The Owl House

SignThere 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!

The Owl House

The Owl House

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!

Glass fragments evenly applied to the doorframe

Glass fragments evenly applied to the door, doorframe and wall

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.

A framed Mona Lisa print - note the glass on the wall behind the image

A framed Mona Lisa print – note the glass on the wall behind the image

Suns on a window. Each sun is made from glass fragments in different shades of green and brown.

Suns on a window. Each sun is made from glass fragments in different shades of green and brown.

The kitchen ceiling is decorated with a large image of the sun

The kitchen ceiling is decorated with a large image of the sun

Her pantry was not filled with jars of preserves, but rows of bottled glass fragments, sorted into colours and fragment sizes.

A pantry full of glass fragments.

A pantry full of glass fragments.

Helen Martins

Helen Martins

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.

Owls in one of the bedrooms. These feature a lot in the garden too.

Owls in one of the bedrooms. These feature a lot in the garden too.

The top of the owl statures in the bedroom. Outside, some of these had water in the top.

The top of the owl statures in the bedroom. Outside, some of these had water in the top.

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.

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18 Responses to The Owl House

  1. Those jars of pulverized glass is telling as are the walls and all the glass covered surfaces. Makes me wonder why the fascination. Then again, a lonely person needs to entertain herself and ‘feather her nest’ (means decorate for comfort). Make one think about how other people live, doesn’t it and what we are capable of. Plan to read the link but later. Thanks for this. Most interesting . 😀 ❤

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  2. Nice post! That photo of Helen Martins is haunting – she looks sad.

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  3. pommepal says:

    What an unusual place and a creation of light and beauty from such a troubled soul and what a terrible way to commit suicide by swallowing caustic soda. Interesting post Madoqua

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  4. fishwords says:

    It is a fascinating place to visit, isn’t it! I also love it.

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  5. scrapydo says:

    Lovely to know all this. Thanks for sharing

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  6. restlessjo says:

    Goodness- what an effort! I seem to’ve glanced at this before without registering what I was looking at? Glazed eyes 😦

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    • Madoqua says:

      It is easy to not realise what one is seeing becuase of the sheer numbers of figures. But each is individually made, the faces show different expressions and some indicate that Helen had quite a delightful sense of humour!

      Liked by 1 person

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