Friday, 3 January 2014

Owl House - Nieu Bethesda

Helen Martins

Helen Martins was born on 23 December 1897 in Nieu-Bethesda. She was the youngest of six children.

Helen was schooled in Graaf-Reinet and later obtained a teaching diploma at the teachers college in Graaf-Reinet (now the police training college).
In 1919, Helen Martins moved to the Transvaal where she began teaching. 
A year later, she married a colleague by the name of Willem Johannes Pienaar. 
The couple travelled around the country acting in theatre productions in the Transvaal, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. 
Their marriage was not a happy one, and Helen left her husband on several occasions. She eventually divorced Pienaar in 1926 after he left her to have an affair with another woman.
Some time during 1928, Helen returned to Nieu-Bethesda where she stayed for the next 17 years taking care of her elderly parents. 
Her mother died in 1941, and her father in 1945. 
Before her father died, Helen moved him into the outside room, which she painted black. It had no windows, only had a potbellied stove and a bed for him to sleep on. 
She did this because her father had been verbally abusive to her. Her parents left Helen the house.
After her parents' death she started to transform the house and the garden. 
In the years that followed, Helen grew more and more estranged from the outside world. 
The people of Nieu-Bethesda grew rather suspicious of Helen for reason that she avoided the people when she went to get her pension from the Post office every month.
In 1976, Helen Martins's eyesight began to fail. 
Dreading the daunting fact that she was going blind, she took her own life by swallowing poison. She was rushed to a hospital in Graaff-Reinet, where she died three days later, on 8 August 1976.


Martins resolved to transform the environment around her, beginning in 1945 with a project to decorate her home and garden. Martins used cement, glass, and wire to decorate the interior of her home and later build sculptures in her garden, drawing inspiration from Christian biblical texts, the poetry of Omar Khayyam, and various works by William Blake. 

In 1964, she was joined in her work by Koos Malgas, who helped her build the sculptures of owls, camels, and people (mostly pointing east as a tribute to Martins' fascination with the Orient). The relationship between Malgas, who was a Coloured man, and Martins, a white woman, drew considerable suspicion in the apartheid-era environment, while her work inspired derision and little support from the small-town locals.


Martin's longtime exposure to the fine crushed glass she used to decorate her walls and ceilings eventually caused her eyesight to start failing, leading her to commit suicide by ingesting caustic soda on August 8, 1976 at the age of 78.

As per her wishes, the Owl House has been kept intact as a museum (managed by the Owl House Foundation founded in 1996). 
The house was declared a provisional national monument in 1991.

Referenced from Wikipedia

 Below are a range of photographs I took detailing the Owl House and the camel garden

Owl House

Ceiling detail

Window Detail

Helen Martins Bath

Owl House

Deja vu - The big trek home

Another week and another holiday comes to an end, well not completely as the trek home is just another part of the holiday in that we don't just rush up the road home, but rather poodle ever so gently along stopping for over-nighters all along the way.

We left Fish Hoek behind and headed 415 km up the road to Prince Albert - the town we stayed in on the way down but not the same guest house.
This time we stopped at Karoo Khaya ( khaya in Swahile means house or village ) owned by the town's Doctor and his wife, the good Doctor incidentally makes the most interesting accessories such as lamps for the cottages from all manner of scrap metal and wood.
A short stroll into town saw dinner again at the Gallery restaurant at the Seven Arches.

Karoo Khaya

Karoo Khaya

Karoo Khaya - Bedroom

Karoo Khaya - Standing Lamp

Karoo Khaya - Kitchen

Karoo Khaya

Karoo Khaya - Table lamp

Karoo Khaya
The next day we drove on-wards to Graaff-Reinet a mere 290 km(where Pam's sister Heather and her husband Vos own Heather's B&B, as usual this included the prerequisite stops along the way such as the waterfall on the Meiringspoort pass for a quick refreshing swim and then a stop at a small restaurant called Sanitas in a town called De Rust for food and refreshments.


Meiringspoort Waterfall

Sanitas Restaurant

And so we get to Graaff-Reinet

Reneit House



Church at night
Devils face (above clock) created by the spotlights shining onto the church

Example of the local architecture

Example of the local architecture

Heather's B&B (A National Monument)

Heather's B&B (A National Monument)

We took a rather pleasant if not hot walk out of town on the one afternoon

On the walk out of town

On the walk out of town

Street scene

Nieu Bethesda was the next stop on the journey, the main reason for our stop here was to visit the Owl House, and with this we had the added bonus of a small paleontology museum followed by a live demo of how fossils are laboriously removed from the stone they imprisoned in and then a half hour walking tour out to a nearby river bed to view actual fossils still in situ.

Owl House

Fossils in situ


Disaster - As we were about to head off to the local Brewery and two goats deli for lunch it was discovered we had left Rickety Bridge Teddy Bear in Graaf Reinet at Heather's B&B, so back on the road and off we go to Graaf Reinet (90 minutes journey)to fetch said abandoned Teddy!! - no lunch for the boys!!!

Rickety Bridge Teddy

For interest I have added a separate Owl House blog post.

Final stop on the road - Gariep Dam, now you will have read in a previous entry that we stopped there on the way down at the de Stijl hotel, well they were full so we stayed at an excellent little B&B called View Lodge.
View Lodge B&B

Room with a View

As they did not serve dinner we decided to wander on down to the de Stijl for dinner. Now to elaborate on the dinner saga, they had on the way down informed us you can't book for dinner as it is a "first come - first served" basis.
So we duly arrived, and lo and behold we are told it is full for dinner and why didn't we book, well as only happens here in the good ole SA we ended up in a rather protracted and totally illogical argument:

Us: "Good evening can we have a table for 2 for dinner"
Reception: " Did you book"
Us: " No you told us last time we couldn't book, it is first come first served"
Reception: " Sorry you must book - we are full"
Us: " but you said we couldn't book, it is first come first served"
Reception: "iYes, but you must book"
Us: " but you said we couldn't book, it is first come first served"
Reception: "iYes, you spoke to me you remember"
Us: "Yes"
Reception: "iYes, but now you must book"

And so it would have continued way into the night........

Back to View Lodge feeling a bit dejected and not to say hungry while frantically searching on the internet for suitable or for that matter any establishment that can serve us food.

We eventually ended up at a small rustic pub/grill restaurant called Tjailatyd which basically means going home time - Excellent!!!

Tjailatyd Pub and Grill

Tjailatyd Pub and Grill

And then the next day it was on-wards back to Johannesburg and on that I will say no more.........

Random Statistics:
Total distance covered: 3942km 
Total time away: 23 days
Average Temp: in Fish Hoek 25C / 77F
Highest temp: in the Karoo 36C / 96.8F
Experience: Priceless