There is a tiny village near Cradock, South Africa which goes by the delightful name of Nieu-Bethesda. Looking on the map, it looks no different to many other sleepy villages that one may come across and which are rarely enticing to passing travellers.
But a family member told me of Nieu-Bethesda and suggested that I go and visit the location. You see, it has a special house which is unlike any other, maybe even right across the world. The owner of the house is no longer there – but her legacy is certainly alive and fascinates many visitors every day – me now being counted as one of these!
From the road, the house looks no different to any other. But once in the yard and then in the house itself, two things stand out about this place: the use of glass inside of the house and the concrete statues outside in the yard – the latter will be the topic of a later post.
So what is so different inside? Simply that almost every surface of the home is brilliantly painted in bright colours, and has then been painstakingly covered in glass!
Tiny fragments, patiently ground to just a few millimetres in diameter have been used to colour walls, doors, door frames, windows and most remarkably, the ceilings.
Her pantry was not filled with jars of preserves, but rows of bottled glass fragments, sorted into colours and fragment sizes.
The artist – a lady who lived alone in the house from 1952 until her death in 1976 seemed to me to be very eccentric and also a remarkably troubled person. Reading about her, I felt that she had been a very lonely and sad person.
Judging from the artifacts in the house, she liked the Mona Lisa, and had about 4 copies of this painting in the house. She also found inspiration from sea shells, although I am not sure where she got these from. Other interesting things in the house included a collection of lanterns and many prints and photos of a variety of people. Some of her sculptures (in the garden) were visibly inspired by these images.
So where do the owls come in? Well, she loved owls and made many, many sculptures of them – most of which are in the garden. But here are two that were left in the house. The row of owls at the top of this post were arranged on a window sill in the kitchen. The window was deep red in colour – a very dramatic contrast.
If you are interested in reading more about this intriguing house and Helen’s story, (and this is highly recommended!) here is some more information. I will post images of her fascinating sculptures in an upcoming post.