I find the Owl House in Nieu-Bethesda spectacularly odd and beautiful at the same time. A sense of nostalgia and strangeness accompanies my memories because I lost my heart to this Karoo village during my very first visit. The Owl House lured me in with her ghostly charm, waiting to show someone her treasures dressed in colourful glass and light. Not a stranger to chills down my spine, this experience undoubtedly tries to link one to the appreciation of a highly creative and misunderstood soul.  If you are visiting Nieu-Bethesda, this is a must see!

A variety of make belief statues adorns The Owl House, home of the late local artist and resident Helen Martins. Using cement and glass, her craftsmanship and creative expression illuminated her seemingly unfortunate circumstances. Today referred to as “The Camel Yard”, a number of owls, people and camels stand tall in her back yard, as she drew inspiration from Biblical Christian text, the poetry of Omar Khayyam and various works by William Blake.

Helen Elizabeth Martins was born on 23 December 1897 in Nieu-Bethesda and tragically committed suicide at the age of 78 by drinking caustic soda. She had a brief marriage, obtained a teacher’s diploma from Graaff-Reinet and loved children. Her work commonly referred to as “outsider art”, still enchants numerous tourists and travelers to this day.

Owl House Operating hours: 09h00 to 16h45, Monday to Sunday;
Entrance: R50.00   Tickets available at the visitors’ centre entrance in Martin Street
Website: www.theowlhouse.co.za
More info: Call 049 841 1733

One of my favourite video tributes to Helen Martins and The Owl house by Cheeky Ingelosi Photography can be found here. A truly unique artist’s impression!

Photographer Sarina Engelbrecht




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