Nieu Bethesda. – Most people associate this charming village with the Owl House and Helen Martins, who lived here for most of her life, transforming a regular Karoo home into one dappled with colour. Home to suns and gods, worshippers and owls. Its an other-worldly place of concrete and glass sculptures, which evoke varied emotion. Awe, curiosity and certainly sadness.
Helen Martins grew up in Nieu Bethesda, leaving for a few years after marrying. Her marriage fell apart and she returned to Nieu Bethesda to care for her aging parents, losing first her mother and then father, after which she stayed on. Whoever you speak to about Helen has a different interpretation of her intense sensitivity and unconventional love affairs. In the camel yard hangs the sign that says “This is my world”. Which appears to be how she lived it.
Outside the front door.
Helen Martins dedicated the latter part of her life, together with her assistant Koos Malgas, working to create a colourful house and fantasy garden. The inside walls are encrusted with ground glass, mirrors catch the light at different times of day. In the Camel Yard are statues of men and camels facing East. Its surreal and cluttered. At the age of 79 yrs, Helen Martins took her own life by drinking caustic soda.
Today the Owl House is sensitively cared for and can be visited and enjoyed. As I walked through the various rooms on this my third visit, I realized that even if one visited the Owl House every day for years, you could still find new things, different angles, more intimate look into life of this remarkable woman.
The sun on the stoep kamer or verandah room windows. Belo the one inside which takes the whole ceiling.
In the Karoo one is more aware of the sun and the moon, the stars, and Helen’s art shows this.
The Owl House is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the December School holidays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily for the rest of the year. Entry costs R50 per person.
A look at the life of Helen Martins will offer more of a look at the inside and outside areas, but I do encourage that you visit yourself.