorie van Heerden; the first set of 11 books, containing 36 original stories aimed at Grade One learners was published in 1997. From this developed a second set, four books for Grade Two learners published in 1998 and a third for Grade Three learners, published in 1999, also written and illustrated by Marjorie. These sets of readers for early learners were scientifically developed to suit the specific cultural and educational needs of the youth of the new democratic South Africa and they cover the Foundation Phase of the new South African school system.
In July 1995 Marjorie received a scholarship to attend the Highlights Foundation Writers’ Workshop Symposium at Chautauqua in New York State, USA. After her return to Africa she started developing a completely new technique of illustration, which she first used in The Zebra and the Baboon, written by Thomas A Nevin and published by Garamond Publishers in 1996.
Marjorie art directed eleven books in a series of readers to be published by Cambridge University Press and to be distributed in various languages across the African continent.
In 1997 she was commissioned by Harper Collins (NY) to illustrate Baby Dance, written by Ann Taylor and published in the USA.
The original artwork for a number of her books has been shown at various international exhibitions in Europe and elsewhere, including the acclaimed travelling Exhibition Amabhukhu, organised by La Joie par les Livres and opening at the 1999 Bologna International Children’s Book Fair in Italy. Subsequently the exhibition was shown in Canada and in various European capitals. The illustrations for her book Monde’s Present were chosen for this exhibition, together with work from 34 other artists from Africa.
In February 1999 her husband, Johann accepted a position with a pay-TV company in Greece, and they moved to Athens. Marjorie celebrated the new millennium with a commission from the Greek publishing house Patakis to illustrate her first three children’s books for young Greek readers. The first two appeared in September and December 2000 and the third, a Greek translation of Katherine Paterson’s The King’s Equal, appeared in December 2001.
In her new environment Marjorie once again became very active in organisations for children’s literature. She was the regional advisor of the Greek branch of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), headquartered in Los Angeles, USA, and she was involved in organising an international book conference held on the Greek island of Hydra in June 2002.
The Van Heerdens moved back to South Africa in February 2003 and since then Marjorie has illustrated more than a dozen trade children’s books, some written by herself, and a number of educational works (see attached bibliographies). She also wrote and illustrated a volume of collected children’s stories, published in both English and Afrikaans. In 2005 one of her earlier picture books, Monde’s Present appeared in ten of South Africa’s eleven official languages.
Back in South Africa she once again became very active in the local organisations for children’s literature, and also established a South African chapter of the international SCBWI.
Marjorie is an M-Net/Via Afrika Literary Award Winner: In June 2008 the M.E.R Prize for best illustrated children’s book of the year 2007 was awarded to Marjorie van Heerden (illustrator) and Wendy Hartmann (author) for Nina and Little Duck, published by Human & Rousseau (SA). It is also available in Afrikaans as Nina en Eendjie.
The Van Heerdens now live in the picturesque coastal village of Gordon’s Bay near Cape Town. Marjorie has set up her artist’s studio in the loft of their home near the beach and from her work station she looks out west over False Bay. In the evening she can see the sun set behind Table Mountain across the bay. She has come full circle back to her beloved Cape of Good Hope, loves living so near the Cape of Storms and, while writing and illustrating one children’s book after another, she keeps wondering what is waiting over the next horizon…